The Essential Klezmer


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Yiddish poet, singer and folklorist Ruth Rubin , improperly labelled crusader for the vanishing legacy of the Yiddish world I don't think Jews have much sympathy for "crusaders" , devoted her entire life to Yiddish folk song. Rubin's s Voices of a People is still the only general introduction to Yiddish folksong. On their wanderings from one land to another, they bore with them, along with other cultural treasures, a talent for music. Eastern European Yiddish folk song is the youngest offspring of Jewish folk music and one of the richest stores of popular music in modern times.

In the songs, we catch the manner of speech and phrase, the wit and humor, the dreams and aspirations, the nonsense, jollity, the pathos and struggle of an entire people. The 17th century song "Megiles vints" relates the hardship of the Jews of Frankfurt during the uprising led by Vincenz Fettmilch Jewish properties were burned and looted and the Jews forced to leave the city. The poem was set to a German tune and had stanzas.

Almost hundred of songs reveal the Nazi brutality against a defenceless civilian population: songs from the ghettos and concentration camps, songs of faith, hope, hatred, pain. A haunting lament chronicles the eye-witness account of a young woman who was married on Tuesday and on the following Sabbath, early in the morning, the hitsl [lit. Mayn man hot men shpiln genoyt af der fleyt, Me hot im bagrobn, oy, lebedikerheyt, Der malech-hamoves hot choyzek gemacht, A mise-meshune hot er undz gebracht.


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They forced my husband to play on the flute, and then he was buried, oh, alive. The Angel of Death did mock at us, bringing a horrible death to us.

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Certainly, one of the oldest and most widespread types of song in any culture is the love song. King Solomon's " Cantica canticorum " may have been a secular love song, before interpreted allegorically as a dialogue between God and Israel. In the same way "Don't worry fellows about what will become of us; when you come to the inn, you will find plenty of vodka to drink" translates as "Don't worry Jewish brothers, God will take care of all your material needs"; believe it or not.

However, in the days before Moses Mendelssohn's grandfather of the composer "Haskalah" enlightenment movement made deep inroads into the patriarchal communities of Eastern Europe, mating was based on economic considerations and children were often married at the tender age of twelve. For boys and girls to dream or sing of love was considered alien. Undzere eltern tu-en shiduchim, Zey tu-en undz gornit fregn, Darum farbrengen mir zeyer shlecht dem lebn. Our parents arrange the match, they never consult us, and we live our life unhappily.

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One scholar even wrote: The word love does not exist in the Yiddish dictionary. It was left to the lower social classes that the passion of love was preserved in song, with all its aspects: deep affection, true and false love, unfulfilled and unrequited love, depression and loneliness, suicides and murder. He felt that a lively and joyous manner was more acceptable to God than asceticism; melancholy and morbidity were sinful. The hasidim shows his faith primarily through joy, and music is the natural affiliation of joy. As the melody brings out the beauty in poetry, the dance brings it to a climax.

The Essential Klezmer

Singing and dancing was incorporated into religious observance and liturgy. Their opponents criticized they were always singing, dancing, clapping their hands, emitting wild cries during prayers. Some of the best drinking songs are credited to hasidim. But many hasidic leaders felt that melodies used for sacred purpose must be protected to be become available to the public and used for secular purposes or from being adopted and adapted by non-Jews.

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So little hasidic music found its way into print and hundreds of "nigunim" [melodies] were lost forever. Velvel Pasternak recalls his coming into the publishing and recording business: "In early , I received a rather frantic call from the mother of a bride in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Not having access to a band that could play traditional Jewish music in Sheybogan, she scouted nearby Chicago, the city with the largest Jewish population in the mid-west, in the hopes of finding a suitable instrumental ensemble.

I could almost feel the depth of her dejection through the telephone headset when I informed her that no such collection existed.

Her list of fifteen songs arrived several days later and I began transcribing the melodies in pencil, adding guitar chords for accompaniment. Finally, "Songs of the Hasidim" was financed by pre-paid orders and he set up what is now Tara Publications. Named after his daughter Atara, but according to legend, the granddaughter of King David brought a torah to Ireland.

Tea Mur: Tea's Wall. Velvel Pasternak's Beyond Hava Nagila narrates, as joyous as hasidim praise the Lord, his autobiography, the history and essence of hasidic music, songs and background stories: The prayer " Kol Nidre " All Vows , for example, is chanted on Yom Kippur Day of Atonement. The theme is woven throughout Beethoven's C minor string quartet opus Arnold Schoenberg , who re-converted to Judaism after being driven out of Germany by the Nazis, composed it for chorus, orchestra and speaker.

Thousands of Jews sang this melody as they marched to their deaths in the gas chambers.

The Essential Klezmer by Seth Rogovoy

When the disco hit " Genghis Khan " entered in the European Song Festival competition in , it appeared soon after with Yiddish lyrics which proclaim the coming of the Messiah. In , Rabbi Israel fell ill and was forced to travel to Berlin for medical treatment. His doctors felt that his life could be saved only by the amputation of a leg.


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  6. The Rebbe agreed to the operation but with the provision that no form of anestesia be used. In the room next to you , the surgeon told him, I have a patient who is a cabinet minister. I have an older rabbi next door, and whenever he is in pain he sings. Its main role was to play at weddings.

    The brassy ensembles of trumpets, trombones, and tubas talking over each other were like a noisy crowd of long-lost aunts, uncles, and cousins at a Jewish family reunion. The soulful, achy violin lines atop the pulsing, jerky, forward-lurching rhythms spoke with sensual intensity an demotional rawness - the voice of the Jewish heart, bleeding but still beating. Its trademark is a haunting lament and a lively dance, grievance followed by exultation.

    The tunes are often quite simple, but richly decorated by ornamentation, phrasing and articulation. The fiddle once was the leading instrument, later taken over by the clarinet. So, finally, I made an arbitrary list of just a bit more than In many cases I included "significant" CDs by a group, even though I might listen more to others. In a couple of cases I included more than one CD by an artist, but mostly, the rule was "if you appeared on one CD, that's all I was going to mention".

    I ended up barely mentioned European klezmer bands, which is quite painful and unfortunate. But I had to stop winnowing somewhere. At best, all I can say is that this is a good place to begin, but not the only place to begin. What I will say is this. If you email me your suggestions about who I left out, and if you include a few lines about why, I'll add those posts.

    Any year I'll figure out how to re-code this blog and put back in the tools for comments sans spam , but I have another year for my master's, it's an election year, and I'm working full-time, so it probably won't happen in time for this discussion. The series curated by Rita Ottens and Joel Rubin is essential.

    I mention here the first four that I encountered, available on Wergo. We cover Klezmer and more, focusing on the edges and the sounds that express who we are now.

    ISBN 13: 9781565122444

    We also provide the place for klezmorim, reputable musicians, fans, and scholars to network online. I was tempted to put their first, "Yiddishe Rennaissance" on the list because it was such an incredible jolt of energy, but that was nothing compared to what they've done since Still not officially released. You do have all of Margot's recordings, right? What's not to treasure?

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