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KlezKanada '99

Wednesday: Kurt Bjorling, "Who What When Where Why Klezmer?"

Wednesday: Zev Feldman, "Coming to terms with sacred and secular sources"

Thursday: Adrienne Cooper, "Itsik Manger"

Friday: German Goldenshtyn interview: From Bessarabia to America

other klezmer articles on the Internet

[These are rough notes from a talk given by Dr. Walter Zev Feldman. Please excuse mistranscriptions and confusions. I will be most happy to correct mistakes.]

Sacred & Secular in the Southern Secular Repertoire

Dr. Walter Zev Feldman

[This follows up his work on the Bulgar, published in 1995. These notes were taken during the talk, part of which may become available on the web at some point, but all of which will be available in a forthcoming book. ari]

"Some of what I am telling you is more true of the more conservative parts of Poland and Russia, which were less affected by modernization during this period."

How do we understand Old World Klezmer Music?
How and Why Did Klezmer music change in America.

The answer begins with musical structures and notation. I'll start by quoting Beregovski, [quotes Beregovski regarding the changing role of the hasidic nign from ecstatic to other uses].

Beregovski observed music in different contexts. We don't have that any more. We can look at the context in which the music exists in US or Israel, but we can no longer look at Eastern Europe. Factors such as attention and audience matter. Comparing Old World and New World klezmer is complicated by the very different amount of infomration we have about the different communities.

The nature of questioning, post-revival, has been problematic. Those of us who have access, are often stuck in literalism. We have so little contextual information, and so little contextual info in which music is present. The unearthing of documents still remains a primary task of the questioner. Every scrap adds to what we know. But focusing on the existing documents, or even those that will appear, will never give us a meaningful picture of Old World klezmer.

The worst often is to interpret klezmer music in terms of other eastern European or Balkan musics. Such interpretation leads entirely outside Jewish music, despite the fact that klezmer was at the interface of those and other musics, that it contributed to those repertoires in turn, and, indeed, klezmer was far from static.

[Feldman plays several pre-WWI recordings, introspective virtuosic forms, with some common krechts on the second, which also has a lot of non-Jewish influence. Some of these basic forms are starting to be recorded and rerecorded today under the name "Romanian Fantasy," or some such. Feldman plays three duets: fiddle/tsimbl; flute/tsimbl. Note that almost none of these are dance music. Virtually no surviving klez recordings from that period feature dance music.]

Even Belf had only a limited repertoire of dance music. Yet, virtually all Tarras and Brandwein music are dance music. But the professional musicians in Poland and elsewhere defined themselves through virtuouso renditions of artistic music. In America, the klezmorim defined themselves through the virtuosity of their dance records.

[We listen to a recording of the Boyberiker Kapelye doing a wedding march in the 20s. Here each line is its own music phrase, they can't run together--Feldman points out that this is also true for Torah reading.]

[then we listen to a later Tarras recording (he was also present on the Boybriker recording), and the phrasing is much more fluid, with the rhythm less defining phrases. The sense of rhythm never changes--no phrases. No breakup of each word. This, Feldman says, is de-Judaized--it's very Romanian, and purposely so.]

[Some more recordings. Rhythm is more chuga lugga chugga over and over. Little, if any variation. The melody lines are quiet fluid and virtuosic, but the rhythm is no longer a notable part of the tune except to hold the beat. Early Jewish drum machines! Even though rhythm might include tsimbl, accordion, and whatever--no overt percussion, sometimes. First piece is Brandwein's Heyser Bulgar, then Tarras recording of same melody; both derived from Greek.]

We then drift back to Eastern Europe. The job of a professional instrumentalist was not to sing--anyone can sing, they would say. The klezmer defined himself exclusively as an instrumentalist, and considered it an insult to accmpany a singer. The badkhn was different.

In an ideal situation, the kapelmeister wuld get subsidy from the local landowner, the group would prosper and even write it own repertoire. But these gorups, at best, would last up to 2, 3 generations. But, times would change, and even the kapelmeister would double as wedding musicians or barbers. (Barbers???!! Perhaps I misheard.) If, on the other hand, the kapelmeister began to play more for the aristocracy, they would be less popular in the Jewish commuity, and this could result in a process in which the musician would become part of the Christian community and convert. The kapelmeister had to speak fluent polish or romanian. He had to be witty, and not to offend.

In some senses, the sher and freylach are instrumental versions of hasidic nigns.

In some areas, "khosidl" instead of "freylach," to better acknolwedge the connection.

Feldman talks about how the klezmer repertoire changed to reflect religious music, which is unusual, and that this was, in part, encouraged both by the spread of hasidism, and also by the attempt by rabbis at "derekh shas"--the attempt to integrate each moment and gesture into religion.

Very little of that old world repertoire survived in America; primarily dance music only.

In the end, Feldman, in talking about the religious roots of some klezmer repertoire, notes that to understand context, the musician must also come to terms with traditional Judaism; in this case, with Hasidism. It is not possible to provide a context, nor, ultimately, to understand some aspects of klezmer, without understanding Judaism. This seems to be, on the surface, advocacy for Hasidism. It's not. Although many folk purists would have us all become medieval Amish or Irish, or German peasants to understand this or that folk tradition, that makes no sense in the real world to many of the people to whom a given folk tradition music speaks. But neither is the musician free from understanding the important cultural and religious and life aspects whence the music he or she is attempting to play derives.

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