Watch now: Ukraine is on the minds of these musicians | Local News

When the Elm duo sings these words on March 18, Mike Bell will think of his grandfather, and millions of others:

“Grief, grief, for my beloved

For my dear native lands

Sorrow, sorrow, my heart cries so much

I will never be able to see him again”

The lyrics are translated from the Ukrainian song “Hej Sokoly”, which Bell and his daughter Eleanor Mayerfeld, the other half of the elm duowill perform later this month at North Street Cabaret.

The musicians from left, Elm Duo members Mike Bell and Eleanor Mayerfeld, and Yid Vicious band members Anna Purnell, Daithi Wolfe, Greg Smith, Kia Karlen and Geoff Brady gather on the steps of the State Capitol after Saturday’s rally in support of Ukraine.


The show will feature the father-daughter duo as well as the Madison klezmer band Yid Viciousand is a benefit for non-profit humanitarian aid

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Musicians from both groups were also present on Saturday Rally in support of Ukraine on Capitol Square. Four members of Yid Vicious – horn player and accordionist Kia Karlen, percussionist Geoff Brady, clarinetist Greg Smith and vocalist Anna Purnell – performed with the Forward Marching Band to welcome hundreds of rally attendees.

Anna Purnell

Anna Purnell, center, sings with the marching band before the start of Saturday’s pro-Ukraine rally in Capitol Square. Purnell and several other musicians from the band also perform with Yid Vicious, a klezmer band co-starring in a benefit for Ukraine on March 18 at North Street Cabaret.


“I think it’s really important for the artistic community here in Madison to come together and show support for artists and everyone in Ukraine,” Karlen said.

Eastern European music

Yid Vicious will also perform on March 19 at the International Festival, a free, annual, all-day event which returns to the Overture Center after a pandemic-induced hiatus.

The festival fills Overture with concerts and performances by local artists showcasing arts and cultural traditions from around the world. This includes the UW Russian Folk Orchestraa historical feature of the festival.

“Honestly, I hate what’s happening in Ukraine,” said Victor Gorodinsky, founder and director of the UW Russian Folk Orchestra, who placed a “We stand with Ukraine!” post about the orchestra’s Facebook page.

“It’s absolutely awful. I have friends in Ukraine,” he said.

UW Russian Folk Orchestra

The UW Russian Folk Orchestra plays music from all over Eastern Europe, including Ukraine.


Still, Gorodinsky felt compelled to reach out to members of his orchestra and the organizer of the Karra Beach International Festival to make sure they were comfortable with the idea of ​​the orchestra performing.

“We played at the International Festival for years,” Gorodinsky said of his apolitical band. “I guess most people who come to our concerts are smart and smart enough to realize that all we do is play music.”

Nataliya Akulenko with the Ukrainian flag

Supported by musicians from the Forward Marching Band, Nataliya Akulenko, a Ukrainian native who lives in Madison, waves the Ukrainian flag before the start of Saturday’s rally in support of Ukraine.


The orchestra plays “Russian music, but we also do Ukrainian numbers”, as well as music from Poland and other Eastern European countries, said Gorodinsky, who emigrated from Russia to the United States. United 40 years ago. “Our programs are always mixed.”

The 36-member UW Russian Folk Orchestra, made up of UW-Madison students, retired faculty, and community members, has been in existence for 25 years and performs music on traditional instruments. The Slavic-style costumes the group bought just before the COVID-19 shutdown were made in Ukraine, Gorodinsky said.

The Overture International Festival is designed to create a “safe space” for community artists and cultural traditions to come together, Beach said. Although artists are bound by their contracts not to make political statements at the festival, Beach said she wouldn’t be surprised if some expressed sympathy for the Ukrainian people from the stage.

“I don’t consider it political,” she said. “It’s solidarity.”

“No choice in the matter”

The Elm duo played more bluegrass and American music, but about two years ago Mayerfeld became increasingly interested in Yiddish and klezmer music, which draws on the traditions of Ashkenazi Judaism and folk music. from Eastern Europe.

Crowds rally for Ukraine

Supporters of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion of that country gather outside the State Capitol on Saturday.


Bell’s grandfather, Joshua Beliavsky, was originally from Lubny, Ukraine, but left in 1903 for the United States rather than fight in the Russian Tsar’s army.

“A lot of klezmer music comes from this region,” Mayerfeld said. “A lot of the songs, both in Yiddish and Ukrainian, are exactly about my great-grandfather’s experience of having to go out and fight this war and be separated from your family for a cause that means nothing to you, but you have no choice in the matter.”

elm duo

Eleanor Mayerfeld, left, and her father, Mike Bell, form the Elm Duo.


A former Wisconsin State Violin Champion, Mayerfeld teaches voice and violin, sings in the Madison Opera Chorus and will enter a master’s program in classical voice next year. Her father, who plays guitar in the duo, is a sociology professor at UW-Madison and a part-time composer.

Yid vicious

Madison’s klezmer band, Yid Vicious, performs numerous charity concerts, including an upcoming one to benefit humanitarian aid for Ukraine.


When Elm Duo and Yid Vicious decided to co-host the March 18 show at North Street Cabaret, the venue was thrilled to have an all-klezmer night, Bell said.

Some of the music that Yid Vicious will perform comes from the region that is modern Ukraine, Karlen said.

“We’d like to make this a celebration of resilience and sustaining the culture,” she said, “and do what we can to help.”

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