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The Michael Kahan Kapelye

Eva Kahan describes her joy at the setting up of a klezmer band in the name of her late husband.

I felt very emotional and extremely honoured when Ros Hawley and Richard Fay approached me about naming the University of Manchester Ensemble after my late husband. What a fabulous way to remember a fantastic musician and genuinely nice man - and keep his legacy alive. That’s how the Manchester University Ensemble became the Michael Kahan Kapelye.

However, who was this klezmer musician Michael Kahan?

Michael Kahan was a highly gifted, classically trained violinist. Though Jewish, he didn't discover klezmer till his mid-thirties. He also noticed the genre's immediate appeal to non-Jews even though many Jewish people, himself included, had been unaware this East European music even existed. Michael was a man with vision and a hunger for learning. He wanted to introduce klezmer to the north of England. He wanted to raise awareness of it amongst both the Jewish and wider communities - to music lovers of any ethnic background.

Michael and Ros Hawley formed the’ Klezmer Gourmets’, a duo with the potential to become a 'tour de force' within the klezmer world. Working together with the JMI, he would have liked to become an ambassador for klezmer in the north.  He had plans for workshops and university lectures and even toyed with the idea of writing a book on klezmer tunes.

Michael’s tragic, unexpected and cruel death left an enormous vacuum. His unique style and innate feel for klezmer are sorely missed by his musical colleagues, family, friends and clients whose weddings, bar mitzvahs and celebrations he had graced. However his vision and enthusiasm now live on through the Michael Kahan Kapelye.  His family are overjoyed future klezmer generations will be influenced by Michael and his infectious love of learning and music-making. His energy will live on, reflected in the enthusiasm of the students performing in his name.

We were delighted to welcome a few members of the Michael Kahan Kapelye to the 4th Michael Kahan Music Day on 05.06.2011. We were able to provide them with a platform for their ensemble. The Michael Kahan Music Day started as an annual meeting point for Michael’s friends but has grown considerably. Its beauty lies in its ability to attract musicians of all standards, playing so many styles of music under one roof. This event is unique. You can hear full-time classical professionals alongside beginners - from Schubert to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the violin. From jazz to classical to folk to rock, this day of music and celebration offers something for every taste. This event also raises funds for the Trust paying for Michael’s children's music lessons.

This year our usual klezmer bands were unavailable. It was a challenge well met for the Michael Kahan Kapelye to get people up onto the dance floor - and they did. I personally loved watching the players gain confidence when they saw how many people appreciated the music and joined in with the dancing. Directed by our experienced klezmer dance leader, Judith Plowman, even the most diffident people there felt like 'having a go'. The room brimmed with atmosphere and the musicians spurred us on to dance faster and faster. Considering that they had only a few weeks' tuition, their playing was amazing. They not only enjoyed themselves but obviously had a natural feel for klezmer. They’re definitely on track to just get it right!

I’m sure members of the Michael Kahan Kapelye will always carry Michael’s legacy within them - and may even spare him a thought when they're playing klezmer.

Michael was very gifted. Nonetheless, having an eponymous ensemble is an incredible honour. I would like to thank Ros Hawley and Richard Fay for offering us, his family, this amazing opportunity. I hope the Michael Kahan Kapelye will become a fixture in the  University of Manchester  music curriculum.

Long may it continue.