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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.  I would 
be very happy to walk into the large record stores in the various cities 
and see the same bin in store after store that says "Klezmer Revival" 
sitting there next to Country, Bluegrass, Reggae, Irish and Cajun.

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


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