Hingham High School and Brown University graduate Nat Seelen hadn’t even heard of Klezmer music until high school.
Yet come October, Seelen and his band, Ezekiel’s Wheels Klezmer Band, will travel to Amsterdam to perform as one of 24 ensembles in an International Jewish Music Festival.
A traditional Jewish music often featuring clarinet, several string instruments, and sometimes an accordion, Klezmer music often has expressive melodies and originally consisted largely of dance music for weddings and celebrations.
But what really drew Seelen to the music was the clarinet.
“First off, I played clarinet growing up, and I really wanted to find a type of music where clarinet plays the lead. There were some great parts in Klezmer music,” Seelen said.
Beyond that, “the reason [the music was] interesting for me was it was a facet of Jewish culture that was distant from Jewish religion. I had grown up in a family where the background is Middle Eastern and Jewish, but we didn’t have anything to do with it religiously, so it was getting in touch with my culture without getting into parts that didn’t have much to do with me.”
His love of the music in high school caused Seelen to join a Klezmer band at Brown University after he graduated from Hingham High in 2004
It was there that Seelen met Jonathan Cannon, a fiddle player. When they both graduated from college in 2008, they moved to Boston, and immediately they set out to create their own Klezmer band.
A Craigslist ad led them to Pete Fanelli, who plays trombone. A year later, a mutual friend recommended a bass player for the group, and bassist Kirsten Lamb joined soon thereafter.
The second violinist – Abigale Resiman – is the most recent member, joining the band after coming to Boston to study Contemporary Improvisation at the New England Conservatory.
All five members performed at the Boston Jewish Music Festival Klezmer Idol competition for the first time this year. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind.
“This spring we played at Boston Jewish music festival Klezmer Idol, which I couldn’t believe it existed until we showed up … We won that competition and as part of the deal we got a recording [opportunity],” Seelen said. “One of the two co founders [of the competition] said, ‘You need to check out an International Jewish festival and look into it.’ We looked into it … and submitted an application and sound recordings and a written application … We used the time in the studio to record an EP which we finished at the beginning of the summer and used that for our musical sample for the international festival.”
According to Seelen, the band didn’t think much of the application, and rarely talked about it. Yet on Aug. 11, Seelen received an email from the festival telling them that they had won.
Ezekiel’s Wheels will be the only ensemble from the United States at the competition. Other bands span from as close to Canada to as far away as Israel.
“There are so many part so it that will be so cool. One thing we’re pumped about is to meet the other contestants,” Seelen said. “Everyone else will be from a different country, and we wont know anyone else who will be there – we’ll meet people from Netherlands, Poland, Israel, Canada … We can share our music around the world. It’s an incredible treat.”
Before they can get there, however, the group must raise approximately $5500 for airfare and travel.
“The festival does not pay for anything getting there. We need to raise enough to cover our airfare, hotel, and also to make sure we have a bass for Kirsten. Whether we take one ourselves or rent one, it’s difficult to move a bass across the continent,” Seelen said.
Mostly it will be a matter of getting the word out, Seelen said.
But regardless of what it takes, it will be an opportunity of a lifetime, Seelen said.
“We’ve played Boston, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island…to be able to bring what we’ve been working so hard on to the Netherlands and to the world through the groups that will be there – that will be fantastic,” he said.