(KlezKamp Staff Concert, December 2012, with Michael Winograd, Cookie Segelstein, Jeff Guttmann, Lauren Brody, and Avi Fox-Rosen)

My work in Yiddish music ranges from teaching repertoire workshops, presenting a cappella lecture/recitals, and teaching basic performance skills (creating an arc to a program, utilizing the whole body to communicate, researching material, etc.) to performing in concert.   I take the same initial approach to planning a performance as I do to planning a lecture/recital:

  • Who is sponsoring the performance and what are their needs and goals?   Is this a fund raising dinner or a celebratory event?  Are there particular points that I may work with to choose repertoire?  Is the concert marking an event, a historic anniversary, or a communal milestone?
  • Who will be in the audience?   Will it be a particular homogeneous age group (an event for retirees, for example) or a mixed age audience (perhaps a concert to culminate a day-long Yiddish festival)?   Is the audience Yiddish-literate, Jewish, mixed, or decidedly from outside Jewish culture?
  • What time of day is the event and where will it take place?   A performance that follows a big dinner and a speech or two celebrating cultural diversity requires a different kind of focus than a mid-morning performance in an auditorium of Yiddish culture activists, and both of those scenarios differ from an afternoon family program in a public library.

Once I have these and other questions answered I move right to my primary sources and begin to structure a program.   I rarely offer exactly the same performance twice, and because I am passionate about communicating the depth of meaning and relevance in the songs I sing (way beyond the “Yiddish Top Ten!”) I spend hours before every concert building the songs and their narrative into a cohesive, meaningful, and exhilarating program.  Read on for  some FAQs, testimonials and some musical clips to give you a sense of what you may experience if you hire me to entertain you in Yiddish song!

Susan performing with Lorin Sklamberg, Sarah Gordon, and Psoy Korolenko, with Mark Rubin and Marilyn Lerner accompanying.  This took place at the 12/21/13 Dreaming In Yiddish concert in NYC.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Do you perform solo, with a band, or what?

Yes to all the above! Most often, I present totally a cappella concerts, and while this may be off-putting in theory, I can assure you that these concerts are amazingly popular and exciting! I thoroughly understand the arc of a program and mix it up to carry the whole audience along on a magic ride through Yiddishland. When I perform solo, I can be quite flexible with the size of the stage area and the need for sound mixing. I basically need amplification to suit the venue, a good vocal microphone and a pitcher of water. The performances are not static, as I move around and engage the audience, sometimes even encouraging a sing-along, regardless of previous experience in the language!

When I perform with a small ensemble, I may choose piano and clarinet, violin and bass, or guitar, bass and flute. There are many combinations of instrumentation that could enhance a Yiddish song concert, and this may be determined as your particular needs become clear.

Better with a band? For 26 years I’ve been singing with The Old World Folk Band, and I also work with some of the greatest Klezmer musicians in the world, performing at KlezKamp and at Yiddish cultural events around the country. It’s a snap to build a big sound with musicians like my friends and colleagues Cookie Segelstein (violin), Josh Horowitz (tsimbal and accordion), Michael Winograd (clarinet), Jake Shulman-Ment (violin), Pete Sokolow (keyboard), Ken Maltz (clarinet), Lauren Brody (accordion), Chris Brooks (viola, violin), Bruce Campbell (bass), and Henry Koretzky (mandolin, hammered dulcimer and guitar). So if it’s big you want, I can make it happen!

staff concert KK 2014(KlezKamp Staff Concert accompanied by Michael Winograd, Dan Blacksberg, Mark Rubin, Lauren Brody, and Susan Hoffman Watts, 2014)

Levine Mit Zayn Flying Mashin (Levine With His Flying Machine.) This clip is from a live performance at the KlezKamp Staff Concert of 2010, featuring accompanying musicians Pete Sokolow, Lauren Brody, and Ken Maltz.

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How do non-Yiddish-literate or non-Jewish audiences respond to your concerts?

Unless an event is clearly packed with Yiddishists, I never assume anyone actually understands the language or much about the culture before I start singing. My manner of singing is closely connected to the narrative style of American Sign Language (see Life in Music under About Susan Leviton for more about that!) and I work to provide enough context and explanation to allow people to relax and hear the songs. Invariably, several people approach me afterwards and tell me they understood my singing, even though they don’t know Yiddish.

I take particular pride in being able to reach non-Jewish audiences with a taste of Yiddish culture that allows them access points they would otherwise not experience. Even audiences in Christian independent living communities and Catholic schools rave about the accessibility of my performances and the windows into shared values that the songs reveal.

What are your favorite audiences?

Whichever audience I’m singing for in the moment becomes my favorite. Why? Because I look people in the eyes when I sing, and they give me back all the energy I put out! My work offers me insights into peoples’ lives because invariably, someone will approach me after a concert and share a variant verse to a song, or tell me of a connection to a place or event I’ve sung about. And singing itself is something I encourage everyone to do every day, so how could my newest audience not be my favorite?

How do you charge for your concert work?

This is something that varies from event to event because of considerations like travel distance and time, other residency activities that may accompany a concert, number of other musicians involved, and the length of the concert. There may be grant opportunities to offset non-profit organizations’ costs to bring me in to perform, so this is something best discussed one-on-one. I look forward to exploring your ideas with you!

With the recent award of a roster slot with PennPAT (Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour), and a position as a Commonwealth Speaker with the PA Humanities Council, there are interesting opportunities to bring me to your community with part or all of my fees paid by granting organizations.   Please contact me to see what might work best for you!   ( email me at susan@susanlevitonarts.com)

TESTIMONIALS

“My association with Susan Leviton goes back many years, at various cultural festivals that feature and specialize in Yiddish music.  I have had the honor and pleasure of performing with her on numerous stages and I have found her manner to be professional and engaging…. Susan Leviton is a seasoned performer of Yiddish music, whose renditions are both highly informed as well as artfully wrought.  As a singer she is able to galvanize and excite her audiences.  Her stage presence is easy-going and her presentations are always fluid and relaxed, while being attentive to her accompanying musicians and in control of the floor.”   – Joshua Horowitz, Director of the ensemble Budowitz (www.budowitz.com)

“From the moment you take the stage, you get me.   Not just me, but the whole audience. We know we’re in ‘good hands’ with you.  You invite us in with that warm smile of yours – no matter how big the room is, it always feels intimate and friendly.” – Julie Sherman, New York Times best-selling author

“In November, I hired Susan to be the entertainer at the annual dinner of the Champaign/Urbana Jewish Federation, the most important event of our fundraising campaign.  Susan absolutely thrilled the audience with her a cappella performance. She was so dynamic, so careful to convey the lyrics to the audience, that even the most skeptical in the crowd were won over.  We got nothing but rave reviews from our members to her performance and my folks are not easy to please.   Moreover, Susan’s Yiddish pronunciation is impeccable, unlike so many people singing Yiddish these days.”   – Sabina Brukner, former Executive Director of the Champaign/Urbana Jewish Federation.