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Preserving Tradition for All Cultures: the Center for Traditional Music and Dance


Peter Rushefsky grew up listening to – and playing – lots of traditional music. Old time. Bluegrass. Ragtime. As time went on, he got an urge that many have felt over the years; he wanted to explore the music of his heritage more thoroughly.


"At some point when you get deep into traditional music," he explained, "you start asking: What about the music of MY community?" That question led to an exploration of klezmer, a genre he described succinctly as "Jewish celebratory music." It came to the states with immigrants, primarily in the 20th century.

"There's been a big revival of the music since the 1970s," he said. He began delving deep while in his 20s, attending klezmer camps. He said he was "hooked" because the music resonated.



photo by David Kaufman

Since then, his professional work as a Klezmer musician has led to performing and/or recording with greats, including Itzhak Perlman and the Klezmer Conservatory Band. He's performed the music of his heritage at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and on-air at NPR radio.


That experience of evolving in the direction of his heritage serves Rushefsky well as Executive Director for the NYC-based Center for Traditional Music and Dance, a nonprofit that allows him to support similar examination – and preservation – of the arts and culture of peoples who have immigrated to the city. It seemed he was uniquely suited to do the job since he had taken that journey of cultural exploration.


"It had a lot of resonance with what I was living," he said. "I thought, wow, maybe this is a way I can use what I learned from within Jewish culture and help other cultures around the world."


He said the organization is all about "reviving and revitalizing" traditions.


"We have a wonderful series called Beat of the Burroughs: NYC Online," he said, explaining the initiative started during the pandemic. It features video profiles of various artists from NYC, showcasing each's music, methods and culture. These videos – uploaded several times per week to the Center's website at Ctmd.org – aim to provide a "contextualization" for each artist's work.

Rushefsky implied that what happens in his city affects other parts of the American melting pot.


"New York is a hub for so many different kinds of culture," he said, explaining it tends to "ripple out" from there. In this sense, his organization's work will eventually reach us all, possibly through the evolution of our greater collective culture.

The Center for Traditional Music and Dance coordinates concerts; festivals; multimedia products, including documentary films; workshops; after-school classes for children; learning experiences aimed at seniors; and more.


Whether it's music and dance hailing from Haiti, the Balkans, or Colombia, there's no doubt the Center has it represented somewhere in its offerings. Some current programs relate to the music and dance of immigrants from Mongolia; The Himalayas; and Sri Lanka, for which they're "working towards a large festival in the fall." Rushefsky said when visitors find themselves in NYC, "they should check out our events calendar and Facebook page" to see if anything is going on during their stay.


One of the longer-standing events the Center is known for is Yiddish New York, billed as the largest Yiddish Culture festival in the United States. Taking place the last week in December, Yiddish artists, scholars, and personalities join together for six days of films; lectures; theater; Yiddish language, food, song and folk dance; visual arts; klezmer music; workshops; and more. Rushefsky said people from all backgrounds are welcome, and attendance from those outside the community is an enhancement and the purpose of the Center.

"The best events," Rushefsky said, "are when half the crowd is from inside the community, and half is from outside."


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