His Fiddle Speaks Words
Ruby Harris is one of the original performers of The Diaspora Yeshiva Band, and has played his fiddle with the likes of Shlomo Carlebach, Piamenta, and The Moshav Band. The fiddler plays a variety of styles including Celtic, Blues, and Swing, has opened for such greats as Ray Charles, Marshall Tucker Band, and Little Feat, and has performed with Peter Yarrow, Buddy Miles, and Pinetop Perkins. Harris was very active in the renaissance of Klezmer music and has performed with the Klezmer Conservatory Band, Andy Statman, The Klezmatics, Jazmer, The Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, and Soulfarm. Ruby agreed to speak with http://www.safed.co.il/ about Klezmer.
Q: When did you begin to perform klezmer music?
A: When I joined Diaspora Yeshiva Band in approximately 1976, there were only 2 bands playing the newly named genre called "Klezmer": the Klezmorim and the Klezmer Conservatory Band. David Grey of the former called me to interview me about the new style of old music and I performed with members of the latter, Hankus Netsky and Don Byron in New York. Others were, like us, practically inventing modern Klezmer, and re-discovering the beautiful music of our childhood and ancestors.
Q: How do you see the role of the violin in today's klezmer repertoire?
A: Of course I see it as major bordering on essential. Klezmer means 2 things: fiddle and clarinet. Everything else is just spice. Of course you sometimes need a whole band of all the instruments.
Q: How do you explain the popular resurgence of Klezmer music in our time?
A: Philosophically and musically: we are officially in the period of time known as the "redemption/ingathering of the exiles/end of days" and the Jewish soul is hungry for anything that brings us closer to the Mashiach*, and musically, people need an alternative to the synthesized sounds of modern pop, so they turn to the shmaltz, kugel and kneidlach (chicken fat, noodles and matza balls) of music, the rockin' dance freilachs and the soulful Yiddish reminders of their grandparents.
Q: Some say that white people cannot give an authentic performance of African American dance or music because they have different perceptions of rhythm. In this light, how do you feel about non-Jews performing Klezmer music—are they producing authentic Klezmer?
A: Clapton and SR Vaughn play great blues, but Elmore and Muddy have a slight edge. Non-Irish play Irish music, non-Spanish play flamenco music, so, therefore, non-Jews can play klezmer just fine, but a Jew has an edge over him regarding soul.
Q: How do you explain the fascination of Eastern Europeans with Ashkenazi Jewish culture and Klezmer music?
A: Jews had a tremendous influence on those areas, and a lot of people miss them and regret what Hitler and his henchmen did, and they feel guilty.
Q: Which Klezmer musicians or styles do you draw on for inspiration?
A: The old 78s: Taras, Brandwein, Belf, Schwartz, Secunda, Lebedeff, etc, and the new guys out there that devote their lives to bringing it back, plus the Klezmatics and the like, who take it forward to new heights.
Q:What would you pinpoint as the major technical challenges in performing Klezmer music?
A: Not overkilling the same old songs, not overkilling the same old techniques like the kvetching clarinet, and not rambling too long on depressing doinas.
Q: There's a popular quote: "His fiddle speaks, his fiddle speaks words." Have you consciously tried to "speak" via your fiddle?
A: Thats all I do! I communicate with a lot of people on a lot of levels with my fiddle.