Welcome to Philly Klezmer
Your Source for the Best Klezmer Music in the World
I grew up in a nice suburban neighborhood just a bit west of Philadelphia. In addition to my two older sisters, a dog, a cat, and turtles, I loved Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, KC and the Sunshine Band, Ella Fitzgerald, Maurice Andre, Lambert Hendrix and Ross, and the Sugar Hill Gang. I dreaded school.
My life was busy with Suzuki piano lesson in kindergarten, piano lessons in first and second grade, and drum lessons from my mother. Since our mother/student dynamic didn’t quite work for us, I abandoned my drumming. Until my Bat Mitzvah I went to Hebrew School three times a week, played on the soccer team for one year, smoked my first cigarette at age 11. Sammy Witzer (lucky for him) was the first boy, ever to be kissed by a 10 year old me.
While all of those experiences were arguably defining ones, I had a bonafide revelation when I was nearly 8 years old. In our dining room, there were four sliding door closets, which we refereed to as A, B, C, &D after the mural panels my father covered them with. Each door held a myriad of adventures, amidst the coats, jackets, umbrellas, games, toys and other things stuffed in these closets. D, however,was my favorite door, for it was filled with a treasure trove of musical instruments free to be played and experimented with: a violin, accordion, finger cymbals, morrocos, bongos, all sorts of percussion instruments, bells and whistles, and my father’s old high school trumpet.
It was an ordinary day that I would be nestled in front of D for hours playing the instruments, scattered and strewn around me. However, it was an extraordinary day when I decided to try to play my Dad’s trumpet.
The case was old and dusty and hard to open. The trumpet inside was silvery and worn.
I reported to my mother that I officially wanted to play the trumpet.
Off I went to the local trumpet teacher, Alex Wilson, then to long-time family friend, Seymour Rosenfeld of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Mom made sure I was in youth orchestras. From the fifth grade through high school I toured England, Scotland and Australia with youth orchestras. I attended master classes with Maurice Andre, and other great orchestral trumpet and brass players. Mom made it possible for me to go to special summer music camps, where I studied with Steven Emory. I performed on my mother’s gigs at 11, working professionally (getting paid) by 14. I regularly entered musical competitions, which I would invariably lose to the piano players. It all ended up with me attending the St. Louis Conservatory of Music, where I studied with Susan Slaughter, principal trumpet player of the St. Louis Symphony.
It was going as it should have--another Hoffman-Watts musician born and raised..
I don’t mean to romance you with this story--we’re talking about a family of meshuggah musicians—there was a certain, shall we say “edge” to my world.
This not-so-quiet desperation took me on a journey which included a musical tacit, a couple of degrees in English literature, teaching on a reservation in Montana, and discovering that some folks have other than ceremonial uses for kosher wines.
Healing, a new-found equilibrium and strength enabled me to return to my first love, the trumpet, and to establish my voice and my communication to the world.
As is the nature of every musician and artist, there’s a lot inside that needs to get out. Living with your insides out is no easy way to go, but we’re a daring breed.
Elaine Hoffman Watts - Susan Hoffman Watts - Klezmer Music - Philadelphia Klezmer Music - Jewish Folk Music