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Re: New Jewish Music

At 04:10 AM 12/31/99 -0500, Alan Bern wrote:

>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

I've been thinking a lot about Alan's comment after my quick reply to 
Eliezar.   The whole issue of categorization is multi-faceted.  I am 
certainly not qualified to comment on ethnomusicological issues and won't 
even think about going there...But I have spent alot of time thinking about 
marketing and it's the issue of marketplace identification that I keep 
coming back to, because it has practical effect on how the music is 
supported and heard.  I am thinking, now, not of the cognoscenti, who know 
the groups and performers already and can debate whether something is or 
isn't real klezmer, but rather of the average concert-goer/album buyer - 
the vast majority of the 16,000 people who bought tickets to the sold-out 
July 1998 Hollywood Bowl "Fiddler's House" concert. So, I take an unpopular 
position and support the term "New Klezmer" or "Klezmer Revival" for 
marketing purposes.    Yes, Alan is right, it over simplifies.  Yes, it 
does dilute the original meaning of the term "klezmer".   Yes, there are 
many, many groups who are making and performing music quite far from the 
original impetus and meaning of the term "klezmer".  But it communicates 
something - however broad and inexact - to the audience.  It helps them 
categorize and it helps to sell tickets and albums.  From where I sit, 
that's a good thing.

The audience needs a starting reference point to determine whether to plunk 
down their money (and invest their time) and take a chance on something or 
someone unknown to them. "Klezmer Revival" is that.    When a group was 
described as coming out of the "Bluegrass Revival" it wasn't an indicator 
of where they were musically now, but where they had started from.  I was 
more inclined to give a listen than if they were a "Country" group.  Cajun 
music is another sloppy term, but one that works for marketing 
purposes.  The "Cajun" moniker might include a group that is really, from a 
purist point of view, Zydeco, the group might or might not include vocals, 
but it is distinct from other francophone musical styles.   The press that 
the term "Klezmer Revival" has received gives it a certain cache and some 
familiarity to the average audience member.  We really shouldn't disdain it 
and turn our backs on all the good press and familiarity it has gotten - 
unless, of course, someone wants to undertake a coordinated PR campaign to 
substitute some other term in its place.

For me, New Jewish Music doesn't do it.  Whether I like it or not (and, as 
an active leader of the  Secular Jewish Movement, I don't like it), the 
vast majority of people identify "Jewish" as a religious affiliation, not a 
cultural one.  I think it is a limiting term, which tends to turn off 
non-Jewish Americans (I can't speak to the situation in Europe, certainly 
Alan and Josh are among the experts on that).  I wouldn't call the popular 
style "New Celtic Catholic Music" and expect it to attract a broad base of 
listeners.  And that, after all, is my goal:  I think this music is great 
and want to expose it to the widest, most diverse audience possible.

So, that leaves me in the minority position; I'll stick with "Klezmer Revival".


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