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Re: New Jewish Music


----- Original Message -----
From: Joshua Horowitz <horowitz (at) styria(dot)com>
To: World music from a Jewish slant <jewish-music (at) shamash(dot)org>
Sent: Friday, December 31, 1999 4:22 AM
Subject: 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
> > that a scholarly consensus was developing to adopt a narrow definition
of the
> > term "klezmer," including Yiddish instrumental repertoire but excluding
> > song, for example. We also agreed that there were good reasons to adopt
> > usage. When we then considered our own repertoire, it was clear that it
> > broader than klezmer music, understood in this narrow sense. For that
> > we left the term "klezmer music" off the cover and instead plastered the
> > "New Jewish Music" all over the place. (The graphic is even of a label,
> > to be a semi-ironic comment on the function of musical labels). That
> > 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
> > Jewish traditions. To me it seems less polemical than a term like
> > Jewish culture," not the least because today's radical is often
> > traditional.
> >
> > Alan Bern
> >

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

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