Ensemble Methodology

Towards an Interculturally-Oriented Klezmer Ensemble Methodology

(Richard Fay, August 2015)


The development with Ros Hawley of the Michael Kahan Kapelye klezmer ensemble at the University of Manchester has also, by necessity, required us to develop of a methodology for teaching klezmer which not only responds to the needs of our students, but which also recognises and builds upon our complementary areas of expertise and non-Jewish identities. Such a methodology needed to be appropriate for:

  1. our UK-based (rather than, for example, US-based), conservatoire-type (rather than more popular music-oriented) context;
  2. this juncture (rather than the 1980s klezmer revival era for example); and
  3. for a city such as Manchester (with its large Jewish population but relative distance from the cultural politics of klezmer revivals elsewhere.

It made sense to me to bring to this task my experience as an intercultural educator. As I now reflect upon what has emerged over the last five years, I find Huib Schippers’ seven-element articulation (2005) – as opposed to his later 12-element version (2010) – of his Continuum Transmission Framework (CTF) helps me to articulate key features of the underlying methodological rationale I think we have developed for our ensemble teaching, thereby enabling comparisons with the similarly mapped pedagogy of other world music ensembles.

The CTF framework consists of a set of continua subdivided into three sets relating to Issues of Context, Modes of Transmission, and Approach to Cultural Diversity. For example, Schippers has three continua regarding transmission, namely: atomistic/analytical <–> holistic (e.g. use of didactic pieces such as graded exercises versus the use of ‘real’ repertoire for actual transmission); notation-based <–> aural /oral ; and tangible <–> intangible (e.g. emphasis on technique more than emphasis on expression). I have reworked his CTF as a nine-element Methodological Framework in order to better accommodate my intercultural education perspectives. Before presenting this framework, it may be useful to present the objectives for our klezmer teaching.


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 performed in the local Jewish communities 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.


A (nine-element) Methodological Framework for Teaching Klezmer (in a Music Department in the UK)

i) Intercultural awareness – global musical awareness?

The first element addresses the balance between intercultural education and music education. It invites us to consider whether our teaching intended to primarily to develop students’:

  • intercultural awareness through encounters with ‘otherness’ through music? …. or/and ….
  • global musical awareness through encounters with the musical other?

In the case of our ensemble, the centre of pedagogic gravity lies more with the latter (with the former as a beneficial side-effect perhaps).

ii) Experiential learning dimensions

My point of entry with experiential learning is through  intercultural communication training where, since the 1970s, a central tenet regarding learning has been that the cognitive dimension (i.e. learning about the ‘other’) alone rarely facilitates the deep experience and understanding of the ‘other’ (and re-understanding of the ‘self’) that intercultural communication requires. Experiential learning adds the affective and behavioural dimensions (e.g. Gudykunst and Hammer, 1983). Adapting this for klezmer methodology, we can see the opportunities for:

  • the cognitive – studying/learning about other musics (e.g. lectures);
  • the affective – hearing/listening to other musics (e.g. concerts);
  • the behavioural – learning to play and perform other musics (e.g. ensemble participation).

The students experience of learning in the klezmer ensemble involves all of these possibilities but it is the performance dimension that is being assessed and which often develops a life of its own beyond that assessed curricular context. Thus, performance takes the foreground but effective performance builds out of the other dimensions and we provide both cognitive (e.g. engagement with documentaries about klezmer) and affective (encouragement to note their responses to frequent listening experiences, e.g. of archive recordings) dimensions.

One of Schippers’ continua concerns the approach to cultural diversity. This uses key terms – e.g. multicultural intercultural, transcultural – a little differently that in much intercultural education thinking. For this reason, I have reworked this area with the following three elements.

iii) Cultural learning strategies

The first concerns how the new musical awareness and understanding relates to the students’ existing understandings. At one extreme, the new music might be presented, perhaps token-istically, as an ‘exotic other’ viewed from the comfortably familiar Western European Art Music (WEAM) home culture. At the other, it will require a complete transformation of the ways in which the student thinks about musical cultures:

  • additive strategy – home musical culture + one ‘exotic other’ (e.g. WEAM + klezmer, or Gamelan etc); or
  • transformative strategy – re-framing the students’ understanding of the global music-scape.

We seek the latter but, given the departmental context we are working in, recognise the possibility of the former.

iv) Mono-/multi-perspectivity

An important strand of intercultural thinking deals with countering the process of otherisation (e.g. Holliday et al., 2004) through the skills of externalisation and decentre-ing (e.g. O’Sullivan, 1994: 99ff) and the development of multiple perspectives on the same phenomena. One formulation (Elsen and St.John, 2007) uses the following four perspectives: (1) frontlining the familiar (i.e. surfacing the usually unremarked upon, taken-for-granted assumptions we have on our familiar [musical] world); (2) facing the foreign (i.e. engaging with unfamiliar [musical] worlds from our own perspective); (3) foreignising the familiar (i.e. taking into account the perceptions of our [musical] world that outsiders may have of it); and (4) familiarising the foreign (i.e. entering into the worldview of others and seeing how they understand their own [musical] world).

In this 4th pedagogic element, there are two extremes (on continuum) which can be used to map the position of the ensemble vis-a-vis the approach to cultural diversity. These are:

  • a mono-perspectivity encouraging the formation simply of our views on them;
  • a multi-perspectiviy encouraging, for example, all four of the us/them possibilities identified above.

Again, whilst recognising the potential for the former to rest from the klezmer experience, our objective is to encourage students to develop the latter.

v) Understandings of culture

Although Ethnomusicology has changed with respect to the quasi-colonial understandings of ‘the Other’ which characterised some of its earlier accounts, nonetheless a somewhat static, culture-as-society understandings of culture can persist. In this regard, it is much like much of the social sciences but this is being challenged (e.g. Holliday, 1999) especially in my professional domain. This is the rationale for including this 5th element.

Klezmer has a complicated history. Yes, it has Old World roots in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, and, yes, it travelled to the New World at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, and, yes, it declined in both contexts only to be revived in the 1980s, and, yes, it now has a place in the transnational world music scene, and, yes, many diverse kinds of musicians and aficionados have come under its thrall. It thus makes little sense to locate it too closely with a particular cultural group. Therefore, recognising and valuing klezmer’s cultural origins but also its various manifestations since then, I see the ensemble more in terms of the latter of these two possibilities:

  • Modernist, default ‘large culture’ understanding of ‘culture’;
  • Post-modern, emergent ‘small culture’ understanding of culture.

vi) Performance contexts

The klezmer ensemble most easily enables the first and second of the three possibilities below.

  • academic-located (department-based) performances only;
  • local (community) performance contexts (e.g. in venues in the city);
  • reconstructed ‘authentic’ contexts.

We do have departmental performances (including the assessed concert), and we do have a range of performances in the community (be that more student-centred bars or the local Jewish Museum with a largely Jewish audience). The myriad contexts in which klezmer now exists seem to work against our attempting to recreate any sense of authenticity vis-à-vis contexts with which we have no proximity. Similarly, given the dynamism within klezmer – as evidenced by its history over the last 150 years – we positioning the ensemble more towards the second of the following possible understandings of klezmer culture:

vii) Static-fluid understandings of (klezmer) musical culture(s)

  • The ‘other’ viewed as an essentially static tradition; and
  • The ‘other’ viewed as a dynamic, fluid process.

There is some overlap here, perhaps, with the fifth element above.

There is a great deal of discussion in the music education literature (e.g. Campbell et al., 2005: v-vi; Nettl, 2005: 388ff; Schippers, 2010: xvi; 61ff) about the transmission of musics and musical cultures – or the process of musical enculturation – and the need for a respectful appreciation of indigenous ways of teaching and learning other musical cultures – the process of musical acculturation). The final two elements relate to this debate.

viii) Aural-notation transmission 

Klezmer has no clear tradition of transmission in the way that many other musics do. In fact, in some ways there are competing models of transmission when its overall historical development is reviewed. However, our intention is to balance working from notation and working aurally also. In this area, we are feeling our way towards a transmission culture that does value klezmer’s complex developmental history but also the academic context of the students.

ix) Holistic-atomistic transmission 

Although we will pay some attention to analysis (to enable students to enter the various musical dimensions of their klezmer experience (e.g. modes, ornamentation, rhythm), the dominant mode of working is a holistic one as we use complete klezmer works, in arrangements, perhaps in sets suited for dancing, in this way preparing in a short timeframe for the possibility of (possibly dance-based) community performances during the ensemble experience culminating in assessment (of the performance).


  • Campbell, P. et al. (eds.) (2005). Cultural diversity in music education: Directions and challenges for the 21st century. Queensland: Australian Academic Press.
  • Elsen, A. and St. John, O. (2007). ‘Learner autonomy and intercultural competence’. In M. Jiménez Raya and L. Sercu (eds.), Challenges in teacher development: learner autonomy and intercultural competence. (pp. 15-39). Frankfurt, Peter Lang.
  • Gudykunst, W. and Hammer, M. (1983). ‘Basic training design: Approaches to intercultural training’. In D. Landis and R.W. Brislin (eds.), Handbook of Intercultural Training (3 vols.)(1st edn.). (pp.118-154.) New York, Pergamon.
  • Holliday, A. (1999). Small cultures. Applied Linguistics, 20(2), 237-264.
  • Holliday, A., Hyde, M. and Kullman J. (2004). Intercultural communication: An advanced resource book. London: Routledge.
  • Nettl, B. (2005). The study of ethnomusicology: Thirty-one issues and concepts. Champaign, ILL.: University of Illinois Press. [the first edition with a slightly different title was published in 1983]
  • O’Sullivan, K. (1994). Understanding ways: Communicating between cultures. Sydney, NSW.: Hale & Iremonger.
  • Schippers, H. (2005). ‘Taking distance and getting close up: The seven-continuum transmission model (SCTM)’. In P.S. Campbell, P.S. et al, Cultural diversity in music education: Directions and challenges for the 21st century. (pp.29-34). Queensland: Australian Academic Press.
  • Schippers, H. (2010). Facing the music: Shaping music education from a global perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

World Music and World Music Education

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