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A Little Travelin' Music
Welcome to the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, where a picture is worth more than a thousand words - it's worth two hours of the most unusual concert this side of recording a family Passover seder.
And who could pass up such an event?
Not the Painted Bride Art Center, playing host to the Trachtenburgs as part of their "Performance in the Present Tense" series, on the evenings of Dec. 16 and Dec. 17.
Jason and Tina Trachtenburg never projected a career path when purchasing a second-hand slide projector for the hell of it. But then Tina bought some slides - of strangers - and, suddenly, Jason, a garage musician, found the perfect garage door opener. "I just started writing songs to accompany the slides of these people we didn't know."
And before they all knew it, other families became their family business.
Are audiences about to see old seder scenes taken at other people's houses? "Oh, no," says patriarch Jason proudly. "The slide phenomenon is mainly for the goyim."
Cut the slideman some slack. After all, slides are of people on vacation. "And Jewish people" - he's one himself - "don't take vacations!"
Since purchasing that projector, the Trachtenburgs - including daughter Rachel, 11 - have been slip-sliding across the world with their act, selling out often, especially at their New York bases, Fez and the Ars Nova Theater.
Talk about sitting through a home slide show; audiences do this more than willingly - eagerly - as the Trachtenburgs serenade them with a little travelin' music: Dad on a miniature keyboard; Tina on drums and vocals; and Mom on … projector.
But don't expect to see any of your own long-lost relatives on screen. The slides are of people long gone. And while a number of the projections show off religious outings - "People go to the Vatican a lot," says Jason - there are no Jewish images.
"The main Jewish part of the act is me!" says Jason.
And he's a hard act to follow. But follow him thousands do as he adds commentary to the slides. "My commentary is from a perspective which is uniquely Jewish," he advises.
And this trio is unique, too. In fact, playing the Painted Bride is a portrait in "coming full circle," says the Oxford Circle native, who graduated from Northeast High, Class of '87, attended synagogue at Temple Zion in Huntingdon Valley, and now is marching down the aisle of the Bride.
Home, Sweet Home
And if this family now resides in New York after spending years in Seattle and England, the Trachtenburgs from which Jason was born are still Philly phenoms. "My father," says the son proudly of his eminent much-published father, Milton Trachtenburg, "is the Keith Richards of social work." Mom Phyllis is a respected teacher; both now live in Moorestown, N.J.
But could they live with their son's work? Jason claims they're "still bitter to this day" about his dropping out of Temple U.'s radio-TV-film sequence.
The Trachtenburgs drop in to festivals and performing spaces to the tunes of accolades. The world's more than a stage; it's a school. In fact, Rachel is being home-schooled by her parents as they tour the world.
"We take her opinions more seriously than our own," says Jason.
And some take her seriously as a drummer, too; the youngster has received critical press comparing her favorably as a drummer to Meg White of White Stripes, whom Rachel has met.
Pounding away at music is certainly better than his past day job, concedes Jason, which meant pounding the pavements. "We were professional dog walkers," he says of the family service known as the Dog Squad.
What's the scoop? "It was a 10-year run - or walk," he says of the business he and Tina unleashed after running it since 1993 in Seattle.
It's far better to do what he's doing now; just don't collar the Trachtenburgs with 9-to-5 jobs. Never going to happen, says Jason. "What could be better than not being stuck in an office, and to be with our daughter continuously? It gives us the time and freedom.
"And it's all about family."
But this is not the restrictive "Father Knows Best" family nor, for that matter, is it the Addams Family. It's a family that does indeed march to its own drummer - and that drummer is Rachel.
But what will happen when Rachel, as all good teens are wont to do, rebels? Well, it all depends on what kind of revolution you revel in talking about, says her mother.
To Tina, a teen's rebellion would mean "she'd get a college degree, a job at some office and marry an army man."
Her daughter would sooner keep her options open. In fact, says Tina with a laugh, "One day Rachel went to visit a fortune teller, who told her, 'You will one day get married.' And Rachel asked, 'Will I be marrying a man or a woman?' "
Fortunately, the shocked prognosticator didn't drop her crystal ball and shatter it in her startled response.
"She freaked out," says Tina.
If the Trachtenburgs have been viewed as different ("Wherever we are in this country or when we lived in the U.K., people looked at us as freaks," says Tina), they're nothing new to New Yorkers.
"We love New York," proclaims Tina of their East Village residence.
At home, they're just another family slide show. "We're not considered weird there."