Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel
Isle of Klezbos performed outside the Village Temple on E. 12th St. after Shabbat services last Friday night.
Lesbian klezmer band is making sweet music together
By Lori Haught
The music draws people to the female sextet that is Isle of Klezbos, the charisma keeps them riveted, and the energy makes them want to dance.
Close to 50 people celebrated with members and guests of the Isle of Klezbos at The Village Temple’s G.L.B.T. Pride Shabbat on Friday.
Blocking off 12th St. between University Pl. and Broadway, members of the temple used the open space as a dance floor with the occasional passerby joining in, as Isle of Klezbos filled the block with their klezmer music.
Klezmer is based in the musical tradition of Hasidic and Ashkenazic Judaism. The Isle, however, incorporates multiple genres into the traditionally Yiddish music, said Eve Sicular, the group’s bandleader and drummer.
“We take the standards and create a different feel,” Sicular said.
Which was also the notion when starting the band in 1998.
While the fact that most of the women were lesbians, made coming up with a lighthearted and fun name easy, Sicular said the idea for an all-female band stemmed from wanting an outlet for women who played powerful instruments untraditional to their sex.
Sicular said it was hard for her growing up and playing the drums as a girl, and the gradual shift in the culture has helped ease that. With groups like the Isle of Klezbos, young girls can realize their potential to play any instrument as well as any type of music.
Sicular credits that motivation, as well as a stunning amount of talent, for keeping the group up and running for nine years.
“If we didn’t have the music to back it up, it really wouldn’t have continued as strongly,” she said. “It’s a very stable group; we know each other.”
While in the band, the members still pursue solo projects, as well. Pam Fleming, who plays the trumpet and flugelhorn for Isle, has toured with artists like Natalie Merchant and appeared with Bonnie Raitt and Rufus Wainwright, as well as having her own jazz ensemble called Fearless Dreamer. She is currently touring Malaysia.
Music isn’t the band members’ only side project. Vocalist Deborah Karpel has a funny streak. She was a founding member of the improvisational comedy troupe Shock of the Funny, and has appeared on Comedy Central’s “Strangers With Candy.”
Other members include Terri Conti on the accordion, Debra Kreisberg on the clarinet and alto-saxophone and Anna Milat-Meyer on the bass.
Kreisberg, Fleming and Sicular also compose some of the music performed by Isle of Klezbos.
Rabbi Chava E. Koster, of The Village Temple, said the celebration Friday went very well and that everyone was happy. While the temple has had the G.L.B.T. Pride Shabbat for two years now, Koster said she doesn’t have a large number of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender congregants.
“It’s pretty amazing that in the Village there aren’t more,” she said. It doesn’t stop the synagogue from taking a stand on the issue, however. “I wish there were more people talking. I think [the issue of gay rights] is comparable to the black civil rights movement,” Koster said. “I think it’s worth taking a risk.”
Sicular said that the Isle of Klezbos has grown into more than a novelty act as the culture has changed since its conception. She said they now get hired for heterosexual weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs.
“Where they hire us, we will come!” she joked.
They are also looking into cross-cultural collaborations over the holiday season and generally play the celebrations at Beth Simchat Torah at Holy Apostles Church on Ninth Ave. at 28th St.
“We feel very grateful to live in New York City, where people appreciate the music,” Sicular said.
The group will leave New York on June 25, however, to perform in Vienna, Austria, at the KlezMORE Festival. Their next scheduled performance close to the city will be at the Mason Gross School of the Arts on July 18 at 8 p.m., in New Brunswick, N.J. The show is free and open to the public.
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