For the Ezekiel’s Wheels Klezmer Band, just making it to the International Jewish Music Festival in Amsterdam was a treat.
Walking away with the audience award for best performance and the City Winery award for best klezmer band? Now that’s something the group didn’t expect.
Featuring Hingham native and clarinetist Nat Seelen, fiddle player Jonathan Cannon, trombonist Pete Fanelli, bassist Kirsten Lamb, and violinist Abigale Resiman, the group was the only ensemble from the United States to travel to the recent competition, after becoming one of 24 bands out of 100 applications to be accepted.
Their adventure started last spring at the Boston Jewish Music Festival’s Klezmer Idol competition, where they won a recording opportunity.
After the band’s success at the local festival, one of the event’s cofounders urged Ezekiel’s Wheels to enter the international competition. Klezmer music often features the clarinet and string instruments, and uses expressive melodies well-suited for weddings and celebrations.
After playing wedding gigs and school performances, the group finally took off to Amsterdam, renting a bass for Lamb and shuffling off to rehearsal soon after landing.
“It was really wild,’’ said Seelen, who described a whirlwind of performances and rehearsals that began on the morning of Oct. 11 and ended with the winners’ concert on Oct. 14.
According to Lamb, the band’s members were just trying to make it past the first round so they could play their two prepared sets.
“We had been listening to the contest and there were so many amazing bands,” she said. “When we found out we were in the final, we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t expect it at all. But there was so much good music. I was really impressed by the level of musicianship and how professional all the bands were.”
In addition to klezmer music, the event featured solo percussionists, guitarists from Spain, and Israeli rock bands.
“I was impressed by how diverse the festival was . . . it seemed like it would be a hard festival to judge because all the bands were really different. The only common thread was it had to have Jewish elements,” Lamb said.
According to Seelen, the 22 groups in the competition (two of the invited groups couldn’t make it) were first narrowed down to 12. From there, the top six competed in the final round.
Numerous awards were given out to the finalists, with the top three awards consisting of the Audience Prize Award, which Ezekiel’s Wheels won; a grand prize by jury, awarded to a Yiddish singer from Israel; and Best Performance of a Choir Piece, which went to a guitar and percussion duo.
The local band not only walked away with one of the top awards, but also 1,000 euros (about $1,300). Their performance has also opened up numerous doors for the group, including performances in New York City and Chicago.
For Seelen, the prize will not only give the group an edge when booking shows, but has bonded the band members together.
“We’ve also been rehearsing every week for years now, but we haven’t had a week where we rehearse multiple hours and play every day, and it’s interesting to see when we put in that work we can do really great things . . . we realize how great we can be,” he said.
Lamb agreed that the award would have a big impact.
She said the group hopes to use the prize money to help pay for recording a full-length album.
“We’ll hopefully be playing more in the Boston area and playing up the prizes we won to help advertise for shows,” Lamb said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to travel around at least the Northeast.
“This whole experience has made the band get a little more serious about wanting to play together more, do more professional-level gigs,” she said.
While the band discusses its next steps, the entire experience is still sinking in.
“The really weird thing was it was such an intense experience, I forgot that we were only away for a week,” Seelen said.
“Coming back is getting adjusted to it. I’m incredibly excited and it’s something we can use to push the band forward.”