LOS ANGELES — What does it take to run a successful rock band? A talented singer, gifted guitarists, a rebellious drummer and, in my case, a copy of the game “Rock Band” for Nintentdo Wii.
Maybe most, if not all, of my performances take place with my friends … in my living room … after the bars close, but we’re still just as legitimate as any other band.
After all, we use instruments (intricate controllers electronically connected to our game console). We play gigs (virtual venues decided by Nintendo Wii’s complex algorithm). And most of all, we rock out (develop carpal tunnel and arthritis from repeated wrist and shoulder movements).
But whether you’re a professional musician or just a lame 25-year-old, there’s one thing I know: it takes a lot of effort to manage a successful band.
Expatriate Pittsburgher Amy Rose is no stranger to managing a successful band. Through healthy relationship building and a mix of the right talent, she’s kept her klezmer band, Klezamir, strong for over 23 years.
“We are a five piece band and three of us play three different instruments,” said Amy, who plays piano, flute and accordian in addition to serving as the band’s manager.
A current resident of Amherst, Mass., 52-year-old Amy divides her time between Klezamir, giving private music lessons and raising two kids with her husband, Neil.
Many of the band’s shows are within one and four hours of New England and New York City, but Amy says that the group has flown to Michigan and Alabama for some select performances.
“Most of our work is weddings and I think that we’re just really, really good at playing parties,” she said.
After 23 years in the business and dozens of concerts and gigs each year, it’s no surprise that Klezamir also has a four-album collection. Its latest album, “Warm Your Hands,” can be purchased through their Web site (Klezamir.com).
A Squirrel Hill native, Amy (formerly Amy Rose Finck) received her first piano lesson from her mother when she was 8.
When she was 15, she added the flute to her repertoire.
“I needed a hobby,” she joked. “My piano studies were really intense, so I made a decision that I would only take [flute] lessons when I felt like it.”
She continued piano lessons through high school before graduating from University of Michigan in 1980 with a degree in music. But it wasn’t until 1985 when she started experimenting with klezmer.
“The rabbi at University of Massachusetts asked me to do a Jewish music ensemble through Hillel,” said Amy. “From that group, Klezamir evolved.”
Since its formation in 1986, the band has seen a few changes in personnel, but overall, there hasn’t been that much turnover in its two-plus decade existence.
At one point, Klezamir was performing together about 50 times per year, according to Amy. Now, since the recession, that number has been reduced to once or twice each month, splitting performances between concerts and paid gigs.
But for Amy, there’s more to klezmer than just a paycheck and a steady gig.
“Maybe it’s because of my heritage — my grandmother was a Russain musician and my grandfather put on Yiddish plays” she said. “It lit a match in my heart and soul.”
I can only pray they come out with a klezmer edition for Nintendo “Rock Band.”
(Jay Firestone, a Pittsburgh native and Web and multimedia editor for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, writes about Pittsburghers who now live somewhere else. He can be reached at email@example.com.)