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Klezmer Music Tradition Continues in New Haven Area on Christmas Day

Nu Haven Kapelye/Facebook
The Nu Haven Kapelye performing on the New Haven Green

This year, Hanukkah and Christmas fall on the same weekend.

A growing tradition among American-Jews nationwide, has been to spend Christmas day indulging in Chinese food. But for the last decade, in the New Haven area a new tradition has emerged -- an annual concert of klezmer music performed by The Nu Haven Kapelye.

Klezmer music was typically played at Jewish celebrations, especially weddings, and was brought to the U.S. by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. It draws from centuries-old Jewish traditions and has been influenced by other cultures and musical styles, and reinterpreted by younger generations. 

The music traditionally incorporates a variety of instruments including the violin, accordion, and trombone. 

The Nu Haven Kapelye is a klezmer big band and orchestra founded in 1998. David Chevan, is the bass player and musical director of the group. He said if there’s any sound that identifies klezmer, it’s the glissandi -- a continuous slide up or down between notes -- that you often hear on the clarinet or violin. 

"It really became a signature element of klezmer," Chevan said.

And for about the last 15 years The Nu Haven Kapelye has offered those klezmer tunes to the greater New Haven community each December 25.

The group plays in a traditional style, often putting an original spin on the music, and sometimes even giving it a rhythm and blues feel.

"It’s super groovy, but it doesn’t lose that klezmer feel at any moment in the piece, which is kind of wild, to my ears, that somehow klezmer and funky soul can work together, but it sure can," Chevan explained.

There are also singers in the group that Chevan said are evocative of the 1940s-era Barry Sisters.  

Some of the group’s members are new to klezmer. They didn’t grow up with it, and aren’t Jewish.

"Anybody who can play an instrument and wants to play the klezmer is welcome to join the kapelye," said Chevan. "It’s been really a wonderful experience having this community centered ensemble that’s really just there to make music."

The Nu Haven Kapelye has just put out its first CD. It’s called What’s Nu? Their annual concert takes place this Sunday at Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden.

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.

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