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They’ve Got Our Rhythm

Barbara Bensoussan

From their perch above the dance floor, the non-Jewish members of a typical Jewish wedding band have a sterling view of our lives and customs. So, what do we look like from the bandstand?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

For many, the highlight of a wedding is the music — ideally, a great orchestra rocking away on the bandstand. The songs are Jewish, the players know every note, and every one of them sports a yarmulke on his head. Yet usually there’s one or two of them who can’t help but make you think: Funny, he doesn’t look Jewish.…

Chances are he isn’t. These days, most Jewish orchestras employ at least one or two non-Jewish and non-frum musicians to round out their bands. Most are performers in the secular world, but they’ve willingly crossed the cultural divide to play a whole new repertoire of music for Jewish clientele.

In the process, they also learn about badeckens, sheva brachos, and the mitzvah tantz. “I know more about the Jewish religion than a lot of unaffiliated Jews,” says Michael Coon, a guitar player who’s been on the Jewish scene for years. Coon also knows, according to Joe Blumenthal of Aaron Teitelbaum Orchestras, “just about every Hasidic niggun that exists.”

So what’s a nice guitar player like Coon doing in a band like that?

What brings accomplished non-Jewish and nonobservant performers to play Jewish weddings? And what’s it’s like for them in a world of shtreimels, black hats, and freilechs?

 

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