Artistic Director, Susan Watts
I have always loved working with women. As a budding musician, I never got the chance. I was always the only female in the trumpet section and as I got older the story never changed. I was always surrounded by boys, then men and more men and more men. Most of the musicians I worked with as a professional were men, too. This didn’t cause a problem (it created a longing), because I was used to it; lots of men and no women. My mother, a professional drummer, showed me that being a woman in a man’s music world was status quo. She was the only woman in a man’s world and it was normal for her. When I went to the St. Louis Conservatory of Music, I went there specifically to study with Susan Slaughter who was the first woman trumpet player in a major symphony orchestra. She also held the Principal trumpet chair. I went because she was a woman. I longed to work with women. A “she” was my teacher. The fact that she was a she in a sea of he’s meant a lot to me.
After college I continued to be the only woman in a professional world of men and was eventually introduced, by my mother, to a group of people who loved klezmer and Yiddish culture. They knew about my family’s heritage in klezmer and they welcomed me and my mother with open arms. It was like I found home. I found people who knew the music I only knew from playing with my family in the living room and briefly, a song or two, at weddings, or parties. These people loved the music, studied it, learned it, danced to it, drank to it, loved to it and relished in its beauty and its heritage. While I loved all of that, one thing stood out to me: Women. There were women on the bandstand and women playing in student ensembles. There were women to play music with and talk about music with and women to teach. I wasn’t the only one. It felt good. Really good. Women were there and had a voice. That’s one of the things that I love about the klezmer scene. Women are there. They are playing, they are making music, they are welcomed in a way that I have not experienced in my professional life as a musician outside of the klezmer universe. As welcoming to women as klezmer’s men are, they are still in the majority.
Plus, professional women klezmorim are scattered here and there, across the globe. I always loved meeting up with the women of klezmer and playing with them and just being with them at festivals and annual gatherings like Klez Kamp and KlezKanada.
I always gravitated toward the women klezmer players, and when I had the opportunity to envision my dream- of-dreams project, thanks to the Philadelphia Folklore Project, I could think of only one thing: Women! I wanted to gather up all of the women klezmer musicians I could and put us all on one stage and make klezmer together. Our own klezmer. Written by us and played by us.
So today you are in my dream. Here, with twelve of the greatest klezmer musicians in North America, all of whom happen to be women. We are playing our own music, playing klezmer together and making a joyous noise for all to hear.