Junior Klezmer Orchestra
Alumni Feature: Then and Now
(Was in JKO from 1997-2000)
Music director and Conductor of Hamilton on Broadway
I entered the Junior Klezmer Orchestra as a drummer sometime around age eleven. It was my first experience playing in an organized band or musical ensemble of any kind! I remember how welcoming Lori and all of the musicians were, and how quickly I felt like "one of the family." I had so much fun getting to know klezmer as a genre and improving as a klezmer musician.
But, the surprising bonus was that klezmer offered me a new way to experience Judaism and my connection to the Jewish community. Suddenly, I found that my enthusiasm for and appreciation of the music became a large part of my identity as a young Jewish person. Lori and her colleagues know so much about klezmer music, and they care so deeply about it – and their willingness to share the knowledge and the joy of playing klezmer is a true gift to a young musician like I was. Their excitement was, and is, infectious.
I also loved being a member of JKO because the music was FUN! It was such a blast to get to experience playing in a band with other young people my age from around Chicagoland. That experience only deepened my love for playing music and made me more eager to pursue playing in ensembles as I moved through high school, and eventually as I entered college as a music student. Today, I'm proud to be the music director and conductor of Hamilton on Broadway. It's a dream job, and I know my love for being in a band – collaborating on making music together – started in the JKO.
Ian takes his curtain call after a performance of Hamilton
In a few words, how did your time in the JKO influence the trajectory of your career?
JKO was one of my first opportunities to play in a band with other musicians. I learned so much about ensemble skills, collaboration, and what goes into a successful performance. It was so fun to play live music for other people, and it made me want to do that as much and as often as I could.
Besides your career, how has the music and "Yiddishkeit" (Jewish content) you learned in JKO enriched your adult life?
I gained such a deeper appreciation for the history and culture behind the music. Looking back, my JKO experiences taught me that Judaism can be more than religion and prayers and holidays. I began to see that being Jewish can also be about communities, and beliefs, and celebrating our shared history and heritage. AND, I got to meet a lot of other Jewish young people from the area, which allowed me to get a sense of Jewish practices and traditions (and "flavors" of Judaism) that were different from my own. And, I am still in touch with a few of my bandmates! It has been really fun to stay connected after all these years.
What do you think the value of learning klezmer and Yiddish music is?
For me – and speaking just for myself! – in many ways, I felt more connected to my Jewishness through playing klezmer than through religious practices. Playing klezmer was my way in to feeling more connected to my family history and my Jewish community. And, the music is so fun!
What words of guidance would you like to share with young musicians who are just joining the JKO?
JKO is a really unique opportunity to stretch your musical muscles and play in a style and setting that's likely to be VERY different from playing music at school or at home. Listen as much as you can to the old recordings of how the music used to be played – that was so interesting for me and it really shows how far back the traditions go. And, have FUN!