Lisa Nicholas-Ritscher and the Shtick Figures

by Anca Szilagyi

In anticipation of Lisa Nicholas-Ritscher’s performance of “Fake Books” on Thursday, I asked her about her relationship to klezmer and writing.

AS: How did you get into klezmer? Does it influence or complement your writing? How?

LNR: I first heard klezmer music in college, living next door to a kibbutz. The kibbutz had a giant RV with “Merry Mitzvah Tank” lettering on it and it would park on our block and I could hear the music, but didn’t know what it was. I had played the clarinet growing up and had been exposed to classical, oompah, and the peppier cousin to oompah, the corridos of Northern Mexico and Texas. I am actually new to playing klezmer music; I found Bernice Maslan through an acquaintance at work; she is a musician and activist and director of several klezmer groups, as well as other genres. She hosts a monthly klezmer jam session that, when out performing, goes by the name Klez Chaos. She also created, designed, and maintains a website on the local klezmer music scene: seattleklezmer.com. Our ensemble for this performance is called The Schtick Figures and we come from all different traditions: classical and Baroque mandolins, Ukrainian music, klezmer, Sousa, jazz, and Irish music.

Music influences my emotional landscape and in that sense, it informs my writing. Klezmer, in particular, with the eastern modes and the proximity to the human voice, is moving to me, as well as, as they say on Bandstand, having a good beat that you can dance to 🙂 I am also interested in persona, or “schtick” and klezmer seems to me to strip away that outer layer, and that is what I’m trying to do in a written piece as well.

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