Soul Songs: Inspiring Women of Klezmer

In this project, eleven extraordinarily accomplished musicians—all of whom happen to be women—convene in Philadelphia from across North America for a world premiere, one-time-only concert of new Klezmer music. These women, along with production designer and puppeteer Jenny Romaine, take center stage, sharing their spectacular and imaginative visions and voices, and breathing new life into a centuries-old tradition.

The brainchild of fourth generation klezmer musician and concert artistic director Susan Hoffman Watts, Soul Songs: Inspiring Women of Klezmer was created from the world-renowned trumpeter’s concern for the future of her art and appreciation of every individual involved. After all, Watts represents the youngest generation of an important klezmer dynasty reaching back to the Jewish Ukraine of the 19th century, beginning with her great-grandfather, bandleader, composer, and cornet-player, Joseph Hoffman. For decades, the Hoffman family played for Philadelphia-area Jewish weddings and parties, and their music became part of a distinctly Philadelphia klezmer repertoire. Watts is the sole living purveyor of the family’s traditional klezmer-style trumpet sounds, which continue to electrify audiences.

“’Soul Songs’ is about the old and new intertwined,” says Watts, a 2015 Pew Fellow. “It is future provoking, intuitive, grass roots. ‘Soul Songs’ is about these women’s musical journeys, their artistry and their discernment to use the force of adversity to their gain. It is the klezmer of today and a prelude to future possibilities for the art and the communities it nurtures. Klezmer is the soul music of Jews of Eastern European heritage. Not religious, Klezmer is celebratory. It’s the soundtrack to important moments in our lives.”

The concert featured new compositions, written and performed by three generations of women who bring contemporary meaning to this traditional Eastern European Jewish folk music form. Watts assembled a stellar group of “Inspiring Women of Klezmer,” including: violinists Alicia Svigals, Cookie Segelstein, and Deborah Strauss; pianist Marilyn Lerner; clarinetists Zoe Christiansen and Ilene Stahl; trombonist Rachel Lemisch; accordionist Lauren Brody; flute player Adrianne Greenbaum; and bassist Joanna Sternberg.

Each artist’s work contributed a distinct approach to innovating within the recognizable framework of the centuries-old genre, connecting folk elements of Baroque music to klezmer, integrating Northern Bulgarian music or using texts that reflect on female experience.

While in Philadelphia, the artists performed a concert, taught a master class, and participated in a panel discussion on how emergent klezmer is being shaped. The discussion was led by Dr. Emily Socolov.

Working with Watts to fully realize her vision of “Soul Songs” as a true stage spectacle was Jenny Romaine, the highly acclaimed New York-based performer, director, and puppeteer, who is the music director of the OBIE/Bessie Award winning free outdoor traveling circus, Circus Amok.

“For the Philadelphia Folklore Project, this initiative is an investment in the visionary brilliance of Susan Watts,” says executive director Selina Morales. “The Folklore Project has presented Susan Watts and her mother, Elaine Hoffman Watts, in concert several times over the years. We even produced a documentary, Eatala: A Life in Klezmer, about Elaine—and featuring Susan. For decades we’ve witnessed Susan’s virtuosic repertoire, and when we sat down and asked her what she imagines in her musical future, this project began to fall into place. Our work here is supporting Susan as she develops and manifests her vision for the innovative future of klezmer music, as composed and played by women.”


Susan Hoffman-Watts, Artistic Director

Susan Hoffman Watts represents the youngest generation of an important Klezmer dynasty that reaches back to the Jewish Ukraine of the 19th century, beginning with her maternal great-grandfather, musician, composer, cornet-player, and poet, Joseph Hoffman. Susan is the sole living purveyor of the family’s traditional Klezmer-style trumpet sounds which electrified audiences for decades. Susan and the Hoffman family are the featured stars of several televised documentaries. Over the course of her career, Susan has played with a variety of noted Klezmer musicians from around the world. She’s recorded and performed with Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars, Henkus Netsky, the Klezmer Concervatory Band, The Klezmatics, So-Called, Claire Barry, Mandy Pitankin, Dudu Fischer, Mikveh, Shtreimel, The Klez Dispensers, and others. She also performed for many years with her mother, the great Klezmer drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts, in their Philadelphia-based group, the Fabulous Shpielkehs.

Adrianne Greenbaum, Flautist

Flautist Adrianne Greenbaum is the foremost purveyor and revivalist of the Klezmer flute tradition today, returning the instrument to its rightful historical position in the history of Klezmer. Quoted as being a “A National Treasure,” she is a highly regarded and acclaimed flautist performing on modern and historical instruments of the 18th and 19th centuries. As a classical musician she has performed as soloist and orchestral musician in all of New York’s major concert halls and in many major cities of the US. She has appeared with such prestigious orchestras as New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival, the Berlin Ballet at the MET, and the New York City Ballet Orchestra.

Alicia Svigals, Violinist

Alicia Svigals is a composer, vocalist and the world’s foremost Klezmer violinist, who almost singlehandedly rescued that fiddle tradition with her 1996 recording Fidl. Svigals is a founder of the Grammy-winning Klezmatics, whom she co-led for seventeen years. She has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony and at LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture in NYC. She was awarded the Foundation for Jewish Culture’s commission for her original score to the 1918 silent film The Yellow Ticket, which she performs with pianist Marilyn Lerner. She is currently touring a new silent film project, The Ancient Law, and recently released her follow-up to Fidl, entitled Beregovski Suite.

Cookie Segelstein, Violonist

Cookie Segelstein received her Masters degree in Viola from The Yale School of Music in 1984. Until moving to California in 2010, she was principal violist in Orchestra New England and assistant principal in The New Haven Symphony Orchestra, as well as on the music faculty at Southern Connecticut State University. She is the founder and director of Veretski Pass, a member of Budowitz ,The Youngers of Zion with Henry Sapoznik, has performed with Kapelye, The Klezmatics, Frank London, Klezmer Fats and Swing with Pete Sokolow and the late Howie Leess, Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys and The Klezmer Conservatory Band.

Deborah Strauss, Violinist

Deborah Strauss is an internationally acclaimed Klezmer violinist, educator and dancer who has been at the forefront of the Klezmer and Yiddish music scene for over 30 years. She is a member of the Strauss/Warschauer Duo, was a long-time member of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, and has performed with the Grammy Award-winning Klezmatics. She has appeared on numerous recordings, was featured in the Emmy Award-winning film, Itzhak Perlman: In the Fiddler’s House, and appears in the film, Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem.

Ilene Stahl, Clarinetist

Ilene Stahl, a clarinetist, has always wanted to play in a rock and roll band, but says she “didn’t know” she picked the wrong instrument. She is acclaimed for her passionate performance style and soulful interpretations of traditional Yiddish music. With some of Boston’s most renowned Klezmer musicians, Ilene founded Klezperanto in 1999 to create a new kind of dance music that would combine the irresistible rhythms of zydeco, cubia, funk, secon-line and Romanian brass band surf music with Klezmer. Ilene has also been the clarinetist with The Klezmer Conservatory Band since 1987. With the KCB, she has performed extensively throughout the United States and on all international tours. Ilene has been featured on numerous recordings and on radio and TV broadcasts, including ongoing concerts and appearances with violinist Itzhak Perlman.


Joanna Sternberg, Bassist

Joanna Sternberg is a freelance singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, and visual artist. She play the double bass, electric bass, guitar, piano, and human voice. She also draw comics, cartoons, patterns, designs, illustrations, logos, concert posters, and takes commissions for this work. She views all as magical loves that art helps people heal, as it helps her heal every single day.

Lauren Brody, Accordionist

Lauren Brody is an accordionist, singer, researcher, professional piano tuner/technician and Fulbright
scholar from New York City. She is a pioneer of the Klezmer music revival in the United States and a
founding member of the groundbreaking band “Kapelye” formed in 1979. She has toured, recorded and
appeared on TV and film with Kapelye, and with the seminal all-female ensemble “Mikveh.” Lauren has
played the with The Klezmatics, Andy Statman, Michael Winograd, David Krakauer, Alicia Svigals, Frank
London, Merlin and Polina Shepherd and many other Klezmer luminaries. She was a trailblazer in the
domestic Balkan music scene and was the first female gadulka player in the United States. Lauren was an
original member of the first Bulgarian traditional folk orchestra “Pitu Guli,” formed in Los Angeles,
California in 1970 and has taught at EEFC’s Balkan Camp, Klezkamp, KlezCalifornia, KlezKanada and
Yiddish New York. She also toured and recorded with the “Yuri Yunakov Ensemble” and the “Ivan Milev
Balkan Folk Band.”

Marilyn Lerner, Pianist

Genre defying pianist/improviser Marilyn Lerner performs to acclaim internationally, from her native Montreal to Havana, from Jerusalem to Amsterdam and the Ukraine. Her groundbreaking recordings have garnered much recognition, including her 2 solo recordings Luminance and Romanian Fantasy and Special Angel with Sonny Greenwich. Her intimate knowledge of the piano, combined with a fearless experimental and passionate spirit render her a true original. Lerner’s work spans the worlds of jazz, creative improvisation, Klezmer, and 20th century classical music.In 2016, Lerner/Filiano/Grassi- Live at Edgefest, was released on vinyl by NoBusiness Records, and in 2017 her trio, Ugly Beauties (Matt Brubeck and Nick Fraser) released their second CD, Strange Attractors.

Rachel Lemisch, Trombonist

Rachel Lemisch is a classically trained trombonist, with an affinity for the music of Eastern Europe, Turkey, the Balkans and Middle East. As a classical musician Rachel played with the Delaware Symphony, Jerusalem International Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Philharmonic, the New Hampshire Symphony, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and as a finalist for the New World Symphony in Miami, Florida. She was a long standing member of the Fabulous Schpielkes, featuring the Jewish Ella Fitzgerald and queen of the Klezmer Trumpet, Susan Hoffman-Watts and the brilliant drummer and percussionist Elaine Hoffman-Watts of blessed memory. Rachel’s film credits include Mona Lisa Smile, 2003, as a member of the all-women’s big band featured in the Spring Fling scene.

Zoe Christiansen, Clarinetist

Zoe Christiansen: performer, musician, educator and visual artist who plays clarinet, accordion, keyboards and sings. Her knowledge of Klezmer and traditional music is based on active performing and extensive fieldwork in Turkey, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece, Latvia, Moldova, Russia and the Republic of Georgia. A graduate of the New England Conservatory, Zoe has taught at Yiddish NY and KlezKanada, performed with The Klezmer Conservatory Band, Northern Harmony, Klezfest/St. Petersburg, The Crimson Ragdolls, and The Painted Bird. A frequent accompanist for community theater, she has extensive liturgical experience as well. She appears on Balkan Mind Meld (2016) and on the soundtrack of Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem (2014).

Jenny Romaine, Production Designer

Jenny is a director, designer and puppeteer and co-founder of the visual theater collective Great Small Works. She is music director of Jennifer Miller’s CIRCUS AMOK and artist in residence at Milk Not Jails. She has directed community-based spectacles for numerous projects in New York City and around the world. Romaine was a sound archivist at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research for 13 years and for several decades has drawn on Yiddish/Pan Jewish primary source materials to create art that has contemporary meaning. Her projects include the Sukkos Mob (featured in the film Punk Jews), community Purim Shpiln with the Aftselakhis Spectacle Committee, The Revival of the Uzda Gravediggers, and Muntergang and Other Cheerful Downfalls with Great Small Works. Romaine has worked extensively as an educator in public schools, prisons, universities and museums. She was the first recipient of the Adrienne Cooper Award for Dreaming in Yiddish (2014) and received a Marshall Meyer Risk-Taker Award from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (2015). She is featured in Dazzle Camouflage: Spectacular Theatrical Strategies for Resistance and Resilience, a monograph by Ezra Berkley Nepon.

Emily Socolov, Project Scholar

Emily is a folklorist, visual artist and activist interested in life history, cultural imaginaries and social justice. She was founding Executive Director of Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders, serving the Mexican immigrant community of New York, Communications Director at the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, Project Director at the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, and presenter/researcher at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She has advanced degrees in Museography (INAH/Mexico), Performance Studies (NYU), and Folklore and Folklife (UPenn). She originated and teaches in KlezKanada’s visual arts program. Emily works with immigrants and asylum-seekers in Austin, where she is Visiting Scholar at the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at UT-Austin. She currently researches the Left and the early Cold War.

Tina Kindermann, Portrait Artist

Tine Kindermann is a visual artist and musician from Berlin, Germany, who has been living and working in New York City since 1993. A figurative artist working in various media, Tine makes work that includes miniature tableaux and dioramas, video and painting. Her work has been shown at Stephen Romano Gallery, the Governors Island Art Fair, RePop, Mark Miller Gallery and other galleries in New York City, as well as Neurotitan Gallery and Gallery Kurt im Hirsch in Berlin. Together with Deborah Ugoretz, Tine curates exhibitions for Yiddish New York, an annual cultural festival in New York City.

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Songs from the Soul

Soul Songs: Inspiring Women of Klezmer1 under the artistic direction of Susan Watts, was a 2018 Philadelphia Folklore Project initiative designed to bring together eleven

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