Founded in 1980, the Ethnic Heritage Council’s mission is sharing and preserving ethnic heritage to advance mutual understanding. The Gordon Ekvall Tracie Memorial Award was established in 1990 to recognize ethnic performing artists for excellence in ethnic performance and for their significant contributions to the development and presentation of the traditional cultural arts in the Pacific Northwest. The award was created in memory of Gordon Ekvall Tracie who devoted more than four decades to the study and promotion of Nordic traditional music and dance. To learn more about the Ethnic Heritage Council’s programs and workshops, visit www.ethnicheritagecouncil.org.
Harvey Niebulski M.D., Recipient of the 2018 Gordon Ekvall Tracie Memorial Award
“When Harvey brings out his accordion, the party begins.”
Harvey Niebulski is an icon in Puget Sound’s ethnic music community. A flame was lit during his childhood when his Eastern European parents immigrated to New York after World War II, and his parents gave him an accordion. Passion for his Yiddish heritage eventually took hold, and that flame has now engulfed the entire folk music and culture community in the Puget Sound region and beyond. Harvey is a radiologist by profession and performs klezmer music with several bands, notably his own Klez Katz, Orkestyr Farfeleh, and Duo Rymanow.
Harvey shares his music and good humor regularly at the Kline Galland Home, Seattle Children’s Museum, Seattle International Film Festival, Seattle Jewish Film Festival, Holocaust Center for Humanity, and Northwest Folklife, where Harvey has served on the board for over 20 years.
Ever interested in deepening his Yiddish culture and Klezmer connections, Harvey annually attends KlezKanada near Montreal, a camp whose mission is to teach, nurture, and present to a broad public the best of Jewish traditional arts and culture. Harvey is very supportive of other musicians and generously shares his own knowledge and nurtures their inner klezmer. He draws on his ability as a native Yiddish speaker to lead both language classes and song circles, including the annual Yiddish service at Temple Beth Am, where he was a featured presenter in 2015.
Wherever Harvey goes, he gets people involved. He leads “Klezmer 101” and Yiddish song sessions each year at Northwest Folklife, the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, and Northwest New Year’s Camp (the Bash on Vashon). Participants at these gatherings come back year after year and say his sessions have connected them to their heritage, sometimes newly discovered. Harvey always provides sheet music rather than insisting that people learn by ear, even though his personal method seems to be learning a new tune simply by listening to it once. He plays to the strengths of the people in the room and encourages players to keep trying.
At the 2018 Limmud Seattle festival, which brought over 500 participants together to celebrate Jewish culture, Harvey led a klezmer jam with an accompanying dance component. He made sure to pick tunes that the dancers could enjoy and that the pickup band could immediately perform at dance tempo. Recognizing the diversity of the Seattle Jewish community, Harvey is happy to play anything that brings people together under the big tent of Jewish traditions, which might include a Russian waltz, a Ladino (Sephardic) drinking song, or an Israeli dance.
Harvey looks deep inside his patients with his imaging equipment but deep into their souls with his generous rendering of music afterhours. Everyone says, “When Harvey brings out his accordion, the party begins.” Harvey Niebulski is a cultural treasure in our community.
By Luther Black, Bernice Maslan and Marianne Tatom
Courtesy of the Ethnic Heritage Council