‘Mentshn’ (sounds like mention) is plural for ‘mentsh’ (rhymes with bench), which in Yiddish means a person of integrity.
Vocals, Musical Arrangements
Millie Johnson, vocals, musical arrangements, was raised in a musical family, where long car trips were an opportunity for nine-part harmonizing. After a 25 year hiatus from her original training as an opera singer, Millie joined a local Klezmer band, What The Chelm, and found herself instantly transported back in time to her childhood. Born in St. Paul, MN, she was raised in a household of 10, including her grandfather, an immigrant from Vilna, who ran a fruit and vegetable business. “There was always plenty of squash soup for breakfast! Visitors were always welcome in our bustling home and there was always a large pot of something cooking in the kitchen.”
Returning to the present, the more Millie immersed herself in the music, the more she became interested in her past. Luckily her ancestors kept very detailed and literate diaries, stories, and pictures of their life in Lithuania and immigration to America.
Founded in 2002, Millie and the Mentshn began to perform musical programs interspersed with stories from her ancestor’s journals. More enlightened and proud of her heritage as time goes on, Millie continues her musical, historical labor of love by night. In addition to singing in two klezmer bands, she enjoys being a member of The Halleck Street Ramblers and Clearbrook Dixieland bands.
By day, a mathematics professor for over 40 years, Millie and her loving book-hound husband Jerry, are getting used to their empty nest and thinking about retirement, so they have more time for their hobbies.
Ken Bronstein, oboe, has both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Music and his performing experience includes extensive work in both orchestral and chamber music settings. Ken currently juggles Klezmer (a member of What The Chelm) and classical music (a member of the Whatcom Symphony), in addition to his day job working as an administrator at a local college. He also tries to find time to spend with his very supportive wife Marla and occasionally practices and makes reeds.
Lou Lippman, piano, is a well known musician in town who plays at many events in the community, as he is a member of What The Chelm, The Halleck Street Ramblers, The Prawns, Clearbrook Dixieland, and is often recruited as an accompanist. A master at improvisation and old time swing, ragtime, and jazz, he deliberately attempted to become so busy with music that he would be forced to abandon his day job as a psychology professor.
Blessed with two grown children who are also gifted musicians and beautiful wife Marcia, who also serves as a constructive music critic, Lou is happily retired and submerged in his musical pastime.
Warren Palken, drums, began music lessons at age four, banging pots and pans on the kitchen floor, after which he attended Seattle’s Cornish Institute and received his Bachelor’s degree from Fairhaven College, Western Washington University. From the age of ten, he has played a variety of musical styles–reggae, swing, avant-garde, fusion, ska, punk, big band, blues, orchestra, country, Latin, and Klezmer.
As a full time musician, artist, and sound engineer, Warren is also a member of The Prawns, Motown Cruisers, The Kooks, and What The Chelm. Warren’s innovative approach to percussion, eclectic array of instruments, inquisitive nature, and soft touch make him an invaluable addition to the Mentshn.
Phil Heaven, viola, violin, started playing Suzuki method violin at age four and switched to viola in high school. He attended the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival with a string quartet under scholarship from the Philadelphia String Quartet and toured Europe with the Collegium Ensemble from Western Washington University. He has his Bachelor’s degree in Music and Audio Engineering from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH.
His skills as a musician, sound engineer, and producer have been invaluable to many different music groups, locally and internationally. Phil also performs in a number of other groups including an ensemble with Lydia McCauley, whose repertoire is inspired by Appalachian folk, Medieval and Celtic music.
With Millie and the Mentshn, Phil plays a solid body electric 5 string violin, which gives him the ability to play both violin and viola voices. The fact that the instrument happens to be bright green is just an added bonus! Phil and his lovely wife Toby have the most wonderful oversized dog and one very tough cat.
Additional musicians who join the core players to enhance the sound of the performance.
Clarinet, Saxophone, Flute
(1953-2014) May his memory be a blessing. Ray was an amazingly kind and talented musician and we are so thankful we had the opportunity to work with him. We miss him.
Ray had degrees in composition and jazz studies. He played with the Air Force Band, the Whatcom Symphony, The Ray Downey Trio, Saxsquatch Quartet, and the Saltwater Octet, to name just a few. While his day job was a private woodwind instructor, he kept busy as a professional saxophone and clarinet performer and also as an arranger and composer. He won a number of prizes in composition contests. In his spare time, he enjoyed landscaping and gardening.
Susan plays in a wide assortment of musical groups, from swing bands to concert bands, including What the Chelm, Swing Connection, a Sax Quartet, and the Still Bill band. With undergraduate and graduate degrees in Music, Susan stays busy substitute teaching in the public schools, working at Joe’s Garden, and care-giving. She recently became a Master Gardner and somehow finds the time to volunteer her expertise on a number of local gardening projects. Her goal is to continue to pursue music adventures while keeping her life in balance.
Double Bass (Stand-up Bass), Flute
John has played in many musical groups over the years, in styles ranging from Ska to Classical. He is currently a member of the Bayshore Symphony. He also plays in Affettuoso, a chamber ensemble that specializes in Baroque trio sonatas, as well as The Prawns Jazz Trio. His hobbies include vegetable gardening and riding his bicycle. He doubles on flute.
Electric Bass, Cello
Jeremy received his undergraduate and Masters Degrees in Cello Performance. He is currently teaching at Chung-Ang University in Anseong, South Korea. In his spare time he loves to SCUBA dive, travel, and read. We miss him!