Intercultural musicking and klezmer in the community: Intercultural awareness, and well-being



Prior to 2011, the university had no provision in klezmer - the name now used for the music culture rooted in the Ashkenazi Jewish, largely Yiddish-speaking, communities of Eastern Europe - but it now has the only assessed klezmer performance course in the UK (and I know of no other similar course internationally). Further, klezmer-based activities in the local community form a significant part of the university's Social Responsibility portfolio. This was recognised by my being a Finalist in the 2022 Making a Difference in Social Responsibility awards). 

Klezmer-focused research is also increasing - thus, in the last two years I have co-authored: 1 article, 2 chapters, 1 professional newsletter article, and 3 conference papers. Collaboratively, I have organised 2 symposia, produced 4 professional recordings, and taken klezmer beyond the university into the community with a monthly Klezmer Tune Club and a bi-annual Halle Klezmer Evening of Dance and Music. Strong relationships have been established variously with: the university's Centre for Jewish Studies; the Jewish Music Institute in London; the Manchester Jewish Museum; the Halle Orchestra; the Muslim-Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester; the Association of Jewish Refugees; and Heathlands Village and Belong Morris Feinman (residential Jewish care homes). 

How did this transformation occur? 


During the first half (1994-2009) of my academic life as an Intercultural Educator at the university, the musical dimension was absent despite music being a major feature in my communal life where I composed ethno-classical works, arranged traditional ‘folk’ material, led ensembles, and performed in fundraising concerts. This disconnect ended with my studies for a Masters in Ethnomusicology (2009-2011) out of which emerged an enduring link with the Music Department. 

Klezmer at the university

My musical self and my professional role (as an intercultural educator) converged, primarily through klezmer. In 2012, I co-founded the university's klezmer ensemble, the Michael Kahan Kapelye (named to commemorate the life of a local, classically-trained klezmer fiddler who was tragically killed in 2008 in north Manchester). I have now co-taught 13 generations of budding klezmorim, amongst them Daniel Mawson (who was in the 2nd generation of students), the Musical Lead for the ensemble and for 'klezmer in the community' activities since 2018 as well as co-author for most of the klezmer and intercultural musicking outputs. 

Klezmer performance teaching

Teaching others to perform klezmer in a culturally-, historically-, and musicologically-informed manner is at the heart of this area of my work which is underpinned by a central concern - What does it mean to perform klezmer today in Manchester (as opposed to doing so in 1900 in Odessa, or in New York in 1920, or indeed in America in 1978 as part of the klezmer revival, or in Krakow in 2020 as part of the burgeoning klezmer scene)? The question of what it means to perform klezmer in a situated manner is closely tied to the issue of appropriate methodology (as explored in Education/TESOL, my home department)(see Fay, Mawson, & Bithell, 2022). It is also related to the problematic of cultural appropriation … most of our students have no Jewish heritage, and nor do we as their tutors, but the cultural politics of our era demand that we are attentive to the  dangers of cultural appropriation phenomena. Who are we to be playing the music of others? Our response is to strive for "appropriate, not appropriative, methodology" (Fay & Mawson, 2021) in which the reflective practitioner plays a central role (see Fay, Mawson, & Palacios, 2023). Further, our aspiration is that, along with increasingly competent and confident klezmer performance, musicians will develop both increased interculturality and transmusicality (Fay, Mawson, & Bithell, 2022). Such methodological concerns featured prominently in the international (online) klezmer education symposium which I co-organised in 2021.

Klezmer projects

Impact dateOct 2013
Impact levelEngagement