Yale Strom is a “pre-jazz klezmer revivalist,” that is, an ethnomusicologist specializing in and promoting Eastern European Jewish secular music from before the time that it assimilated American jazz. Where better to research that music than the archives of the former Soviet Union, where decadent American jazz was actively discouraged by the all-pervasive government?
From the press release, “City of the Future contains songs from Birobidzhan, the Jewish Autonomous Region located on the Amur River in the 1930s at a time when Yiddish culture was thriving …” It is a happy sort of folk music, requiring the players to use their instruments to specifically evoke human expressions of emotion, from tears to laughter, rather than broad interpretation of feelings as in most other genres.
It is a beautiful recording, as one would expect of ARC, though perhaps a bit marred by the songs being compelled to extol all the virtues of the Soviet Union, about which we are more than dubious today.
In general, it contains an element of conflict between the hopes of Jewish communities that the experiment of Soviet communism would actually relieve them of the centuries of horror and misery they had experienced under the czars and the subtle influence of a micromanaging government on their subject matter.
Klezmer is a celebratory music, best for village joys such as weddings and births. Hammering such title themes as “Red Army,” “The Song of the Collective Farmer,” “Factory Song” and “Girls Sewing at the Machines” into klezmer … somewhat damages the mold. Those of us who do not speak Yiddish can probably enjoy the record more for hearing the music rather than the lyrical narratives.
Shpil: The Art of Playing Klezmer, edited by Yale Strom was recently published. It is both a history of this popular form of traditional Jewish music and an instructional book for professional and amateur musicians.
Shpil offers an extensive history of klezmer, from its medieval origins to the present era. Individual chapters concentrate on the most common instruments found in a typical klezmer ensemble: violin, clarinet, accordion, bass, percussion, and even voice.
Contributors include a cast of musicians who have recorded, performed, and studied klezmer for years and have performed throughout the world. They are Norbert Stachel (clarinet), Peter Stan (accordion), Jeff Pekarek (bass), David Licht (drums), Elizabeth Schwartz (vocals) and Yale Strom (violin). All are members of the klezmer ensemble Hot Pstromi.
Each chapter concludes with a selection of three songs that illustrate and exemplify the history and techniques already described. Shpil includes a “klezmer glossary” of mostly musical terms and a discography of both classic and new klezmer and Yiddish recordings, all designed to guide readers in the appreciation of this musical genre and the art of playing and singing klezmer tunes.
Yale Strom is one of the world’s leading ethnographers of klezmer culture. He has been doing field research among the Jews and Roma in Central and Eastern Europe on the topic since 1981. He is a graduate of San Diego State University and New York University and currently is artist-in-residence in the Jewish Studies Program at SDSU.
I was learning how to play Klezmer music on the Yamaha keyboard organ set to sound like clarinet and violin when I began to wonder whether Klezmer Music Traces Its Origins to Medieval Khazaria or to the Levantine Lands? Would Khazar Music Sound Somewhat Like Klezmer? Or does Klezmer come from Middle Eastern Music blended with traditional Eastern European songs? Litvakistan is a state of mind composed of ethnic music and Chagall.
I love Middle Eastern music of all types, including Lebanese and Mizrahi which I dance to all the time. So when I heard Klezmer music of what I term with charm and endearingly, ‘Litvakistan’, I wondered whether it had its origins in Western Asia, the Middle East, or Eastern Europe? It reminded me of the popular Turkish music videos that repeat the word ‘oy’ in the lyrics.
Bringing Klezmer Music To The Public And Private Elementary Schools Worldwide.
School Music Programs Are Teaching More Klezmer Music To Kids.
Does music have a soul? If it does, it’s Klezmer. And did Klezmer music find its origin in part with the medieval Khazars? One of my favorite Klezmer violinist and documentary film maker, Yael Strom’s CD pieces, “Hot Postromi” contains a dance piece that synthesizes Jewish, Turkish, Arabic, Gypsy, and Jazz motifs. Another piece, excellent for Klezmer dancing is Strom’s Kuzguncuk.
Strom wrote the melody after a visit to Turkey. There, in Uskudar was a very old Jewish district known as Kuzguncuk. Inspired by the beauty and history of this area, Strom wrote this piece in 7/8 which appears on his CD, “Hot Postromi.” It’s typical of the many Klezmer dance melodies or songs from the Jewish settlements in Turkey and the Balkans.
Bring Klezmer music to your public elementary or high school, and of course, all kinds of Middle Eastern, Balkan, Bulgarian, Bessarabian, Mediterranean, Asian, African, European, Latin, and all other ethnic music. Let’s talk first about Klezmer in the elementary schools. Klezmer, with its minor key strings, has a life of its own, and deserves to be taught and brought into the schools, both public and private. In San Diego, the magnet schools (elementary schools) are
featuring programs in Klezmer music, the traditional 18th and 19th-century Jewish music that took the U.S. by popularity in the twenties.
Klezmer bands are offering children’s music programs in the elementary schools as well as in continuing education programs for older adults and in ethnic and religious social centers. It seems everybody wants to either learn how to play Klezmer music in a band or dance to it in public outdoor park and shopping mall
The earliest Hassidic wedding dances of 18th and 19th century Eastern Europe, which continued into the 1920s, were performed to songs that had no words. Dance itself had one goal: making the secular holy.
Wedding costumes consisted of the “black frock” coat, the fur-lined shtrimel hat borrowed from the Caucasus mountaineers, infused with religious meanings, and the wigs and headscarves of the women.
The dances have been continued today on stage, also through the Hassidic Jewish theatrical dance movements in the United States and, through the National Yiddish Theatre of Poland, today. Eastern Europe’s revitalization of traditional Jewish wedding dances also performs to mostly Polish non-Jewish audiences.
In the U.S. Klezmer music sometimes is combined with jazz, and young performers and musicians dance both the early Hassidic dances of Europe and the Romanian Hora, from 19th century Bessarabia and Ukrainian dances from Odessa today.
Included are the Bulgarian Hora, the Turkish dance played by Hassids at weddings, and children’s dances of Bialystock and Lodz, Poland as well as the Klezmer dances of Lubavitcher vilages in Eastern Europe.
These dances have their origin in Byzantine times and range from the eastern Caucasus mountains to the Black Sea areas. Children dance in small circles within a larger circle of adults, with women inside the circle of male dancers on the outside, like a ring in concentric circles, facing the world or facing the children, the growth of life toward the light.
A light or candle stick or other centerpiece of lightness and joy is in the middle to light up the dark and bring the joy of “freilach” or the lightness of being, the joy of blending dance with the expressiveness of worship with fervor into the secular dance that brings people together at a wedding or other joyful event.
Some dances arose on the shores of the western end of the Caspian sea , perhaps those of Khazar and Assyrian origins combined with Byzantine nuances, and Bulgar/Turkic, and Karelian themes. The music celebrates the merging of many sounds from many
lands into one expressive fulfillment of the joy of dance, and the spirituality or celebration in all music. All dance praises the infinite.
Children participate in the center ring inside the innermost circle. They clap their hands, twist, and turn, down on one knee, arms on one another’s shoulders, moving along in a line, like a wedding ring or circle of life. As the dance begins, the fringed cloaks bearing “tzitzzes” (fringes at the bottom) shiver in the wind as the Polish and Romanian Jewish dancers bend on one knee, twist around to the left and right, snap their fingers, and leap high into the air, lifting the groom on their shoulders and dancing with him in circles.
Sometimes the classic Klezmer becomes infused with jazz of the 1920s. Other times it is pure 19th century shtelt, or village classic. The only difference between Gypsy (Rom) music and Eastern European Jewish dance music is the G-major. Without the G-note, Jewish music becomes Rromah, the kanoun and oud musical
instrumental Gypsy music as played in 19th century Istanbul.
By dripping torchlight that flickers against the silence of the dark, the stage floor ripples with stripes of shadow. Two dancers shatter the torchlight into motion by waving fans that appear to arch and stretch. Shafts of smoke quiver, sweetening the air with myrrh. The tall, pale groom stares ahead, his eyes blazing like a topaz sunburst.
Suddenly the wedding begins with Klezmer musicians trilling a balalaika while next to them plays a band of Gypsy musicians twanging their 12-stringed harp. The flat, high whistle of a clarinet melts as a violin wails against the sob-shocks of a goat-skinned drum. Do we hear the ancient strains of the Khazarian lands, the medieval cities of Atil and Sarkel, the ancient Zikr dance of the Caucasus (Kavkaz) mountaineers, the Chechens or the people of the mountains and shores of the Caspian? Or are these the ancient nuances of the Phoenicians, Aramaic peoples, and Levantines?
Those who carry the bride on a chair dance. The long line of food undulates on the shoulders of more dancers. Bread and honey cakes made up an 18th century Hassidic wedding in Eastern Poland, Byelorus, Romania, the Crimea, or Hungary. Dancers retreat through a side door.
The bride’s line of dancers marches first, then those bearing the groom regally walk behind. The rabbi (rebbe) gives his hand signal, and a line of wedding guests dance in, holding hands—men with men, women with women. The bride and groom rock back and forth sitting on chairs borne on the shoulders of the crowd as they dance, swaying from side to side.
The rabbi’s helpers set up a golden canopy called the chuppah, under which the bride and groom will be married. Torchlight throws the bride’s high cheekbones into bold relief. She narrows her eyes to slits and speaks as if in trance. Her mother’s fingers snap in rhythm to the Klezmer clarinet.
When the marriage vows are taken and the bride and groom begin to dance together, Klezmorim begins to sing in rhyme to the twangs of the Gypsy’s 12-stringed harp. Then the Jewish fiddler bursts into song, kicking up his heels and leaping freely. “Show me where I am on the upward curves of the tree of life,” he sings.
The groom kisses the hem of the rabbi’s cloak. He dances the dance of the “wise one.” The mother of the bride listens for a loud voice rushing in a spring’s torrent while the best man dances as the rabbi repeats a nigun, a song, or an epic rhyme in perfect hexameter until dawn.
Many stage versions of Jewish and Hassidic wedding dances revolve around the theme of the story of Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov who took upon himself the duty of financially assisting poor brides and attending their weddings. The dance opens at the nuptial ceremony of an orphaned bride. Klezmer music becomes processional music.
The Klezmorim or musicians are itinerant, but they impress the rabbi with their happy, joyful music so that the rabbi wishes the same tune accompanies his burial. So happy Klezmer music comes to be played at an Eastern European Jewish funeral as with a wedding.
Often the dance in a staged version of a Yiddish village funeral of the 18th or 19th century opens at a crossroads, where the funeral cortege beholds a group of Klezmer musicians sitting on a horse-drawn cart. When the procession arrives at the entrance to a cemetery, the same group of Jewish and Gypsy musicians playing side by side—Klemzer music of joy also meets it. Suddenly a very old Hassid remembers the rabbi’s request of long ago that a specific tune be played at his burial. I’ve seen this picture or scene in so many Yiddish musical films of the forties. My favorites are Moyshe Oysher’s films and those with Molly Picon.
The mourners break into a wild dance. The musicians begin to sing strains of the melody, and the rabbi is laid to rest with the same tune that had accompanied an orphaned bride many decades before. Since it is believed by the Hassidim that a lively and joyous dance, music and manner is more acceptable to God than asceticism, melancholy and morbidity, the joy and gladness of the dance allows
one to look happily through a bright and clear looking glass. This is true of the Hassidic wedding dance and the nigun, a song that accompanies the violin solos of the Klezmer musicians.
There is power in the dance, the power of the nigun or song. The dancers knew the power was in its ability to purify and bind together the soul and to elevate it to great heights. This thought originates with the Kabbalists who said of dancers, musicians, and singers, “Access to certain temples can be achieved only through song.”
As the Klezmer* music wails the joy of pious life in nuances of Hassidic* delight, the bride is carried onstage sitting on a chair or bier tossing white flowers to the wedding party. Four bearded best men dressed in black carry her toward the groom as they dance. Her arms wave and clap, but her eyes are cast down for the sake of modesty.
As she sits and sways, carried toward the chuppah, another four men bring the groom onstage, dancing with feet sliding, as if on ice skates, toward the bride. Four men carry the groom seated in a chair on their shoulders dancing three steps forward and two steps backwards.
They take two small steps to the left and two small steps to the right, raising their bent knees high, as if they were the baton twirler leading a march, swaying slowly toward the chuppah. It’s a veiled or draped canopy under which the bride and groom will be united in matrimony by the Rebbe (Rabbi) of the shtetl, (Eastern European village).
‘Rikkud’ is a style of Jewish Hassidic (Pious) wedding and festive dance of Eastern Europe performed during the 18th and 19th centuries and continuing well into the 1920s. The steps are danced to traditional Klezmer music. Revived today, the style continues and grows with performances in the United States and in other countries expanding in popularity by all ages, but especially at weddings.
In the 18th century, the earliest dances were stepped in a 1, 2 3,2 style.
A three-section song was danced with the section repeated. The songs in a minor scale had a happy lilt. Music focused on of feelings of joy and enlightenment, spiraling in an ever-uplifting mood.
As she dances three steps forward and two steps back, two to the side and three away, then leaping toward the bride, the mother-in-law slings gold bracelets on the bride’s arms with joyous peals of “my soul, “oy faygeleh, oy malenka.” (My little bird, my little one). Malenka, in Polish means “my little one,” and in Yiddish, faygeleh, a popular girl’s name in the 19th century, means “bird.” (The
name usually is spelled Faygele. Girls named so are called “fayghee” or “fay” for short.
In the traditional shtetl or village setting onstage, a group of Klezmer musicians encircle the bride and groom as they are swayed back and forth on the shoulders of the dancers. In the little Polish village, a band of Jewish Klezmer musicians played side by side with a troupe of Gypsy musicians (whose dance traditions are of Indic origins). The Gypsies (Rom), beat out a one-and-uh, two-and-uh,
rhythm on a goatskin drum.
The rhythm rises, becoming louder. Suddenly an alto clarinet pipes trill notes in a shrill melody. A fiedler (fiddler) with his violin wails into the purple-salmon sky (or stage lighting).
The twangy strings of a balalaika plays faster as the bride and groom dance around the chuppah, after being united in matrimony under it. Thumping of the drums grows louder. Now in a Georgian leaping dance, and after, in a Russian chair. Lines of men dance the kazatchka with the groom, bending deeply the left knee, with the right leg extended outward in a line formation. The left arm is
flung out horizontal, while the right arm is bent at the elbow and hugs the right hip. The men walk around the chuppah in this “kazatchka formation, as in the Russian dance which had its origin in Daghestan on the Caspian sea in the 8th century. It’s a dance also popular in the Caucasus and seen in painting of ancient Egyptian art.
As the wedding dance to the Klezmer music progresses, the music now changes to a major scale. Each dance lasts up to a half-hour, until a new melody is introduced, and fresh dancers take their places. The Rikkud dance is not only for Hassidic or Jewish weddings of Eastern Europe. It is also danced after a synagogue service, when the Sabbath has ended and the Havdalah candle of separation from the day of rest was lighted marking the end of the Sabbath
Another Jewish dance of Eastern Europe performed to Klezmer music is the Tish. It’s a long, slow meditative melody swayed in a circle of men and a separate circle of women who never meet. The melody begins as a song sung at the rabbi’s table by the rabbi’s son or one of the Hassidim. The Tish is a nigun, or sacred song that eventually became danceable to Klezmer music. It has several parts,
and the mood varies. It reminds me of the Syrian Jewish pizmoneem chants and the music of the nobeh parties one used to find in the early fifties along Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.
A refrain appears toward the end. Between sections , the women dance an “awolloch” pastoral melody, while the men sway to a coloratura clarinet, the wail rising like the sound of a shepherd’s flute. Both men and women dance to a dveykut melody at Klezmer music weddings. The dveykut is a slow, introspective, soul-stirring
song, lengthy, and danced with deep feeling as it is sung with the same emotion.
Originally, Hasidim sang the dveykut when they were reading at a study desk or just before the rabbi would begin his discourse. Later, the dances become a march as the bride and groom finally dance with each other, holding a handkerchief or scarf between them and circling around one another.
The last dance at a Jewish wedding is the Malenka waltz. In Byelorussia and Eastern Poland, particularly in Lodz and Volskovisk, the European waltz permeated Jewish weddings. Militaristic marches were foreign to Eastern European Jews of the 18th and 19th century, so any marching tune quickly was turned into
patriotic songs about Hannukah, the festival of lights, or sung at Purim, but not at weddings.
Few engaged in ballroom-type dancing, so folk music was borrowed from many different cultures-Persian, Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew, Egyptian, Caucasus Mountains, Khazar, Caspian, and Middle Eastern cultures. Sephardic Jews from Spain who migrated to Poland and Russia, Romania, or Bulgaria, brought their “zamba-Mora” style dance of Morocco, Spain and Syria, while those who emigrated
to Romania and Moldavia inherited the Romanian ‘hora’ dance, which today is popular in Israel and is said to be of Roman origin through the original Roman colonists of Dacia (now Romania). However, Jews came to Romania only three hundred years ago, from the mountains of Herzegovina, Sephardic settlements, Germany, and Poland.
Original Hassidic melodies were composed by the Rabbis themselves (called rebbe). In the cities of Ger and Kotzk, melodies composed by Schubert, Chopin, and Verdi were played at Jewish weddings on occasion. The Tzadik of Kuzmir (1806-1856)
proclaimed that a Sabbath without a new nigun or song was not truly a Sabbath. Inspired by leading rebbes, the Hassidim would invent new meditations and sing and dance them to tunes.
By repetition the wedding songs were learned by the Klezmer musicians, and the dances were passed on through repeated steps as well. The same songs became familiar throughout the European pale of settlement. The dance was based on the oral tradition of the music. Who are the old masters of Klezmer music? M.S. Geshuri, the eminent authority on the music of the Hassidim, wrote the book,
Lachasidim Mizmor (Jerusalem 1955). The city of Modziz became a spiritual center built primarily on music.
It has been said that Rabbi Israel Taub, of Warsaw, the founder of Modzitz Hasidim (1848-1920) , in “Divre Yisrael,” compared man’s ascent on the ladder of life to a musical scale. “Just as the eighth tone is a repetition of the root tone one octave higher, so too, is a man’s climb throughout life. Although he progresses ever higher, becoming complacent in his achievement, he must be aware that ultimately he must return to the root.”
Rabbi Saul Taub of Ozorow Poland (b. 1886) was the most prolific Hasidic composer of all time with the total of 700 compositions. For further information on Jewish Music of Eastern Europe, try “Yiddishe Musik in Poilen”, (Yiddish Music in Poland—between the two wars), by Ysacher Fater.
Through the years, Yale Strom, a Klezmer musician, has done a great deal of work among the Jews and Rom (Gypsies) of Eastern Europe. One of the closest friends Strom has made is Lepold Kozlowski, the last Klezmer in Poland who grew up in the tradition to be still playing and teaching Klezmer music in Poland and other European countries today.
Strom became so intrigued that he decided to make a documentary film about Leopold’s life in Poland before, during, and after the Holocaust. Leopold’s grandfather, Pesakh Brandwine was born in the Ukraine, then part of Czarist Russia, and formerly Poland. There were 16 children in the family. Pesakh formed a Klezmer band (kapelye) with his sons, and the band traveled throughout eastern
They performed for Jews and Christians alike, including performances for nobility, such as Franz Joseph, the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Leopold was born in 1923, and at dances and weddings, he played Klezmer music on the accordion. Leopold studied Klezmer music in Lvov, Poland, as well as classical music and swing. After the war, he studied at the music conservatory
in Krakow. Leopold formed the Polish Army’s Symphony Orchestra, Choir, and Ballet, which he conducted for the next 23 years.
He became music director for the Yiddish Theatre in Warsaw. He lives in Krakow with his wife and daughter and still performs, arranges, and composes Yiddish and Rom music for theatre and film in Poland. Leopold acted in the film, Schindler’s List, and was profiled on the NBC Today Show in February 1994.
The Yiddish Klezmer dance theatre of Poland can be seen in the Yale Strom’s film, The Last Klezmer, Leopold Kozlowki: His Life and Music, through New Yorker Films, 16 W. 61st St., NY, NY 10023 (212) 247-6110. Some of the favorite Klezmer dances are set to tunes such as “Odessa Mama,” “Feygele,” “And the Angels Sing,” Abi Gezunt, (as long as you’re healthy), “Fun Der Khupe,” (From the wedding canopy), Der Hoyfzinger Fun Varshever Geto,” The court singer from the Warsaw Ghetto), Firn Di Mekhutonim Aheym,” (Escorting the in-laws home), which can be heard on CDs, such as the Klezmer Conservatory Band, Rounder Records Corp. 1 Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140. if a Jazz element is wanted, or try dancing to Yale Strom’s CD, “Hot Postromi,” which has excellent dance tunes, from Global Village Music, 245 W. 29th St., NY, NY 10001 (212) 695-6024.
Yale Strom is an outstanding Klezmer violinist. His melody “The Steppes of Syami,” was learned from a Klezmer who came from Stolin, Belarus. He had learned it from itinerant musicians who came from the steppes of the Caucasus mountains. The use of 6/8 rhythm in the piece, typical of many Persian and Circassian folk melodies from this region, is excellent for Klezmer dancing. In his CD, Strom also adds other elements.
Global Village Music’s titles include many Klezmer recordings excellent for dance, including those that combine Klezmer with jazz, and others such ass Emil Bruh, Klezmer Violinist, pure Klezmer to dance to, such as Klezmer Music 1910-1942, and many other Klezmer titles ranging from “The Compleat Klezmer” to Flory Jagoda’s Bosnian Women’s Jewish Music. For dance only, I also recommend The New Shtetl Band Jewish & Balkan Dance Music and Klezmer Vod Klez Encounters, I.J. Hochman, Master of Klezmer Music, and the Maxwell St. Klezmer Band’s Maxwell St. Days. These tapes and CDs are all at the Klezmer music specialists, Global Music. The firm also carries Sephardic (Middle Eastern and Spanish Jewish music), Middle Eastern, and Armenian music.
Defining the Terms
1. Klezmer…Jewish dance and song band that traveled the pale of settlement throughout Eastern Europe’s Jewish communities from the 17th century until 1940. Continues in the United States today in a new dance revival of Hassidic (pious) music.
2. Rikkud…a type of dance performed by Hassidic Jews of Eastern Europe from the mid 18th century until present times. After WW2, it was carried over to the United States and performed at weddings among Hassidic communities.
3. Hassidic or Hassid…The term means ‘pious’ and spiritually-guided through dance and song to worship. Often singing and Klezmer music is used to celebrate weddings and worship at the same time, unless forbidden by Shabbot or Holiday halacha, or rules. Hassids emphasize dance, song, and music, particularly Klezmer music in their spiritual union with the creator.
4. Nigun, plural, Nigunim….Hassidic songs and poems sang in an oral tradition.
5. Polish Hassidic Wedding Dance Style…Dance steps are done from forward to back. Men and women dance separately before the wedding. After the bride and groom are blessed and married under the canopy (chuppah), the men and women cross their right hand over their left and join hands, dancing to and fro. In strictly orthodox Hassidic communities, the men and women still dance separately.
6. chuppah….Canopy of drapes lifted on posts and decorated with flowers or veils. The Rabbi weds the bride and groom in a traditional Jewish marriage as the couple stands under the chuppah.
Defining the Target Enrollment
Students who want lessons in how to play Klezmer music or dance to Klezmer music may benefit by classes in traditional Eastern European Yiddish music and/or dance. These lessons may be found in elementary schools and for older adults, continuing education classes (adult education.) Jewish community centers. Contact the YMHA/YWHA at the 92nd St. Center for Performing Arts, Theatre, and Dance, in New York City, for referral to Klezmer music and dance teachers in your area. Also try Jewish community centers that have performing arts divisions.
Some Reform synagogues also have a theatre group with choreographers who specialize in teaching Jewish dance traditions from a variety of countries–Eastern Europe, Egyptian-Syrian, Moroccan, Sephardic (medieval Spanish-Jewish dances),
How Students are Attracted to Classes
Students interested in playing Klezmer music or in Jewish historical dance and music, usually found at Jewish Community Centers, Jewish schools, and performing arts centers, can be recruited. Also non-Jewish dancers interested in Eastern European, Balkan, and Middle Eastern Ethnic dance can be recruited. Several magazines are devoted to Mid-East dance. Also try advertising in Avotaynu, the
International Review of Jewish Geneaology, 1-800 Avotaynu, for referral to other Jewish music and dance magazines that specialize in your area of emphasis. Most Jewish communities in centers of recent immigrants from Russia or Persia, such as Brighton Beach (Russian Jewish emigres), Los Angeles, or San Diego (Jews from Persia) have their own community organizations that offer Jewish dance classes in Klezmer dancing or Klezmer musical and theatre studies.
Music, band, and dance troupes that specialize in ethnic dancing are very resourceful. I highly recommend the Amman Dance Company, Jewish musical theatres usually found at synagogues, and associations of ethnic dancers for teacher referrals to dance students. The best way to learn Klezmer music or dancing is to contact a good Klezmer band and volunteer to work along with them.”
How do you get “Klezmer” music? Hundreds of CDs of Klezmer music have preserved the 18th and 19th century traditions from Eastern Poland and Russia, Moldavia, Romania, and the Ukraine. Music from Bessarabia and Volskovisk, Byelorus, and other areas of the Pale of Settlement of Jews in Eastern Europe during the last four centuries have been handed down by oral tradition. Klezmer musicians almost never learned notes, unless they studied classical music with the great teachers of Europe, and played their own style of Klezmer on the side.
Klezmer in style differed from the classical European music of the times in that it’s melodies originated in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. The joyous dance music was used to worship in song and with a joyous soul. It is soul-stirring uplifting music that to the Western Ear sounds as if it comes off the steppes, when all at once it turns Turk, Persian, Arabic, Egyptian, Canaanite, and most of all, Jewish, in the very sense of the word in that it wanders from land to land, picking up a bit of ethnicity from every culture it passes through–Armenian, Persian, Turkish, Egyptian, Russian, Polish, Caucasus Mountaineer, Arabic, Romanian, Greek, Lithuanian, and so on.
What playing Klezmer music or singing and dancing to it reveals is a spiritual union of dancer with the joy of life, a giving of thanks for blessings found in nature, and a salute to life. For further information on Klezmer music or dancing to it theatrically, contact Yale Strom, who lives in San Diego and New York and travels all over, and his band, “Hot Pstromi (Zmiros), 2248 29th St., Astoria, New York 11105, (718) 956-1968. Yale Strom and his musicians have traveled to Eastern Europe and made films on Klezmer music and dance.
Yale’s book on Klezmer music is an authoritative work of research for anybody who wants to know what Klezmer music is. He has contacts in Eastern Europe and in the United States and could certainly help dance teachers findout more about Klezmer music and how to dance to it. His jazz and Klezmer combinations, including his own arrangements are on his CD, “Hot Pstromi.” In San Diego, Jeff Pekarek arranges and trascribes Klezmer melodies and has transcribed for Yale Strom’s CD.
Some of the most beautiful Klezmer dances originated from Klezmer musicians of Stolin, Belarus. Dance Klezmer music from Belarus comes from old Hassidic tunes near the Ukrainian border that are now sung in the Stoliner synagogue in Detroit, Michigan.
According to Strom, The tune was sung on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, and the most holy day on the Jewish calendar. The melody was sung to stall for time until the ram’s horn was sounded signaling the end of the holy day. Yale Strom based the arrangement his musical piece, “Dripping Water” on this tune.
Dancers of Klezmer music, will find this very slow-beat piece easy to move to, especially, if used to teach elderly dancers to move with the slow beat in an almost Tai-Chi-Chuan-like motion of gesturing and slow twisting to the melody symbolizing the act of waiting. I highly recommend this tune for beginning dancers who want to use hand and shoulder movements with slides and glides to this soul-lifting Klezmer tune. Dance, play, and enjoy the spirit of the music
that moves you.
Today, Klezmer is for all ethnic groups, and it’s become part of the American folk and world music scene. When I visit shopping malls, some days there is a Klezmer group playing during the lunch hour. Let’s get more ethnic and world music into the noontime shopping malls and office lobbies. What a great way to spend one’s lunch hour.
Anne Hart, author of 36 books writes novels and how-to books as well as pieces on music and fine arts. She holds a graduate degree and has been writing full-time freelance since 1963.
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