Yale Strom / The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook

Review by Eric Zaidins

book coverYale Strom
The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook

Format: Paperback, 420pp.
ISBN: 0807409472
Pub. Date: October 1, 2006
Publisher: Transcontinental Music Publications
$49.95 from URJ Press (www.urjpress.com)
Also available from Amazon.com and fine vendors everywhere

Learning to play klezmer, for young and old alike, can be a challenge. The music isn’t often played in major or minor scales. Instead its keys, or modes, are referred to as Freygish, Misheberech and Adonoy moloch to name just three. Its various rhythms Nigun, Freylekh, Bulgar, Chosidl, Hora, Terkisher, Sirba, Sher, Taksim, and Doina, must be mastered. Not so easy if raised on a diet of rock, country, hip-hop, or even classical.

In a bygone era, klezmorim learned the melodies from each other. They were passed from musician to musician in the oral tradition; music stores didn’t exist. Imagine, no sheet music to be handed out, no recordings to buy, no iTunes to download.

With the rediscovery of klezmer starting in the late 1970s, a number of recordings, and some sheet music, from the first half of the 20th century were available to use for guidance. The number of recordings has grown but the availability of written music has not kept pace. A few have done an admirable job at publishing sheet music: The Kammen International Portfolio (published in 1924 and revised in 1951) and more recently, Sherry Mayrent’s Klezmer for Everyone series instruments (published in 2001), to name just two. Nothing has been exhaustingly comprehensive. Until now.

With close to 300 klezmer tunes, old standards and many newly discovered, in-depth discussions of the music and its history, plus an accompanying CD, The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook, edited by Yale Strom, is amazing.

Strom has traveled extensively throughout Eastern Europe and the former Eastern Bloc countries, meeting with klezmorim and learning traditional and new melodies. He has collected photographs, recordings, oral histories, and sheet music.

Strom’s Songbook opens with a fascinating history of klezmer music, gathered from his research and travels; it is a must-read for all klezmer musicians. The sheet music is organized by category: wedding tunes, including dances for the in-laws; farewell dances; and the traditional bulgars, freylekhs, and other klezmer music forms. Many of the songs will be familiar to klezmer musicians, while others, especially those gathered from Eastern European and Eastern Bloc klezmorim, have not been heard by most Western musicians.

All music is written in concert key with chords; 36 of the songs have been transposed for Bb instruments and also are presented in the book's accompanying CD.

The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook expands the growing library of world klezmer music and captures melodies that otherwise may have disappeared. It belongs in the library of every dedicated klezmer musician and aficionado.

Published by Transcontinental Music Publications. $49.95 from URJ Press (www.urjpress.com)!

Reviewed by Eric Zaidins, October 22, 2007

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