Monday, September 8, 2008

Klezwoods, and the art of being an Impromptu Jewish Wedding Consultant

I spent this weekend away from my computer, hanging out in Boston. The primary reason was to attend the wedding of my cousin, L. The secondary reason was to hang out with my wife's best grad school buddy. My little wigglers got their first taste of the big city. The subway was a big hit, though they could not get their head around the fact in Boston it's called "The T." I think the moment when the Red Line comes out from the underground to cross the Charles River is indelibly etched in my elder wiggler's imagination. She talked about it endlessly.

Klezwoods, Boston Jewish JazzBack to L's wedding. L's a pretty secular Jew and married a fine fellow, T, who is as goy as they come. The wedding was a simple, hip affair, hosted in an art school gallery, with a secular humanist rabbi (why do secular humanists need rabbis?), catered lamb and brownies (yum!), a do-it-yourself DJ dance party, and one big splurge....they hired Boston's Klezwoods to play a chamber style klezmer set during the pre-and immediately post wedding cocktail hour(s).

Klezwoods did a great job providing a cocktail soundscape. It's hard to give them a proper review, since I was doing some heavy mingling and mojito drinking at the time. My recollection is that they have a nice warm, woody sound, mixing clarinet, accordion, upright bass, and violin. Their set mixed together some standard klezmer repertoire, a few out of the Yiddish folk tunes and a number of jazzier pieces that I didn't recognize. They even ended with a rollicking tune (Der Gassn Niggun?) that suggested that they could have done a dance set or stage set if they'd been asked. As it was, they provided the perfect backdrop and context setting for the wedding. You can find out more about them at the Klezwoods MySpace Page.

I think I've mentioned before that my wife and I went to a lot of trouble to have as traditional a Jewish wedding as we could. It was a wonderful experience for us and our guests. Since then, I've gotten asked to help out a couple of other family members inject a little Jewiness into otherwise secular, American, weddings. L's wedding, much to my surprise, ended up being another. I say much to my surprise in that I had no involvement in the wedding planning until about 10 minutes before the reception dinner started. Word got to me during the post-wedding photo shoot that T, L's new husband wanted to talk to me. It turned out that he and L were hoping that I could arrange a short-notice hora and chair-lift during the dancing.

Now, a dance leader I'm not, but as you know from reading this blog, I'm not shy about being ignorant in public. So, I corralled my brothers, a cousin, and some of the groom's men and gave them a crash course in how to hoist wooden chairs (no folding chairs, tip the chairs back a bit). The groom's man in charge of DJ'ing had one iTunes Hava Nagilia and a repeat button to work with. I couldn't remember the details of the hora dance step and would just have to wing it.

As it turned out, it was a magic moment. When Hava Nagilia started up, I grabbed a couple guests and got them moving in a circle. Once they were vaguely circling, I cued the guys to hoist the couple. Once the chairs were airborne, the crowd surged and circled on their own. We looked a bit more like a mosh-pit than a Yiddish dance, but hey, we had a lot of enthusiasm and a clockwise orbit. The look of exhilaration and love in L and T's faces as they were bobbed up and down holding onto each other via a cloth napkin said we did well enough.

After it was over, one of T's friends came up to me and told me that between the crash and cheering of the breaking of the glass and the swirling of the pseudo-hora, this was the first wedding he'd been to where he was actually personally excited and involved. It meant enough to him that he sought me out to tell me about it. The DIY DJ had a similar reaction. I'm mentioning this specifically because I've talked to a number Jewish relatives and friends who are afraid to include traditional Jewish elements in their weddings because their non-Jewish guests (and even many of the Jewish guests) may not be familiar with them and may feel uncomfortable or alienated. It just doesn't happen liked that. There's some pretty deep magic in a Jewish wedding done right and people of all types respond to it.

So if you know of anyone who is thinking of adding some extra magic to their wedding and needs an Impromptu Jewish Wedding Consultant, drop me a line. I can recommend some good references and suggest some specific elements that are easy to accomplish and meaningful for all in attendance.

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