‘Bluegrass Meets Klezmer:’ Ofer Ben-Amots, Keith Reed, and Grace Hale ’20 Join for Musical Collaboration

By Miriam Brown ’21

American Southern bluegrass and Eastern-European Jewish klezmer may seem like an unlikely musical pairing. In fact, when Professor of Music Ofer Ben-Amots first asked Grace Hale ’20to participate in a collaboration combining the musical genres, she wasn’t even sure she heard him correctly.

“He repeated himself jokingly,” Hale says. ‘Yes, Grace. [The theme] is Bluegrass Meets Klezmer. Haven’t you heard of such a thing?’”

Ben-Amots explained that he, Keith Reed, bluegrass program director,  and mandolin player Sierra Hull were collaborating for two performances: one on March 31, with the Portland Chamber Orchestra, and one on April 9, with the Walla Walla Symphony. Hull needed her song “Sunday” to be arranged for orchestra, and Ben-Amots wanted Hale to do it.

“It was like being thrown off the deep end,” Hale says, “and I was absolutely elated.”

This was the second time that the Walla Walla Symphony played Ben-Amots’ music, but Hull’s first time working with an orchestra and Hale’s first time arranging a song. Neither Hull nor Hale knew quite what to expect or how their final product would be received. They had four weeks to prepare the “Sunday” arrangement — four weeks that Hull was on tour and Hale was in Australia for Ben-Amots’ composition block. Needless to say, communication was slim, but Hale felt a sense of peace in accepting the uncertainty of how the product would be received.

The performances were so successful that they left Hale wanting to know more. Now, she is studying orchestration independently with Ben-Amots.

“It certainly showcased CC and the Music Department in a whole new light,” Ben-Amots said. “Grace Hale’s orchestral arrangement of Sierra Hull’s song ‘Sunday’ has been highly successful and an artistic breakthrough! … It’s also a wonderful message to other students: if you are bold and diligent you can get a head start and make a significant mark in the field, during your college years.”