The Junior Klezmer Orchestra
In March 2020, the rehearsals and performances of the Junior Klezmer Orchestra were cancelled due to the worldwide Covid-19 Pandemic. The JKO is led by Alex Koffman and Lori Lippitz of Chicago’s Maxwell Street Klezmer Band.
With the help of parent and videographer Igor Vilk, they assembled a Virtual Klezmer Band Performance, assembled from their homes across Chicagoland. All the students played their parts along with Maxwell Street Klezmer Band (and the singers danced along). Enjoy!
The Junior Klezmer Orchestra’s accomplished Middle and High School musicians have devoted themselves to mastering the art of Klezmer.
Klezmer and Yiddish music are joyous expressions of Jewish heritage from Eastern Europe in the days of the shtetl. The Fiddler on the Roof--he was a klezmer! They perform for music festivals, libraries, museums and senior residences in the Chicagoland area, and were featured guest artist on WFMT’s “Introductions” in 2010. With selections like Bei Mir Bistu Sheyn and other classics, the Junior Klezmer Orchestra presents a program of upbeat and soulful music with skill, talent and infectious enthusiasm.
Since 1994, we have taught the art of klezmer to over 200 students, some of whom have gone on to start their own klezmer bands or pursue careers as professional musicians.
Check out our Alumni News page to find out more about what former JKO musicians are up to now!
Junior Klezmer Orchestra was featured in The Chicago Tribune: "Klezmer band, students make joyful music"." Read the article here.
Joining Junior Klezmer Orchestra
Play an instrument? Love to sing? Interested in learning more about klezmer from members of the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band and playing this great music in an ensemble of your peers? The Junior Klezmer Orchestra is the place for you!
Frequently Asked Questions
Who can participate? Students in grades 6 through 12.
I'm not Jewish. Can I join? The JKO is not affiliated with any religious movement and welcomes students of all backgrounds and denominations. Bring your instrument and check out our fun, friendly atmosphere!
Where and when do you rehearse? Two Sundays a month from 2:30 to 4:00 PM at Beth Hillel Congregation B'nai Emunah, just off the Edens Expressway in Wilmette, Illinois.
How much does it cost? The cost of participation in the JKO is $100 for the Fall-Winter semester and $150 for the Winter-Spring semester, adjustable in cases of need. Private lessons in klezmer performance are also available upon request.
When do you perform? The JKO does 5-6 public performances a year, at synagogues, assisted living facilities, and even Chicago music venues like City Winery.
How do I get started? Call Lori Lippitz at (847) 675-4800, or send an e-mail to . We look forward to hearing from you!
Testimonials from Parents
"By participating in The Junior Klezmer Orchestra, my son was able to connect to his Jewish cultural roots on many levels. Klezmer Music transmits Jewish (Yiddish) culture, and is an avenue by which beloved songs, rhymes, and dances can be passed down from one generation to another." -Irene S.
"Who would ever have thought that kids of this age in this century would be singing (beautifully) in Yiddish...You've done so much to bring the music of our ancestors to today's generations."
"Our older son has made klezmer music part of his life and now plays with a klezmer orchestra in college, and our younger son is developing strong sense of being Jewish by playing with this orchestra." -Mark and Lena S.
“In our families, Jewish traditions were lost for a few generations. I still remember my great grandmother speaking Yiddish with my great grandfather and with her kids. But unfortunately, neither my parents nor I speak Yiddish. Last week when I took my grandma to my kids' Klezmer concert, she was overjoyed to see her great-grandchildren singing and dancing to the Yiddish music that she grew up with." -Lina O.
Watch the Junior Klezmer Orchestra play at City Winery:
Testimonials from Alumni
I have been so lucky to be a part of Junior Klezmer Orchestra from the sixth grade until senior year of high school. Over those seven years, I grew immensely as a musician and performer. But most importantly, I found a whole new way of connecting with my culture and history: Experiencing klezmer in all its joy and liveliness! What an honor it is to carry on such a vibrant art form. I will always remember those moments after concerts when audience members would come up to us, sometimes greeting us in Yiddish, and tell us their personal connections to the songs we performed.
Singing with JKO has not only added a bunch of great music to my Spotify, but has inspired me to seek out more ways to connect to my heritage (especially if it's through dance and song!). I am so grateful to Lori and Alex for bringing klezmer into my life, and into the lives of a new generation.
- Margaret Selinger, JKO Graduate (2020)
"Thank you...for an unforgettable Klezmer experience these past six years. I loved every minute of rehearsing and performing Klezmer music with the JKO and learned so much about the music of our people along the way. These lessons, both in music and in history, will stick with me forever.
Most meaningful to me, I learned how important it is to keep the Klezmer culture alive in our community and beyond. Teaching little children at Beth Hillel about Klezmer's instruments and origins, which I learned from you, strengthens the Jewish identity and it was exciting to share a little bit about my Klezmer experience with Northwestern students, too! I will never forget the joyous smiles of the elderly at our nursing home concerts and the Freilachs in the rain at the Jewish Cultural Festival.
I'm sad about leaving the JKO but excited to see what's in store for the rest of the band in the years to come, I know it will sound great! And whenever I'm in town, I'll be sure to drop in for a rehearsal or a concert if I'm lucky!
- Jake S., JKO Graduate (2019)
"I've had an amazing time, and I wouldn't trade my experiences with this band for the world. From music festivals to playing on the radio, the Junior Klezmer Orchestra has taken me places I could never have imagined. I wish I could do it all again."
- Daniel Shapiro, JKO Graduate (2017)