Soul Songs: Inspiring Women of Klezmer, at Annenberg Center, 10/28

PHILADELPHIA, PA—(SBN)—The Philadelphia Folklore Project presents Soul Songs: Inspiring Women Of Klezmer, on Sunday, Oct. 28 at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Eleven extraordinary women to breathe contemporary life into the centuries-old tradition of Eastern European Jewish folk music. Showtime is 4 p.m. The performance is made possible with support from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

The world premiere, one-night-only special event is being staged by New York director, designer and puppeteer Jenny Romaine. Romaine is co-founder of the visual theater collective Great Small Works; music director of Jennifer Miller’s OBIE/Bessie Award-winning free outdoor traveling circus CIRCUS AMOK, and artist-in-residence at Milk Not Jails.

Working with fourth generation Philadelphia “klezmer” Susan Watts to fully realize her vision of “Soul Songs” as a true stage spectacle, the highly acclaimed New York-based performer, director and puppeteer will create an interactive “spectacle” drawn from Klezmer roots.

“Soul Songs is about this powerful orchestra, and I’m in awe of it,” says Romaine. “It’s a women composer’s orchestra, and that is interesting to me in that each woman is like a world and each is also a virtuosic player. Susan did these great interviews with all of the women: she asked them all the same questions. And each one’s answers were surprising. If you want to understand what’s happening in the music, the future and the past, you need to look at women. And very often, in many fields, they’re underrepresented, and that happens because we live in big structural systems of oppression all the time.”

Soul Songs: Inspiring Women Of Klezmer will feature new compositions written and performed by three generations of women who bring contemporary meaning to this traditional Eastern European Jewish folk music form. Watts has assembled a stellar group of “Inspiring Women of Klezmer,” including violinists Alicia Svigals, Cookie Segelstein and Deborah Strauss, pianist Marilyn Lerner, clarinetists Zoe Christiansen and Ilene Stahl, trombonist Rachel Lemisch, accordionist Lauren Brody, flute player Adrianne Greenbaum, and bassist Joanna Sternberg.

“The spectacle for me is like drugs for the eyes without the drugs,” says Romaine. “You’ve got to make the audience say ‘Wow.’ But it’s not spectacle for spectacle’s sake, because the music is so soulful. There’s such charm. The way I go about it is as an assortment of different elements that will then explode in this beauty. There needs to be transformation. We’ve kept the focus on the music, but we’ve used the interviews, thinking, too, about the title of a given musical piece, the mood, and the flow of the whole concert.”

Each artist’s work brings a distinct approach to innovating within the recognizable framework of the centuries-old genre — connecting folk elements of Baroque music to Klezmer, for example, integrating Northern Bulgarian music, or using texts that reflect on female experience.

“Philly is one of the great centers of Klezmer music in our hemisphere,” notes Romaine. “Many artists came here in the early 20th century. They belonged to musician families that played ritual music and carried a large repertoire of secular music, too. So Philly was a place where both secular and ritual Yiddish music could evolve. Some of the Soul Songs musicians, like Susan, and Rachel Lemisch, are descendants of these Klezmer dynasties. That’s one part of the spectacle—the Philly roots. So we’re trying to represent Philly soul and how you get there, through color, light, word, costume and sculpture.

“The audience will experience all those things happening at once, and really be able to listen to the music and feel all the facets within it. Because this is like a bunch of champagne bubbles in a giant champagne glass. Each one of these women is a divine musician, and she’s connected to something really, really, big, or a really, really, long whole legacy.

“I feel like these women are priests, without the rigmarole. They’re not telling you how to live. They’re just creating the lubricant. They’re creating the stuff that will enable the machine to keep running. That’s the soul. It’s that thing that makes a way when there’s no way, the water that gets through and wears a hole in the rocks. They’re leaders. Artists are leaders. Some people like to go to museums, some people go to a house of worship, some people go to a university, some of us go to a concert. And we’ll be thrilled and entertained, but I also think we’ll be taken to a really important level that we need right now.”

Presented by the Philadelphia Folklore Project, Soul Songs: Inspiring Women of Klezmer, will be performed Sunday, Oct. 28 at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Show time is 4 p.m. Tickets are $29-$49 and on sale now at or by calling 215.898.3900. The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts is located at 3680 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA.