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Arts & Culture Montreal Doc and Klezkamp Organizer Believes Music Cures the Troubled Soul

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Music soothes the savage beast, the old adage states. And nowhere will you hear this stated more convincingly than at the side of Dr. Hy Goldman, a doctor at Montreal Children’s Hospital who has traveled the world, and savored its musical charms, for most of his life.

“One of my earliest childhood memories is the image of me standing in front of the Victrola, winding it up and listening to records, primarily old Jewish tunes,” Goldman said, shortly before another of his KlezKanada music festivals.

The annual event is held at Camp B’nai Brith in the Laurentian mountains, 45 minutes by car from Montreal.

KlezKanada involves 40 bands and 150 musicians and features ongoing performances, musical symposia and workshops.

Some of the young people showcasing their talents attend on scholarship. Two of the “scholarship kids” on hand this season are Ronnie Michaels, a 13-year-old Montrealer who recently placed first at the Canadian National Competition, and Aaron Schwebel, a 14-year-old from Toronto who finished second at the competition.

Born and raised in Montreal, Goldman moved to New York in 1946.

Drafted into the U.S. Army, he was sent to Japan and South Korea before receiving his discharge 18 months later. The GI Bill of Rights enabled him to attend university, and it was there, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, that Goldman began his flirtation with music. He organized musical events, but also a pep rally that starred Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

“I used to be a pretty good singer, but I realized that singing was not what I wanted to do. I decided to become a doctor,” Goldman recalled.

Yet the music bug never left him. In the 1980s, when Goldman was involved with Montreal’s Akiva School, arranging concerts and other fund-raisers, he brought in Boston’s Klezmer Conservatory Band. The group played a type of music with which most of the public was still relatively unfamiliar.

He initiated his summer klezmer festival eight years ago.

Klezmer’s roots date back hundreds of years in Eastern Europe. Itinerant musicians would travel from shtetl to shtetl playing events, Goldman said.

There are Romanian, Turkish, Greek and Russian elements in klezmer, but the essential part comes from synagogue music.

So smitten is the Quebec public with klezmer and bands such as Brave New World and the Klezmer Conservatory Band — the latter played on stage with the Quebecois folk band La Bottine Souriante at one of the hottest concerts at the Montreal Jazz Festival during the early 1990s — that the five-day event is sold out every year.

It’s not a huge crowd, certainly, but the minimal space available at the camp and the length of the event makes larger attendance impossible, though many more people do request tickets.

As for music, Goldman insists it’s good for what ails you.

“Music is a very important part of the human condition. Ongoing research shows music’s role in the brain,” he said.

“I think music can heal in a way that’s difficult to determine,” he said. “It provides an atmosphere where that individual is relaxed and less preoccupied with his or her ailments.”

KlezKanada 2003 runs from Aug. 19-24. Visit www.klezkanada.com for more information.

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