The Genesis of the Ensemble


Michael Kahan

The Michael Kahan Kapelye is The University of Manchester’s klezmer ensemble. It is named after Michael Kahan, a Manchester-based musician who was tragically killed a few years ago in random street attack [news coverage]. With his then duo partner (in The Klezmer Gourmets), Ros Hawley, Michael planned to create a student-based ensemble before his untimely demise. His dream was fulfilled when the ensemble celebrating his memory was founded, with the support and approval of his family, in spring 2011 by Ros and Richard Fay. Since then, it has become an establish ed and ongoing component of the world music provision (as led by Caroline Bithell) in the Music Department, an achievement owing much to the support of the Music Department itself and the Jewish Music Institute at SOAS in London. Ros stepped down from the role of Performance Lead after the 2017-18 generation of MKK, her place taken by Dan Mawson who himself is an alumnus of the ensemble.

Ros Hawley

Ros Hawley

Initially, the ensemble was an extra-curricular part of the department’s activities but soon became an assessed option within the Ensemble Performance module; thus, the 2011-12 cohort were the first to be formally assessed (in March 2012), and each cohort since then has been assessed via a lunch-time concert in the spring-time (March or April). Now the module is part of the World Music Ensmeble Performance module.

At the beginning of each new academic year, a fresh generation of budding klezmorim replace those who have just completed the assessed module. But many of those earlier ensemblists continue playing klezmer and go on to form their own groups – the most prolific of which were L’chaim Kapelye, which featured now-tutor Dan Mawson.

Richard Fay

Richard Fay

Each year, the musicians (who will be assessed later in the year) perform at a Chanukah concert at either the Manchester Jewish Museum, or with the Liberal Manchester Jewish Society, as a first outing to prepare them for the subsequent assessed concert in the Thursday lunch-time Walter Carroll concert series.

Combinations of previously-assessed and currently-being-assessed students perform at a variety of other events each year such as concerts, both in person and virtually for the Muslim-Jewish Forum.

The ensembles have also performed for other events at the Manchester Jewish Museum (e.g. the opening of the 2013 Marc Chagall Exhibition), as well as running a ‘klezmer in words and music’ event as part of the Yeshurun Hebrew Congregation’s Coffee, Bagel and Chat series). They are also now involved in music-stimulated reminiscence sessions at the Heathlands care home and the Klezmorim of Manchester KlezJam sessions that take place at The Old Abbey Taphouse.

In the age of digital teaching as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ensemble has been able to connect with KlezNorth to be part of the wider klezmer-playing community in the North of the UK, with internationally-renowned tutors enrichment their understanding of klezmer.

The Objectives of the Ensemble

At its simplest, the ensemble forms one option with an Ensemble Performance module with the participating students being assessed primarily on their ensemble performance competence (awareness, skills, etc). The assessment focuses on their contributions to the collective performance of the ensemble in a lunch-time klezmer concert each spring-time.

However, through this encounter with a largely unfamiliar musical idiom and related contexts (of performance), we hope that the ensemblists expand their intercultural musical awareness and, in consequence, expand also their sense of themselves as musicians and the ways in which their future studies and working lives might embrace musical and musician possibilities beyond the obvious.

More specifically, through the ensemble experience, we hope that the students to develop a good ethnomusicological awareness of this musical idiom, i.e. develop their klezmer understanding. Integral to this, is the experience of the contexts in which klezmer might be situated within the local Jewish communities of Manchester and beyond, i.e. (Jewish) cultural awareness.

Finally, as the ensemble experience itself draws to a close and many of the musicians continue playing together, we have noted their desire to ‘give something back’ and, for example, contribute to musically-enriched reminiscence sessions in nearby Jewish residential homes. Here, and through musical contributions to the inter-faith meetings of the Muslim-Jewish Forum, we see the ensemblists contributing to the university’s and the city’s social engagement strategies.

These wide-ranging objectives have gradually coalesced over the last few years as the initial idea – that it would be fun to play klezmer together in the department – has taken root and grown. Neither of us expected such riches but we are, needless to say, very pleased by this outcome and very proud of, and wish to signal our appreciation of the effort of, all those MKK klezmorim who have made klezmer at Manchester so vibrant.

Richard and Dan (2021)