Originally posted 7/21/2010.
A klezmer band purchases a sheepdog to act as band mascot. They change the name of the band to the Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra.
The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra begin to travel widely and soon achieve a degree of acclaim. Everywhere they go, they bring the sheepdog (known to the audiences only as The Sheepdog) with them. He lies on stage during their sets, perking up for the dances, then dropping his sad head to the floor for the vocal lamentations and slow songs, peering out at the audience through his fringe of fur, looking right and left.
The Sheepdog is in private life named David. The band keep his real name to themselves, as they keep their own names private from the audiences they play for, using stage names — Aaron Out Front, Judith Judith, Ronaldo Star, Jonathan Regretful, Felix the Cat, Sam The Fiddler.
Sam The Fiddler, in particular, loves The Sheepdog and is David’s closest companion in the band, walking him during breaks, petting him for long hours in the privacy of hotel room, brushing his thick coat until it shines before every gig.
In their hometown south of Detroit, the Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra plays weddings so often that the sound of a clarinet in the street would lead to proposals and engagements.
I only have ever seen them play once, as I am not a fanatic for klezmer music in general. But at a wedding of close friends from college, The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra played for hours, and I danced and wept as much as the families did for their offspring, and I have not forgotten.
Tonight on the radio, in the early dark of pre-dawn, I heard a recording of The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra and thought of you again:
how your hair fell before your eyes so often
that I was always brushing it back
to see them more clearly;
how I used to dance and weep with you
and called both things
a celebration of us;
how it seemed that a band was playing
whenever we spoke or loved together;
the air itself blurred into song.
This is not to say that remembering you reminds me of a sheepdog, or of The Sheepdog Klezmer Orchestra, or of weddings or dancing.
This is to say that when I think of joy and sadness mixed, and of the caring that demands the constant brushing of hair from soft eyes, of hours of travel and the rewards of keeping private what is most your own,
have a soundtrack
in which you still sing to me
like a clarinet, like Gershwin;
like klezmorim singing the music of names
used gently and only in confidence.