"Klezmer." My pain. My joy.

OK, it's happened again.

Some nice lady asked me a simple little question and without thinking too much or remembering to hit "delete," I send this along. The question referred to the weather or not non-Jews had any business playing "Jewish Klezmer," which I find as ridiculous a notion as can White people play the Blues. (Oh dear, a whole other essay is forming, but I digress..) Nope, I never did hear back from her either.

"Klezmer" is a term only genuinely applied to the recent revival of Yiddish dance music. It's a construct, a re-imagination, made up in some cases whole up cloth from people who have only a tangential relationship to the culture that the music originally sprang from. For instance, no self respecting Yiddish musician would have ever referred to themselves as a "klezmer," which is point of fact a derogatory term for a not very good musician, yet it's the very term than modern players use to describe what they do. (Pretty ironic, huh?) I believe that's called a cultural disconnect. Many of these modern day practitioners have clumsily, and wrong headedly, incorporated smorgasbord-like and wide panoply of Yiddish Folk Song and Yiddish Art Song into their performances as well, further distancing themselves from any actual tradition.

Which brings me to there is no "klezmer" music, there is simply a Yiddish vernacular performance style. Thus, any tune can conceivably be played in a Yiddish style and thus made Yiddish, when filtered through the experience of the Yiddish speaking Jews of Eastern Europe. One of my favorite dance numbers around here started life as a Mariachi march for instance.
Utter BS, and stolen to boot.


The music that we know as Yiddish dance comes from many sources, incorporating the many places Yiddish speaking Jews lived and the sort of cultures Jews came into regular contact with (Oriental Greeks, Ukrainians, Romanians, Turks and various Rroma tribes for instance.) Some come straight from Cantorial and Chassidic traditions, but as we know from recorded evidence that many of these melodies were lifted from someplace else as well. The folk and art song traditions have long complex stories all their own, which intersect and are sometimes influenced by the instrumental tradition but are in fact separate distinct traditions unto themselves.

Further, this is a purely secular musical expression. It's the advent of a Yiddish speaking Jewish population, not a strictly religious expression. Non Jews have been involved in Yiddish music from day one, and many of the best players we have today are in fact not Jewish, nor do they wish to become so. True, there is a spiritual element in any music really, 
We can only imagine what they sounded like
and you cannot divest Yiddish culture from Jewish practice. However, any attempt to cast Yiddish music in that light is purely a post-modern thought. And probably a wholly American phenomenon, much the same way a socio-political concept like Zionism is used wholesale to express religiosity for many fully assimilated Jews .

To me personally I find it kind of sad that such a rich cultural tradition being misused in this way. Better Jews keep the sabbath than try and make dance music substitute for religious practice. That's my 2 cents anyway. I doubt if I'm in the majority opinion here.