Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.
 

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz too. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.
 

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz.  (See you.)
 

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.
 

Stratton is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, the Times of Israel, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. He won two Hopwood Awards.


 
 

CLARINETS ON BIKES

I played a crummy clarinet, blasting against the side of a barn door on a bike trip in rural Ohio.  I nearly destroyed my lip.

Last summer my friend Mark Schilling from Japan wanted to ride the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure (GOBA), so I couldn’t very well say: “Mark, I’m passing on GOBA.  I have a big gig coming up and need to practice.”

I had to practice for Yiddishe Cup’s twentieth anniversary concert, which was the day after the bike tour.

Some musicians don’t need to practice; they practiced in music school and can wing it as adults.  I didn’t go to music school.  I have to feel the notes in my fingers and brain almost daily before a big show.

My borrowed cheap clarinet had decayed pads, squeaky keys and cracked dirty reeds.  The mouthpiece had layers of caked lip gunk. The axe was plastic and generic.  No name.  I got it from a friend.  Ray-somebody in Sioux City, Iowa, had once repaired it; his card was in the case.

Why didn’t I have a back-up axe of my own? Was this an example of rigid thinking on my part?  I had put my professional clarinet through so much — parades and other outdoor indignities — and didn’t own a back-up.  For example, I should have had a plastic horn for the 2004 Israel Independence Day parade when we marched outside in 40 degrees. (One Yiddishe Cup musician went AWOL on that parade because he didn’t play under 50.)

On the GOBA trip, I played next to the Wood County Fairgrounds sheep barn.  If I had stood in the middle of the horse-showing ring and played — without the barn wall to bounce sound off — I would have blown my lip out even more.

I had to practice high notes, which cheap clarinets don’t do well.  You need a decent mouthpiece and a quality reed.  I bit down hard and tore my lower, inside cheek.

Nobody on the bike tour — about 2,500 riders — complained about my playing.  Midwesterners, particularly bicyclists, are very tolerant and polite.

I also practiced at a high school football field. That town, Elmore, had a bass drone coming from the Ohio Turnpike a block away.

I used cortisone cream on my cheek.

The final day of the ride, my friend and I performed at the bike rally’s talent show.  Mark and I had written a song about aching backs, bad food and smelly port-a-potties.  So had all the other contestants.  The difference: our tune had a klezmer clarinet.

We riffed on the melody “Nayer Sher,” a.k.a. the “Wedding Samba,” popularized by Xavier Cugat.  I had heard that 1950s tune on Muzak in a Cleveland grocery store.  The song had crossover appeal.

But we didn’t win.

A barbershop trio did.  They sang about tandem bike riders smelling each other’s gas.  We hadn’t thought of that.

Irwin Weinberger, a veteran GOBA cyclist and Yiddishe Cup’s singer, came in second.  Irwin inserted port-a-potty lyrics into the Kinks’ “Lola.”

Irwin hadn’t practiced all week.  Irwin is a natural.  And he’s a gas.

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GOBA begins June 20 in Logan, Ohio. The GOBA encampment is half Pilot Gas rest stop, half Cabela’s.  There are six semi-haulers and many tents.  The semis carry the cyclists’ baggage.  Two of the semis are actually mobile shower trucks (which are sometimes used for natural disasters). There is close-quarters snoring on the football field, with hundreds of tents pitched within several feet of each other.  Rated: Difficult.
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Yiddishe Cup plays the post-parade concert at Parade The Circle 1 p.m. this Sat. (June 12).  Wade Oval, Cleveland. Traffic tip: Ride your bike to the parade and park in the Ohio City Bicycle Co-op lot.

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3 comments

1 KathyHoke { 06.09.10 at 11:41 am }

I can hear it and see it – even smell it! Thanks for the great laugh. I love the blog! Maybe I’ll crash GOBA this year so we can hang out. We need to get you a gig in Columbus. I’ll see what I can do.

2 Marc { 06.09.10 at 2:43 pm }

I played a Chabad Chanukah party in Rhode Island in December on clarinet. My lip and mouthpiece froze together.

3 Mark Schilling { 06.13.10 at 9:49 am }

I was thinking of skipping GOBA 22 — but just when I thought I was out, Bert pulled me back in. So we’re even, bro’. CU on Friday!

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