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Re: New Jewish Music

The reinstallment of the term "*Klezmer music* in the beginning of the
so-called klezmer revival in the 70's by Henry Sapoznik, Andy Statman
and Zev Feldman was among the smartest marketing decisions that helped
to launch the movement. The industry needs labels - it cannot survive
without them. It serves to create an umbrella term for easily
identifyable events and concerts. It serves to create a shelf category
in record stores, to provide titles for radio shows and to gain a high
profile for the music itself through the implicit meaning that if the
music genre has its own term, it must be a bonafide genre. The term is
like the castle - it shows the world that those residing within it have
achieved something. Hardly an interview exists which doesn't begin with
the artists definition of the term klezmer. 

It may be, however that the appearance of a label, such as "Klezmer
Music" while aiding the "propogation of the species" will eventually
serve as its death sentence. The life history of musical genres in this
century seems to follow a similar path. First, the term is coined and a
historical precedent is constructed or rediscovered. In the case of the
term *klezmer*, historical validity was invested in the term based on
Beregovski's use of it. But a *tradition* cannot possibly be considered
as such if its roots only go back to the 1930's when Beregovski coined
the term. Practitioners of the genre know that the music existed long
before the term was coined, therefore the only task is to complete the
image of a long-lost, newly rediscovered music and to do this you must
project backwards in time the term which is being contemporarily used to
denote the genre. This was not difficult with *klezmer music*, as the
term *Klezmer* and 
*Klezmorim* has a historical precedence as terms respectively denoting
the musician or group of musicians in Yiddish since the 16th Century. It
rarely meant more nor less than that, so anachronistic arguments about
what the term meant prior to the modern age won't get you very far. New
discussions of the term deal almost exclusively with a manipulation of
it as it has existed within the last 80 years. 

The term itself has recently entered the realm of the post modern world,
which means that it is now possible to endow it with meanings which have
nothing to do with its etymology, becoming eligible for use in
accordance with the needs of the user. The term then begins to take on
meanings much broader than when it was first used, losing precision
while gaining universality. Examples of these are esoteric meanings
using psudo-talmudic exegesis for their justification, i.e. "Klezmer is
the loudspeaker of the inner voice that sings in the heart of every
human being" or "Klezmer" as denoting any panoply of Jewish, but
non-east-European genres of music, such as Sephardic songs, Yemenite,
etc. extending to and including under its new definition complex even
non-Jewish seemingly related genres. 

At this point, practitioners of the genre (or those who have simply
attached themselves to it for identity or promotional reasons) become
frustrated with the term as such, because the new uses of it no longer
denote what they meant when they themselves used the term at the
beginning or want the term to mean now. A search is made for a new term
to label the music, which will set them apart from the newly established
mainstream with which they no longer identify, and so they make a new
sub-label (see below "New Jewish Music", or "Radical Jewish Culture")
which will inevitably still fall under the umbrella term of of the old
label, only to be considered a 
sub-label of it. It's usually hoped that this sub-label will become a
new genre in and of itself, yet this is only possible when the new
sub-label term undergoes the same process as the original label did,
which means that it will end up exactly in the same place where it
began, defeating its own purpose, but perhaps enjoying a heyday, which
is felt as being at its peak precisely at the moment that it's imitators
emerge and are noticed as much as the "originators." To name something
is a very powerful thing to do. As soon as you name something, it is
released into the domain of the public, and you no longer have control
over its usage anymore. Josh
> When Brave Old World released Blood Oranges in 1997, we were in agreement
> that a scholarly consensus was developing to adopt a narrow definition of the
> term "klezmer," including Yiddish instrumental repertoire but excluding folk
> song, for example. We also agreed that there were good reasons to adopt that
> usage. When we then considered our own repertoire, it was clear that it was
> broader than klezmer music, understood in this narrow sense. For that reason
> we left the term "klezmer music" off the cover and instead plastered the term
> "New Jewish Music" all over the place. (The graphic is even of a label, meant
> to be a semi-ironic comment on the function of musical labels). That term
> seems to have caught on in some places, judging from the titles of some
> current radio shows, conferences, etc.
> I recommend the term "New Jewish Music" as one which can include both
> instrumental and vocal, compositions and arrangements, of Ashkenazi and other
> Jewish traditions. To me it seems less polemical than a term like "radical
> Jewish culture," not the least because today's radical is often tomorrow's
> traditional.
> Alan Bern

---------------------- jewish-music (at) shamash(dot)org ---------------------+

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