The term Klezmer comes from the Hebrew-Aramaic component of Yiddish, and literally means "vessels of song." More commonly, it has been invoked to describe both the specific genre of East European Yiddish folk music, and the players themselves.
Instruments used in the performance of klezmer music have included those in the string family, percussion (including the hammered dulcimer), and woodwinds such as the flute. By the beginning of the 19th century the clarinet was introduced into the kapelye (band) and soon rivaled the fiddle for the position of lead instrument. As Jews became more exposed to the instruments of military bands, the trumpet, trombone and tuba gained acceptance in the kapelye
The music the klezmer played in the Old World reflected those cultures which surrounded him, playing polkas, hopaks and other dances for the peasantry; while for the nobility , the latest Viennese waltzes, quadrilles and light classical overtures would be added to the repertoire. For Jews, the music would include bulgars, horas, special wedding dances and for the Hasidim, the klezmer had to learn nigunim (tunes) either written by or popular with the local rebbe.
In the 1880s, as large numbers of Jews emigrated to North America, the klezmer repertoire underwent further change under the influence of popular American music of the times: minstrel, ragtime, vaudeville and jazz. Through the thousands of recordings made in the early 20th century, we have a glimpse of the true stylings and combinations of the Old World klezmer as he evolved in America.
Kapelye is one of the first bands responsible for the renewal of interest in klezmer music world-wide. With a deep regard for their culture, they draw upon family sources, field research and vintage recordings to present a true picture of Yiddish life. Performing in Europe as well as North America, on television, radio, at major music festivals and in feature films such as The Chosen, Kapelye inspires its audiences to laugh, cry , sing and dance. A reviewer for The New York Times wrote: "Of the many klezmer bands, the one that comes closest to the ideal is Kapelye."
Eric Berman (tuba,string bass) has performed with the San Antonio Symphony, the American Symphony, the American Concert Band and a variety of jazz and chamber groups. He holds the degrees of Juris Doctor and Doctor of Philosophy (Music), and is a specialist in entertainment law.
Ken Maltz (clarinet) first became involved with Yiddish music as a young boy when he was often called upon to provide music for family occasions. A founding member of Kapelye since the band's inception in 1979, Ken has performed in hundreds of appearances on stage, television, radio and film throughout North America and Europe. As one of the early pioneers of the klezmer revival, he has received critical acclaim from both the domestic and international press. Such diverse sources as The New York Times and The Berlin Morning Post have spoken of his performances in the most glowing terms. Ever conscious of the importance of both promoting Yiddish culture and passing it on to future generations, Ken can often be found at festivals, conferences, master classes and workshops; instructing students both young and old in the art of the klezmer. Indeed, his love for klezmer music and his ability as a teacher have earned him a following of students on three continents.
Peter Sokolow (keyboard and vocals) has appeared with klezmer musicians Dave Tarras, the Epstein brothers, Sid Beckerman, Ray Musiker and others of equal renown. Among his orchestrations are eight albums of Chabad (Lubavitch) nigunim, two albums for Shlomo Carlebach, the off-Broadway musical "The Golden Land", the Yiddish musical "Heintige Kinder" and the score for the documentary film "Partisans of Vilna." In addition to Mr. Sokolow's work in the field of Jewish music, he is a highly regarded performer in society , Irish and" pop" orchestras and enjoys a fine reputation as a stride pianist a la Fats Waller.