Getting Into Klezmer Mandolin

Jul 12, 2021

When I was in college, on a whim one semester I took an elective class called “Yiddish Music Performance Styles,” taught by Professor Hankus Netsky.

Prof. Netsky delivered amazing lectures: a well-researched history of klezmer music's origin in Eastern Europe and subsequent journey to America, peppered with colorful anecdotes of his gigs and lessons with the last generation of klezmorim in Philly and New York and Boston.

But the best part of class was the “performance” promised in the title. Our homework each week was to learn a klezmer tune by ear from archival recordings, copying the exact phrasing of the original performer as much as possible on our instruments.

Each week I’d pore over a scratchy cassette tape with a wild, ornamented clarinet solo or an emotional cantor’s melody and try to copy every quirk on my mandolin. I fell in love with this music during that semester of study.

This song was one of my favorites, “A Guda Nakht” or Good Night Waltz, learned from Elaine Watts of Philadelphia. It is nice and slow and fairly easy to play - a great introduction to playing Klezmer music on your mandolin.


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