Adrianne Greenbaum

Boxwood Conversations
Boxwood Conversations
Adrianne Greenbaum


CHRIS NORMAN:  Hi, I’m Chris Norman and you’re listening to Boxwood’s Artist Huddle – Conversations.

Our September 15th 2020 Artist Huddle featured the Klezmer flute player Adrianne Greenbaum.  We chatted about the history of Klezmer in Eastern Europe and North America and its long history with the flute.  She shared some of her musical philosophy, experiences, and some great tunes.

CHRIS NORMAN:  For a lot of people, Adrianne, Klezmer is a music that’s so closely associated with the Jewish faith and with Jewish identity, I think for those of us who are not Jewish, an immediate question would be – Are we welcome here in this music and what would be our place in the music as non-Jewish people? Should we have any concerns about cultural appropriation as we talk about this music?

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:  Excellent, excellent.  So, it’s not as complicated a concept as you might think.  First of all, we can erase any kind of inappropriate like “I’m not Jewish.”  It’s not really based on any kind of faith, it’s cultural and so we Jews, of course, call it our music and it is.   It’s the music of the Jewish people.  But I’d rather think of it as the Jewish people rather than the Jewish faith.  I am not particularly religious myself.  On the other hand, certainly you’ve got those who are religious, but we also have stars in Klezmer who are not Jewish at all.  And there’s even a group in Amsterdam called Di Gojim.  They just like the music and I don’t think anybody

CHRIS NORMAN:  Yea, it’s interesting because these objections rarely come from musicians or from artists in any genre, it’s often people that are outside the artistic pursuit that tend to raise these objections, but generally speaking …


CHRIS NORMAN:  But in my experience if you’ve got an understanding of the music and you have the contextual basis to play the music just in your own musicality there’s just no question about it.

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:   Exactly, and you know I’ve fallen into “I want to be Irish, I want to be Scottish.”  I had my sister sort of dig deep into our DNA and she said “Sorry, there’s nothing there” and I’ve always felt that I should have some, some lineage there in order to be allowed.  But they all welcomed me in Scotland and of course there were the Jews that came out to hear me.  No one complained and you know when I found that Scottish set mislabeled in the folio, it was trying to say Caledonia but it was really butchered spelling by this Polish guy who just scrawled something, but we figured out it was definitely Caledonia, and there were four tunes.  That was right in the Klezmer folder and obviously it existed there because they either liked it and/or someone requested it for a fair.  Klezmer bands played for county fairs, so whatever that means in Eastern Europe.  So, it’s not just Jewish music that they have to know, it’s just like any, any Klezmer has to know how to play – back in the day when we were really working – at weddings, if someone requested the Macarena, fine.

CHRIS NORMAN:  Right, they’re just there to play the popular music, whatever people want to hear.


CHRIS NORMAN:  So, I know Klezmer has a very close association with music of the Roma from the Romani and Gypsy population of Eastern Europe.  Help me understand the delineation there of where that Eastern European Gypsy music contacts with Klezmer music and where does one end and the other begin.  I’m sure it’s a blurry area, but just talk a little bit about that if you would.

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:  Um, it’s really just based on meeting and traveling and picking up.  Jews did maybe as much as the Roma in terms of roaming around, no pun intended.  Traveling around, and meeting other cultures, and equally really, they would latch onto Turkish and Egyptian and wherever the music took them or a gig took them they would bring it back, and I would gather that the Roma style was closely related because they would feel that being Gypsy, they didn’t have the same vibe of sticking to rules.  I think they were more free.  They enjoyed our modes and we enjoyed theirs.  And that’s really when you would read about or if I were to have been fortunate enough to go out and do field work, I would have been out in the hills and finding out “Oh, you know this tune.”  It’s not exactly what we know it as, and almost far from it, but that happens everywhere.  I was just flipping through this major resource that we have that an ethnomusicologist who was hired by the Ukrainian government to literally go around say “Sing into my disc.” And he recorded and he wrote down what their job was and whether they sang or played an instrument and in what area.  And he was far out into the hills and low and behold, you’d look at – we’re going to do one tonight – it traveled, the tunes traveled far and wide.  So, he might have met someone who knows it from his family in far away places and it came all the way to New York.

CHRIS NORMAN:  I’m interested Adrianne, on this question of where these points of contact are, you look at the old black and white photographs and often you do see pictures of flute players, they’re playing western classical Boehm flutes or simple system flutes.  Are the any examples, pictures of Klezmer bands that have somebody playing a ney or fujara or any of the traditional flutes of the Romani?

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:   Yes, less so, but the ney definitely, and if I were to, you know, branch out more.  I find it difficult to play, anything side blown …

CHRIS NORMAN: [Laughs] The embouchure, it’s hard to forget the old and learn the new, for sure.

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:    Yeah, I mean there’s no fingering involved, there’s, you just have to get the sound and then, you know, get the harmonics.  Augh.

CHRIS NORMAN:    So there actually are some photos of folks playing Klezmer on a ney.

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:    Yes, but really, maybe it’s the ones I’ve focused on, but mostly, 90 % are doing this [demonstrates playing position] using a western instrument, and that’s why – I ran into, some of you might know the name from the flute list, this woman who came out with the flute dictionary, and she kept asking me “Describe a Klezmer flute.”   It’s a simple system flute, it’s not a separate instrument, it’s what the Klezmer played. 

CHRIS NORMAN:   Yeah, it’s the same thing with the Irish flute, which is a non-existent instrument as well.  It’s just a style that you play on a flute.


CHRIS NORMAN:    Now Adrianne, you have been such a trail blazer, not only in restoring the flute to its rightful place in Klezmer music but also as a woman in Klezmer music.  Again, as I look back at those old photos of Klezmer bands, it’s remarkable how there’s not a woman to be seen in any of them.

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:   No.  Yeah, we were disallowed.  We were not allowed to …

CHRIS NORMAN:    Tell us about that journey for you.  Not only discovering the music on the flute, but also, you know, being a woman.

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:   I think I’ve had this question posed to me many times.  Two years ago, there was a complete organization devoted to women in Klezmer and we, there were eleven of us from North America that got together and we were questioned “How does it feel to be a woman in this business?”  I think it was no different, which is not good, to being in the early orchestras where it was frowned upon – “How could you join us?  You’re supposed to be at home.”  Whatever the thoughts were, and I experienced it in Klezmer camp.  I was on staff when the director said “OK, faculty, go on stage.” All the men went on stage and my students were going “Adrianne, get up there.”  I said “Um, um” and the said “Why not?” and I said “I know what the reaction’s going to be.” “Oh, come on, you can’t possibly be thinking that.”  I went on, oh, it was so hurtful, the heads went like this [turns head and stares]

CHRIS NORMAN:    Yeah, of course, it’s not just Klezmer music. It’s every pursuit, not only in music of course, any pursuit you can name.

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:   I think though, in the end, I think I’ve been left out of festivals much more, much more because I play the flute.  And I still get it from clients, you know, they want the violin, anything that’s not going to be loud, that vibe of the violin, the flute, and the hammered dulcimer, the cymbalom – were the first three instruments to form a Klezmer band, so I think it’s the flute itself – “Oh but you’re not going to really make it upbeat like the brass and the clarinets can do, so, no thanks.”

CHRIS NORMAN:    So, you’ve been such a trail blazer, I’m curious, who do you see filling your shoes in the next generation coming up?  Are there a few names that we can look for?

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:   I haven’t given it a thought.  I have not given that one thought.

CHRIS NORMAN:    OK.  Well, let us know, because I’m curious, you must – you know, all the waves that you’ve put out with all of your work in this field.  I would think that there would be some uptake and some folks that are inspired by what you’re doing.

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:   In terms of western flute, there are people who have – Jan Boland, do you know?

CHRIS NORMAN:    Of course, yeah.

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:   Yeah, she did one of my Klezmer sets, incredibly well, it was beautiful.  She’s my age through, so…


ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:   Umm, you have to find someone who really wants to run with it.  There’s a recorder player married to Jake, the violinist that I think you’ve met, yeah, you did, who’s married to him and they sound wonderful together, she has managed to make the recorder really a Klezmer instrument.

CHRIS NORMAN:    What do you see in terms of a trend, in terms of the students that you find coming to you for auditions, when you see fresh musicians coming in just out of high school, what’s different now in 2020 that from 10 years ago, from 20 years ago, from 30 years ago?

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:   The trend has been, no one has majored in the instrument, they would be foolish and it’s a liberal arts college is the right place, if there’s a good flute teacher, to be.  And I think that the conservatory experience is probably more in jeopardy, because where are they going to go?  If they have a double degree component, great, like Peabody/Johns Hopkins.  And I’ve certainly been encouraging my high school students, very talented – please don’t go to a conservatory.”  At least do what some have done, at least go to a fine school where there’s the option of delving into other things.

CHRIS NORMAN:    Join a Klezmer band!  Or a Bluegrass band! [laughs]

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:   Right, I mean, you have to have, I think, a passion that’s strong enough to weather the huge financial storm that you’re going to run into.  Because it’s only the sing-songwriters that have careers and they’re, you know, if you’re not one of the lucky ones that have been found, discovered.  Did you hear, CAMI folded?

CHRIS NORMAN:    No, I didn’t hear that.

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM:   Columbia Artists Management – I mean, if they can’t survive with Itzhak Perlman, etcetera, I don’t know what they’re supposed to do.  They’ve filed for bankruptcy.  You know, sure, it could be that the administration, you know, “where’s my millions that I’m used to getting”

CHRIS NORMAN:    Right, right

ADRIANNE GREENBAUM: “Well, If I can’t do that anymore…”  you just don’t know the level.  But you know, the Met, all these big organizations… So, where are the positions that flute players are going to have?  Education?  You know, that’s better, but as many people know who have students going into music education – the schools, in our country at least can’t find the value for it.  So how are you going to get your job?  There’s less and less reason, and I understand it, unless you’re passionate and you think you can get to that very, very top level, and that’s of course to be defined.  What is the top level?  We all know wonderful flutists, are they great musicians?  [Klezmer flute and piano music playing]

CHRIS NORMAN:    To hear the complete Artist Huddle with Adrianne, among many others, and to receive my regular Tune of the Month videos, subscribe to us on Patreon at We’re grateful to you for your support and to Canadian Heritage, the Provence of Nova Scotia, and Culture Ireland.  Thanks for listening.

  • No products in the cart.