Sunday, January 11, 2009

Standards for a Jewish Retirement Home Gig

One of the best parts of this writing this blog is the great questions I get in my inbox. Today's came (via Twitter) from a fellow who is going to be playing violin at a Jewish retirement home sometime soon. He was hoping to get an idea of what to play. This is a tough question because I don't know who the audience is or, besides being mostly of Ashkenazi descent, what their background is. But it's hard to go too wrong with the standards. I'll give my answer in a moment, but first I want to give credit to Joy Perrin "Music for Seniors," from Millvale California, who's set list gave me a jumping off point.

Here's my response:

"I think your best bet is picking up a copy of Velvel Pasternak's Jewish Fake Book. It's well respected with lots of the standard repetoire represented. I don't think it's in the right key for the violin, but transposing it should be pretty straightforward.

There's also a nice collection of standard klezmer repertoire in C that might be useful.

There are many wonderful violinists who have recorded Jewish music, but probably the best violin focused albums are Itzhak Perlman's "A Jewish Violin" and "Klezmer: In a Fiddler's House." Here's a video of Perlman playing with some other notable klezmer musicians

You can find Perlman's albums here: and at

Here's a list of songs (with videos) that would be reasonable starting points:

Oiffen Pripichik -
Beltz -
Grine Kuzinah -
As Der Rebbe Tzingt -
My Yiddishe Mama -
Sheyne Vi de Levone -
Abi Gezunt - &
Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen -
Rozhinkes mit Mandlen -
Hava Nagilah -
Hatikvah (Israeli National Anthem) -
Tumbalalaika -
Papirosen -
Dona Dona -
Rumania, Rumania -
Shalom Aliechem -
If I Were a Rich Man -
Sunrise Sunset -

The last two are from Fiddler on the Roof. Can't go wrong with Fiddler.

One thing to note is that you can have some fun with this material. You can play the songs as authentic Yiddish / klezmer as you like, or not. In the 30's and 40's this material was often played in the US with a "Yiddish swing" feel and in the 1950's much of it was played to Latin rhythms during America's Latin craze (think Ricki Ricardo). In the 1960's much of was reinterpreted through the lens of American Folk music. I've heard classical, rock, and jazz, flavoured versions of many of these. I'd also feel free to mix in other standard American repertoire pieces from the 30's, 40's and 50's."
If you've lived in a Jewish retirement home or played music in one and have any comments, I'd love to hear them and will pass them along.


Dan Carkner said...

Heh.. an interesting topic. I find, with seniors, klezmer musicians usually get a better reaction with folksongs and fiddler on the roof type stuff, as well as russian and "european" standards, than really serious traditional klezmer tunes. although no one seems to mind those either.

Jack said...

Hi Dan. Grin. I don't have any personal experience playing these gigs, but figured this was a good starting point for another fellow with even less experience at them. I'm kind of hoping that someone who has done them pops up with some additional guidance..

Hear that everyone... pop up!

KINNOR said...

Hi, from sefarad

Jack said...

Hi Kinnor. Thanks for the link to your blog. It looks great and I can't wait to get my wife to translate it for me!