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Mikveh Music

Above the Apple         
                A women's Klezmer band is looking to seduce New York City this 
        by                                      <A HREF="mailto:kalish (at) 
idt(dot)net"> Jon Kalish </A>                                                   
                        An all-girl Klezmer band named Mikveh is making its New 
York concert debut
next week. It hopes to make a splash at a club called Tonic. Better therethan
The group is comprised of four of Klezdom's best female player/performers:
fiddler Alicia Svigals of The Klezmatics, clarinetist Margot Leverett of
Boston's Klezmer Conservatory Band (KCB), vocalist Adrienne Cooper of Kapelye
and accordion player Lauren Brody, a member of the Klezmer trio Freylekh,
Freylekh and a veteran of the Bulgarian music scene. All thewomen live in New
York City.
The idea for the women's Klezmer band has been percolating since New York's
first female Klezmer ensemble, Klezmeydlakh, bit the dust back in the
"Everybody in the [Klezmer] scene is a busy, working musician and we don'ttend
to do anything unless we have a gig," says Svigals.
The gig that got Mikveh off the ground was a brief stint at the Vagina
Monologues, a star-studded evening of feminist performance at the Hammerstein
Ballroom in Manhattan on Valentine's Day. They played a seven-minute set that
included a tune about forbidden romance called "FieryLove."
"We did it and it was like total synergistic band happiness," says Svigals.
Among those who kvelled after the performance were singer Phoebe Snow andthe
father of Marisa Tomei.
The four women apparently spent months choosing the band's name. The process
included polling friends and receiving suggested names over theInternet.
"It was everything from 'Mother Tongue' to 'The Sisterhood' to
'EatSomething,'" recalled Cooper.
Leverett, who had a cathartic experience in a visit to a mikveh when
sheconverted to Judaism, has mixed feelings about the band's name.
"It's very odd as a band name," she concedes. "It's like naming the
"I feel that the Mikveh is a profound transformative experience and musicis
like that."
Asked if she thinks the name will offend the Orthodox community, shereplied:
"They don't hire us anyway."
Because observant Jews hold that the voice of a woman (kol isha) is a
seductive temptation, most Orthodox men will not listen to female vocalists.
Leverett takes pains to stress that Mikveh is not about excluding men. The
clarinet player, who has backed up Joel Grey in "Borschtcapades," as well as
Theodore Bikel and Bruce Adler in "Greetings from Sholom Alechim," says: "None
of us believes that women should play separately from men. We're all playing
in other bands that include men. So, we're not making a statementthat men and
women should play separately."
Mikveh's repertoire will be mostly klezmer but the band will also specialize
in vocal and instrumental improvisation. According to Cooper, much of the
material will relate to women's experience. And she promisesthat the band will
do some "re-thought" Barry Sisters material.
"We're trying to play hot, beautiful music," Cooper says.
Some members of the group expressed frustration that female voices can get
drowned out by male voices in large Klezmer ensembles. So Mikveh will be an
opportunity to showcase the unique harmony of female voices. The group's
accordion player Lauren Brody is expected to make use of her extensive
knowledge of Bulgarian folk music, which often features a chilling blend
offemale voices.
The ladies will be playing at a synagogue in White Plains in October and in
November they'll journey to Holland and Belgium for their first performance
abroad. According to Leverett, Mikveh has already been offered a deal with a
"well-known record label."
But the band will have to work around some very busy schedules andcommitments.
Cooper divides her time between serving as cultural arts director of Temple
Beth Israel in Port Washington and performing in a variety of venues around
the world, the most recent has been "Ghetto Tango," musical theater from
Holocaust ghetto cabarets. Leverett is getting ready to do her first solo
recording. When she's not playing with KCB, she's performing in the Freylekh,
Freylekh trio with Brody and Henry Sapoznik. Svigals is looking toward the
October release of the new Klezmatics album, continued touring with Itzhak
Perlman's Klezmer revue and the birth of her first child in January. 
The group will play two 25-minute sets at 9:00 and 10:30 p.m. on Thursday,July
30 at Tonic (107 Norfolk Street). Both shows are expected to be sold out. Be
forewarned, the club has no air-conditioning. Also on the bill is Alicia
Svigals' Klezmer Fiddle Ensemble. For reservations, call 212-358-7503.          

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