Tag Archives: Jewish music

Artist Profiles: The Klezmatics

The Klezmatics in 2016

The original members of The Klezmatics, Alicia Svigals (violin), Dave Lindsay (bass) and Rob Chavez (clarinet) met after reading an ad in the Village Voice in 1985. Shortly after, Frank London (trumpet), of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, joined the group. Other musicians joined the band a few weeks later: Margot Leverett (clarinet), David Licht (drums) and Lorin Sklamberg (vocals, accordion)

In 1988, The Klezmatics were primarily playing clubs and parties in New York. Through the influence of Ben Mandelson of 3 Mustaphas 3, they were invited to play at the first annual Heimatklange Festival in Berlin, a proto-world music gathering held just as world music was emerging in the global consciousness. The Klezmatics played every night. At the end of the week, the festival’s organizers, who had recently formed a label called Piranha, offered them a record contract. An album, Shvaygn = Toyt (Piranha/Rounder, 1988), Yiddish for Silence = Death, was recorded live, at Radio Free Berlin (SFB). Just like that, the Klezmatics had a record company, and a future.

 

Klezmatics – Shvaygn =Toyt

 

Musically, the band hadn’t quite found their identity. They did, however, tap sources no other Klezmer act had thought to emulate: the small American Klezmer bands of the 1930s and 1940s. They were also beginning to formulate their guiding thematic approach to music and life-seamlessly melding cultural statement (that Yiddish must be spoken, or else disappear) with historical politics (the ardent socialist anthems of their forebears) and modern activism, particularly a joyous affirmation of human rights.

Piranha’s director, Christoph Borkowsky Akbar, encouraged the band to take their time recording their second album. Borkowsky wanted the Klezmatics to find their own path and organically blend their many influences. Klezmer was the lifeblood, but the band also mined the multi-ethnic and cultural influences of New York. Mixing together Jewish drinking songs, socialism and Jewish mysticism, as well as punk, jazz and classical attitudes seemed strangely natural, as did maintaining their reputation as an ecstatic party band. This extended recording period allowed the Klezmatics to forge their own unique musical identity.

By the time they’d finished their follow-up, in 1990, the band was ready to break away from anything resembling predictability. They stated their intentions in the album’s title, Rhythm & Jews (Piranha/Rounder, 1990). Jewish music had always been thought of purely as melody; the Klezmatics felt the true backbone was rhythm, challenging the supremacy of sobbing clarinets, violins and voices. This was also the first time “Jew” appeared on the cover of a Klezmer album. By using the word, the band was boldly asserting their own brand of cultural pride: Jew Positive, a non-exclusionary belief that to find common ground with other traditions, they first had to unabashedly embrace their own.

Rhythm + Jews thrived on energy. The band brought in non-klezmer musicians like the Nubian percussionist Mahmoud Fadl, taking their source material to wildly divergent destinations. They played Eastern European melodies over Arabic and African rhythms; introduced their trademark multi-part group vocal sound (a tribute to British folk-rock pioneers Steeleye Span); and incorporated classical music’s bass clarinet into their already multitudinous palate of sounds. They also began testing the waters of writing their own music with a whirling, homoerotic interpretation of the love poetry of King David. In a pattern that would perpetually repeat itself, the Klezmatics showed that, while they would always view the world through the lens of Eastern European Jewish identity, they would not be fetishistic about it.

The Klezmatics’ next album, Jews With Horns (Piranha/Rounder, 1995) included the breakneck, pun-fueled Man in a Hat (the band’s first song in English), a Hasidic-style wordless chant and a stark, minimalist treatment of 20th century Yiddish poetry. Musical guests included electric guitarist Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, The Lounge Lizards), Canadian political folkies Moxy Frevous and New York theatrical girl rock band Betty

The Klezmatics – Jews with Horns

In 1994 the Klezmatics pulled out of the archives a century-old socialist anthem called “In kamf” (In Struggle) for the soundtrack of the AIDS epidemic documentary Fast Trip Long Drop (Sundance Grand Jury Prize nominee), about a gay Jewish man’s struggle with the disease. They put in a modern arrangement, while strengthening the link to the composition’s roots with a chorus of native Yiddish-speaking seniors, who had sung the song in their own politically active youth.

In 1995, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tony Kushner (Angels in America) furthered the Klezmatics’ collaborations when he asked the band to write the score for his adaptation of S. Ansky’s The Dybbuk, the classic Yiddish folk drama of ghostly possession. Those compositions formed the bulk of the next album, Possessed (Piranha/Rounder, 1997). Kushner also wrote the Possessed CD liner notes. The band was joined on the CD by John Medeski of Medeski, Martin and Wood, among others.

The Klezmatics next had the honor of working with acclaimed violinist Itzhak Perlman, who requested that The Klezmatics join him and three other Klezmer bands to record an album called In The Fiddler’s House (Angel/EMI, 1995). This album and ensuing tour dramatically raised the awareness of Klezmer music in the United States. As the ultimate compliment, Perlman selected six original Klezmatics compositions for inclusion on the CDs and live concerts.

The Klezmatics then paired with popular Israeli singer Chava Alberstein. Alberstein brought the band fifteen Yiddish poems set to music. The band then created striking arrangements to frame the voices of Alberstein and Sklamberg.

The resulting album, The Well (Rounder, 1998), was produced by K.D. lang collaborator Ben Mink, who also played on the recording. It remains one of the band’s favorites, not just for the music, but for the opportunity to help an artist they admire achieve a personal triumph. The Well is one of the band’s (and Ms. Alberstein’s) most popular and beloved recordings and received rave international reviews.

Their next album, Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! (Rounder, 2002), was their first non-collaborative album in years. The album also featured a new permanent member, violinist Lisa Gutkin.

The tone of the record harkened back to Jews With Horns, with politics, religion, ecstasy and partying each vying for space, often within the same song. Some of the songs on Rise Up! had originally been commissioned for the band’?s collaboration with the innovative American dance company Pilobolus Dance Theatre.

The band’s intention at this point was to push forward with their own music, but another chance meeting would redefine their immediate future. A few years prior, after playing a concert with Perlman, they were introduced to Nora Guthrie-known to most of the world as Woody’s daughter and Arlo’s sister. The band, however, recognized her as the granddaughter of Aliza Greenblatt, an influential Yiddish poet who had lived in Coney Island and the mother of Guthrie’s Jewish wife. At the time, Guthrie didn’t recognize the importance of her grandmother to appreciators of the Yiddish language and culture. She did, however, know that her father had written a collection of Jewish songs, which she invited the band to record in much the same manner as the Billy Bragg and Wilco collections (Mermaid Avenue I & II).

Beginning in 2003, the band performed the music in a series of concerts, including a Thanksgiving celebration at Carnegie Hall, under the title “Holy Ground”. They also self-produced eight of Woody’s Hanuka songs, which resulted in an album called Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanuka. An album of Guthrie-penned Jewish Brooklyn Americana is planned for the near future.

In 2004, Piranha invited the Klezmatics back to the Heimatklange festival, a double invite rarely extended to performers. The show’s theme that year was New York, a theme fittingly embodied by the band. At Heimatklange, the band performed with jazz vocalist/organist Kathryn Farmer, as well as Joshua Nelson, an African American Jew practitioner of Kosher Gospel who was brought up on gospel icon and collaborative superstar Mahalia Jackson. They performed a series of shows, one night of which resulted in their first live audience album, Brother Moses Smote the Water (Harmonia Mundi, 2004), featuring contributions by Nelson and Farmer.

The Klezmatic’s Brother Moses connected to every side of Klezmatics philosophy. It was a Jewish offering, half of the songs concerned Passover. It also included two audience favorites: the socialist anthem “Ale brider” (“All United”) and ‘Shnirele, perele’, a Hasidic ode to the eternal Jewish yearning for the coming of the messianic era.

The 2006 line-up included Lorin Sklamberg – vocalist / accordionist; Frank London – trumpet; Matt Darriau – multi-instrumentalist; Lisa Gutkin – fiddle; Paul Morrisett – bass / tsimbl; and David Licht – drums.

In 2016, the band released Apikorsim/Heretics (World Village). Co-founder Frank London said the idea was “to make a great recording of Yiddish and klezmer music, as only the Klezmatics can.” Sklamberg added, “It continues in the tradition that we last visited with Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! in 2003. It’s a great collection of songs and instrumentals that could only have come from us. It is also unique in our history in that everything you hear on the recording is played or sung by members of the band. It’s our ‘roots record’, a return to the anarchic nature of some of our earlier music.”

The lineup in 2016 included Richie Barshay on percussion and vocals; Matt Darriau on alto sax, clarinet, vocals; Lisa Gutkin on violin and vocals; Frank London on trumpet, horn, vocals; Paul Morrissett on bass, tsimbl, vocals; and Lorin Sklamberg on lead vocals, accordion, guitar, piano.

Discography

Shvaygn = toyt (Piranha, 1989)
Rhythm and Jews (Piranha, 1990)
Jews with Horns (Flying Fish, 1995)
Possessed (Xenophile, 1997)
The Well: Klezmatics with Chava Alberstein (Xenophile, 1998)
Rise Up! Shteyt Oyf! (Rounder, 2002)
Brother Moses Smote the Water, with Joshua Nelson & Kathryn Farmer (Piranha, 2004)
Wonder Wheel (JMG, 2006)
Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah (JMG, 2006)
Tuml = Lebn: The Best of the First 20 Years (Piranha, 2008)
Live at Town Hall (Klezmatics Disc, 2011)
Apikorsim (World Village, 2016)

Share

Singer’s Warsaw Festival 2016: An annual celebration of music and culture in Warsaw

warszawa_singera_2016

 

Yiddish culture returns by way of pre-war films and contemporary performances, workshops of dance and song, Jewish paper cutting, ceramics, and Hebrew calligraphy …

 (from the Festival’s website)

Jewish culture in Poland is experiencing a renaissance. Festivals of Jewish music, language, and ancient and modern history are among the finest undertakings of this kind in Poland. This was confirmed by the 13th edition of the Singer’s Warsaw Festival, organized as always by the Shalom Foundation. The creator of the festival is the General Director of the Shalom Foundation, Golda Tencer, an outstanding Polish singer, director, and theater actress.

 

Shabbat Shalom - Sabbath of peace
Shabbat Shalom – Sabbath of peace

 

Collaborating in the organization of the festival were The Ester Rachel and Ida Kamińska Jewish Theater, the Center for Yiddish Culture, and the Edward Dziewoński Teatr Kwadrat (Square Theater). Every year, some of the global music scene’s most prominent artists, their art inspired by and created in the spirit of Jewish culture and religion, come to the Polish capital. Many of these artists have Polish roots, and thus participate with even greater pleasure in this sentimental journey along the road of their lives, one that sometimes runs through countries such as Israel, the United States, Sweden, France, Canada, and many others.

As we read on the organizers’ website, “The Singer’s Warsaw Festival of Jewish Culture has been, for twelve years, bringing back the memory of the pre-war Jewish ‘Warsze’ praised by Singer in numerous short stories and novels […] Our goal is to recreate the pre-war climate around ul. Próżna and Plac Grzybowski, if only for a few days, and show the lost world of the Polish Jews. Here we situate Jewish cafes, restaurants, small shops, and artisans’ workshops. At one of the festivals, an old bookstore made an appearance; at another, the editorial office where Singer worked before the war; every year there is also a wine bar and bakery” (see: www.festiwalsingera.pl/en/cele-i-misja).

 

Yakov Rotner conducting famous cantors: Yaakov Lemmer, Benzion Miller and Tzudik Greenwald, accompanied by Menachem Bristowski. Festiwal Warszawa Singera 2016. Photo by Janusz Paliwoda
Yakov Rotner conducting famous cantors: Yaakov Lemmer, Benzion Miller and Tzudik Greenwald, accompanied by Menachem Bristowski. Festiwal Warszawa Singera 2016. Photo by Janusz Paliwoda

 

Thanks to the Singer’s Warsaw Festival, for a short time every year the streets of the city resound with klezmer music, synagogal singing, traditional Jewish songs, and even jazz (the Singer Jazz Festival, whose artistic director is Adam Baruch, constitutes a separate part of the Festival), as well as remarkable cantorial singing.

The third edition of the Singer Jazz Festival kicked off on August 26 with an opening concert featuring Wania/Bernstein/Parker/Grey (Poland/USA), comprising Dominik Wania (piano), Marc Bernstein (saxophone), Michael Parker (bass), and Devin Grey (percussion). The following day was marked by the appearance of the Dominik Bukowski Group (Poland/USA), featuring Amir Elsaffar (saxophone), Dominik Bukowski (vibraphone, marimba), Piotr Lemańczyk (bass), and Przemysław Jarosz (percussion).

The official opening of the Singer Jazz Festival took place during a concert by the Sefardix trio (the Oleś Brothers and Jorgos Skolias). This World Music ethno-style group forms a part of the Greek-Jewish tradition, reaching back for Sephardic themes and drawing on multicultural instrumentation. In 2013, Sefardix received the Polish Radio Folk Phonogram of the Year award.

Next was a musical event with the theme “Something’s Coming: Love or War,” created by Lena Piękniewska and Paweł Skorupki, who accompanied the poems of young poets from the Warsaw ghetto. Taking part in this event were Lena Piękniewska, Paweł Skorupka, Krzysztof Dys, Sebastian Frankiewicz, Michał Górczyński, Wojciech Pulcyn, and the Royal String Quartet, with visual effects by Karolina Fender Noińska.

The same evening featured a performance by World Citizen Band (Denmark/Germany/Ecuador/USA), comprising Ramiro Olaciregui (guitar), Kenneth Dahl Knudsen (bass), Alex Terrier (saxophone), Tomasz Dąbrowski (trumpet), and Rodolfo Zuniga (percussion), as well as by the duo Oleś Brothers (bassist Marcin Oleś i percussionist Bartłomiej Oleś), with the participation of Leszek Żądło (Germany).

 

Leszek Żądło
Leszek Żądło

 

Appearing at the Singer Jazz Festival on August 30 was the Israeli trio Savannah and the Stringz, known for their daring experiments at the crossroads of music and the performing arts, i.e., cabaret, jazz, and indie-rock all in one: real World Music! They were followed by Ugo Trio (DE), comprising Federico Eterno (saxophone, clarinet), Marco Papa (guitar), and Gioele Pagliaccia (percussion), as well as by the duo Maciej Obara/Dominik Wania with the participation of Leszek Żądło (saxophone).

Playing the next evening was Trio Kuby Stankiewicza: Kuba Stankiewicz (piano), Wojciech Pulcyn (bass), and Sebastian Frankiewicz (percussion instruments). Later, the Singer Jazz Festival hosted the Francesco Bruno Ensemble (Italy). At the end of the day was a concert by Łukasz Borowicki Quartet (Poland/Denmark), with Borowicki (guitar) accompanied by Mads la Cour (flugelhorn), Mariusz Praśniewski (bass), and Karol Domański (percussion), as well as an appearance by Trio Jachna/Wójciński/Szpura with a guest appearance by Leszek Żądło (saxophone)

The next day of the Singer Jazz Festival belonged to the Francesco Bruno Trio (Italy), including Marco Rovinelli (percussion instruments) and Jacopo Ferrazza (bass), and the Małgorzata Hutek Quintet (composed of Małgorzata Hutek, Dominika Kątny on viola, Bogusław Kaczmar on piano, Paweł Wszołek on bass, and Szymon Madej on percussion). The day closed with an appearance by the Nahorny Trio: Włodzimierz Nahorny (piano), Mariusz Bogdanowicz (bass), and Piotr Biskupski (percussion), with guest appearances by Lora Szafran (vocals), Sabina Meck (vocals), Zbigniew Namysłowski (alto saxophone), Wojciech Jachna (trumpet), and Wojciech Myrczek (vocals).

The next-to-last day of the Singer Jazz Festival showed that these final days of music would constitute a transition from cultural World Music towards traditional jazz. An encounter with Warsaw jazz was graced by the Kuba Płużek Quartet: Kuba Płużek (piano), Marek Pospieszalski (saxophone), Dawid Fortuna (percussion), and Jakub Dworak (bass). Immediately following this event was an appearance by the Leszek Żądło European Art Ensemble with the project “Expulsion from Paradise,” followed by Leszek Żądło again, this time performing with the concert band Sphere.

The last day of this monumental jazz undertaking featured a performance by the group Orange Train. We listened to Dominik Bukowski (vibraphone), Piotr Lemańczyk (bass), and Tomasz Łosowski (percussion). Appearing immediately afterwards was MusiConspiracy (PL/UK): Zbigniew Chojnacki (accordion), Fabrizzio Brusca (guitar), Michał Kapczuk (bass), and Jacek Kochan (percussion).

Concerts by world-famous cantors are always a great event at the Singer’s Warsaw Festival. Cantorial concerts constitute truly unique encounters of traditional Jewish and Hasidic music. From this year’s stage we listened to the wonderful voices of Benzion Miller, Yaakov Lemmer, and Tzudik Greenwald. The singers were accompanied by the Chamber Orchestra of the Warsaw Chamber Opera, conducted by Yaakov Rotner and accompanied by Menachem Bristowski. As is true every year, the performing cantors pride themselves on a traditional education under the guidance of masters, enormous talent, and international renown. They perform Chazanut singing, works from liturgical, Jewish, and Hasidic music, and traditional Yiddish songs, along with selections from the repertoires of opera and Broadway.

 

Yaakov Lemmer at Festiwal Warszawa Singera 2016 - Photo by Janusz Paliwida
Yaakov Lemmer at Festiwal Warszawa Singera 2016 – Photo by Janusz Paliwida

 

This year’s Singer’s Warsaw Festival ended with an open-air concert by The Klezmatics (US), consisting of Lorin Sklamberg (lead vocals, accordion, guitar, piano), Frank London (trumpet, keyboards, vocals), Lisa Gutkin (violin, vocals), Matt Darriau (kaval, clarinet, saxophone, vocals), Paul Morrissett (bass, tsimbl, vocals), and Richie Barshay (percussion instruments). Their music is valued around the world for its experimental connections with multilingual singing, development of arrangements using many traditional and modern instruments, capitalization on Yiddish culture, and combination of contemporary styles of music. During the concert in Warsaw, The Klezmatics celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of their presence on the world music scene. Every year, the Singer’s Warsaw Festival brings us more and more excellent music.

 

The Klezmatics - Photo by Paulina Tendera
The Klezmatics – Photo by Paulina Tendera

 

We asked Nadia Issa, a Polish artist in the art of light who presented her work in the course of Singer’s Warsaw Festival in 2015, what she associates with this festival. Nadia said: “Nostalgia, tradition, music, memory. In the Old Testament, hell (Hebrew: sheol) is understood as a place of silence and forgetfulness. The Singer’s Festival protects us from the ‘sin’ of forgetfulness. In the context of the tragedy of the Second World War, there are memories about the past generation and about tradition, as well as an attempt to save the timeless values in Jewish culture as a debt to our tragically deceased ancestors.”

Share

26th Jewish Culture Festival, a Krakow festival of World Music

Libelid - Photo by Michal Ramus
Libelid – Photo by Michal Ramus

The first Jewish Culture Festival was held in Poland in 1988, at which time its main goal was to emphasize the very important role of Jews in the creation of the Polish state, cultural identity, and society. After 28 years, the Festival has become Krakow’s best-known cultural event, as well as one of the most important festivals of contemporary Jewish culture in the world.

Every year, nearly thirty thousand people take part in this event; the ten-day duration of the Festival marks the presence in Krakow’s Kazimierz neighborhood of artists, filmmakers, and musicians from around the world.

The themes of the 26th JCF were the Diaspora and the Sabbath, as symbols of historical and contemporary Jewish identity. The implementation of each edition of the Jewish Culture Festival is supervised by the Festival Office, operating under the auspices of the Association of the Jewish Culture Festival (cf. http://www.jewishfestival.pl/pl/).

Shai Tsabari & The Future_Orchestra featuring Ahuva Ozeri - Photo by Michal Ramus
Shai Tsabari & The Future_Orchestra featuring Ahuva Ozeri – Photo by Michal Ramus

The Jewish Culture Festival has become a permanent and very important part of Krakow’s cultural life, in addition to its significant contribution to the spread of knowledge about Jewish culture and tradition, not only in Poland but internationally. The organizers devote particular attention to the cultural significance of music; this is strongly supported by the Jewish religious tradition, in which oral transmission is particularly important. But Krakow’s Jewish Culture Festival also represents a bold transcendence of the boundaries of tradition, codes, and signs, which, expressed in the language of music, equates to “world music.”

Today, not only in Poland but also throughout Europe, very important voices are being raised on the topic of the cultural integration of multiple, often historically conflicting, religious circles. In terms of politics and, especially, economics, this problem, far from disappearing, is actually (as shown by the events currently taking place in Europe) growing. However, World Music shows another side of cultural dialogue, one referring to spontaneous cognitive and artistic desires. This is shown and proven not only by the numerous festival concerts, but also by academic lectures such as “The Musical Meeting of Judaism and Islam” by Prof. Edwin Seroussi of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. More on this topic, on the example of the musicians of the 26th Jewish Culture Festival, is presented below.

In 2016, Krakow hosted musicians from around the world, with a significant portion coming from Israel but as well from the United States, Hungary, Germany, Russia, and Turkey.

The first day of the Festival opened with an evening session in the rhythm of mizrahi, a genre that combines Arabic, European and African music. Khen Elmaleh and David Pearl, creators of the best mizrahi events in Tel Aviv today, played their sets. The second day of the Festival featured an international evening concert of cantors, “By the Rivers of Babylon …,” with the participation of cantor Benzion Miller, one of the most famous Jewish cantors in the world (from the synagogue of the Jewish Center in Hillside, New York, and from 1981 Temple Beth El, Borough Park, Brooklyn, New York, USA), who, in Poland with Alberto Mizrahi and the Ben Baruch Choir, inaugurated the 8th Jewish Culture Festival in 1998 in the courtyard of Collegium Maius of Jagiellonian University.

Also taking part in this year’s concert was the world-famous lyric tenor cantor Yaakov Lemmer, followed by Avraham Kirshenbaum, lyric tenor and hazzan of the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem, one of the most outstanding heirs of the legacy of the Levites. This concert was marked as well by the participation of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue Choir, one of the best choirs performing liturgical music; of the composer Maestro Eli Jaffe, a member of the Royal Academy of Music in London and honorary conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra; and of pianist Menachem Bristowski. A Polish accent was provided by the participation in the concert of Krakow’s city orchestra, Sinfonietta Cracovia (PL).

Lola Marsh - Photo by Michal Ramus
Lola Marsh – Photo by Michal Ramus

The third day of the Festival featured an encounter with Jewish music from Austria-Hungary: Glass House Orchestra is the latest project by Frank London, undertaken on the initiative of the Balassi Institute Hungarian Cultural Center in New York. The group, comprising eight respected musicians from different countries, adopts elements of the extremely complex Jewish musical tradition. The result is – as ensured by the organizers of the Festival – truly cosmic.

Also worthy of our attention are The Brothers Nazaroff. As the Festival organizers write on the event’s website: “In the mid-twentieth century, Yiddish music in America was played mainly in the form of lullabies, elegies and Americanized folk songs. It was OK, but a little boring. In 1954 Nathan ‘Prince’ Nazaroff appeared with the album Jewish Freilach Songs (Freilach means happy in Yiddish) which was boisterous and joyful.”

Nathan ‘Prince’ Nazaroff
Nathan ‘Prince’ Nazaroff

By the end of the 26th Festival of Jewish Culture, numerous chamber, club, traditional music, and outdoor concerts had been held. The festival closed with a concert by Totemo, an Israeli music producer and singer. Her music is a combination of futuristic beats and precise sounds, enriched with melancholy lyrics, in a downtempo rhythm.

Given the scope of our review, we are unable to mention all of the artists participating in this Krakow festival of World Music, so we encourage you to take a look at the following websites:

More information: www.jewishfestival.pl/en/
More pictures: www.flickr.com/photos/126134189@N02/albums/with/72157652769675744

Text by Paulina Tendera & Wojciech Rubiś

Share

Semer Jewish Music Recordings Rediscovered

Semer Ensemble – Rescued Treasure – Live at Gorki Berlin (Piranha Musik, 2016)

The Semer Ensemble specializes in recreating the Jewish music of 1930s Germany. The album Rescued Treasure – Live at Gorki Berlin includes recreations of cabaret, 1930s dance music, classical music, Russian folk songs, Yiddish theater hits, operatic arias, and cantorial music.

To set the context to this new recordings, we need to go back to the early 20th century. Berlin-based record producer Hirsch Lewin started a label called Semer in 1932. This gramophone record company made thousands of recordings, capturing the essence of the Jewish music performed during the era. On November 9, 1938, Lewin’s store was attacked and 4,500 recordings and 250 metal plates were destroyed.

From 1992-2001, musicologist Dr. Rainer E. Lotz traveled the world to locate the Semer recordings. He was able to recover and restore nearly the entire catalog. In 2012, the Berlin Jewish Museum Berlin commissioned New Jewish Music artist Alan Bern to create new versions of the archival recordings.

Bern recruited musicians from the United States and Berlin. “It‘s amazing, but 80 years after the destruction of this culture there is once again a critical mass of musicians in Berlin able to take on a project like this,“ says Bern.

The lineup on Rescued Treasure – Live at Gorki Berlin includes Alan Bern on piano, accordion, music director; Daniel Kahn on vocals, accordion; Fabian Schnedler on vocals, electric guitar; Lorin Sklamberg on vocals, accordion; Mark Kovnatsky on violin; Paul Brody on trumpet; and Sasha Lurje on vocals.

Rescued Treasure – Live at Gorki Berlin is a significant recording of music that had nearly disappeared and is brought back to life decades later by skilled musicians from both sides of the Atlantic.

Buy Rescued Treasure – Live at Gorki Berlin

Share

Yiddish Musical Journey

Lenka Lichtenberg - Yiddish Journey: The Music of Lenka Lichtenberg (ARC Music EUCD2625, 2016)
Lenka Lichtenberg – Yiddish Journey: The Music of Lenka Lichtenberg (ARC Music EUCD2625, 2016)

The influence of Yiddish and klezmer on modern, Western popular music is tremendous. Listeners have osmosed it for many decades, in music halls, theaters, the pop and classical works of George Gershwin, the pervasive radio presence of Simon & Garfunkel throughout the 1960s and 1970s, film scores and advertising. It is one of the elements of our days that is most familiar, but that most of us have never sought to trace or isolate.

ARC Music has done much to make the broad range of Jewish music available to us. “Yiddish Journey” may be the easiest first step down this path of musical exploration the label has released to date.

Ms. Lichtenberg spotlights every part of the “journey” from the Middle East to Poland to Spain. Born in Czechoslovakia to a child survivor of the Holocaust, she was raised Catholic and left unaware of her Jewish roots until age 10.

Like most converts, she became intensely enthusiastic about proselytizing others, and that is fortunate for her listeners. This is a collection of 18 beautiful, thoughtful, artistic songs.

Buy Yiddish Journey: The Music of Lenka Lichtenberg

Share

Levantine Music in Eastern Europe: Klezmer from Litvakistan

The Dave Tarras Klezmer music ensemble from the album Yiddish-American Klezmer Music 1925-1956

Music of Klezmeristan

What Were Khazarian Wedding Dances and Music Like? Would They Resemble Klezmer?

By: Anne Hart, M.A.
author of 36 books, journalist: world music
newswriting@hotmail.com
www.newswriting.net

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
performances.

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
period.

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
Galicia.

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),
Russian, etc.

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.

Share