undefinedJohn Macnaughton 1

John Macnaughton is a woodwind specialist based in London, focusing on various world and folk music. His career explores and celebrates the traditions from the Pale of Settlement (klezmer and co-territorial) and the Balkans. This June, John partners with the talented Ilana Cravitz to present The Benslow Klezmer Orchestra, a course designed for instrumentalists (including keyboard players) from all musical backgrounds - classical, folk, world, or jazz. We had the pleasure to speak with John about his love of music, his career and the course.

John, thank you for speaking to Benslow Music. Please tell our readers what drew you to a career in music.

I come from an artistic family, with my father’s side all working in film and theatre, and my mother being an artist, so a career in the arts felt natural. It comes down to the fact that I just really love creating music with others, and always have done - it gives me a feeling that nothing else beats. I also couldn’t stand the idea of not playing music all the time. For me, it was all or nothing…

You earned a degree in Jazz from Leeds College of Music and completed an MA in Music Performance at SOAS. Please share how these institutions influenced your musical approach.

My time studying MA Performance at SOAS changed the way I think about music and see my role as a musician. At Leeds College of Music, I became a very proficient player - but at SOAS I started to think more about the role of music in society and my role as a musician. For me, this was key to finding my path and developing my career.

Your musical journey revolves around exploring the klezmer traditions and co-territorial music from the Pale of Settlement and the Balkans. Please share more about your early experiences in music and what drew you to this genre.

Why Klezmer? Is a question I often get asked - especially as I am not Jewish. At an early age, I heard a Klezmer band playing at the bandstand at Hornimans Museum (Forest Hill, South London). Apparently (I can’t remember) I loved it and wouldn’t stop dancing. My parents then bought me the ‘Rough Guide to Klezmer’ CD which I can remember listening to repeatedly. Then around 20 years later, I was experimenting with various music and looking to find my own path as a performer when I formed the band Oysland. 

Please tell us more about your award-winding ensemble 'Oysland'.

Oysland Klezmer band was formed in 2013 by myself and Olga Baron. This band marked the beginning of my journey studying Klezmer music. The band has evolved through many different lineups over the years. In 2017 we released our first album ‘Vundervelt’ and won the World Music Network ‘Best Band’ competition. You can find out more about Oysland at https://www.oysland.co.uk

undefinedJohn Macnaughton

Your accomplishments include outstanding performances at major music events such as the London Jazz Festival and the Broadstairs Folk Festival. From your numerous public performances and collaborations, have any specific experiences influenced your approach to performing live?

My time studying with well-known UK Klezmer clarinettists; Susi Evans and Merlin Shepherd at the start of my Klezmer journey has had a big impact on my ethos as a musician. Both encouraged me to think further about my role as a performer and to deepen my knowledge and understanding of klezmer music and its cultural context.

Benslow Music provides inspirational lifelong learning for all ages. What advice would you give to our students and budding musicians?

My main advice to any budding musicians would be to listen (both recordings and live performances) to as much music as possible. Find music you love and which you would find exciting and motivating to play.

We look forward to your upcoming Klezmer Orchestra residency at Benslow Music from Monday, June 3rd to Wednesday, June 5th. Please share what our readers can anticipate.

You can expect an introduction to traditional klezmer style and playing techniques, with historical context discussed. This year we will be looking at repertoire from our new ‘Klezmer in the New World’ programme. This includes music from South American-based klezmer musicians such as Sam Liberman and Sergio Fiedman, as well as repertoire from less widely known North American klezmorim such as Marty Levitt.

Where can our members and followers find out more about you?

You can find out more about me, and future performances and courses at www.johnmacnaughtonmusic.com


The Benslow Klezmer Orchestra Course runs from Mon 3 - Wed 5 June 2024.

For bookings and further information, please visit the following page:

Klezmer Orchestra