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RE: In defense of the recorder

>This was not one little fact, and it wasn't ripped out of context.

Matt, my impression is that you are a musician and not a scholar and thus 
have no basis to check whether what you heard third-hand is accurate or 
not.  You also have no means to know whether the fact you heard third-hand 
was or wasn't ripped out of context.

As a longtime scholar of Eastern European Jewish culture, I can tell you 
that the general statement you made can not be made about the country of 
"Poland" "at the turn of the century".  I have researched Yiddish music, 
specifically sources and dissemination of musical repertoire in Poland, but 
not klezmer bands per se.  I have never interviewed Mr. Hescheles, but have 
heard about him from several people who have worked with him.  I won't say 
scholars who have interviewed him, because I also know of non-scholars who 
have interviewed him, people who like to be thought of as scholars, but 
that doesn't make them such, e.g., Michael Schlesinger of Global Village. 
  I don't remember what city Mr. Hescheles comes from, (Itsik I am sure 
remembers), but whatever Mr. Hescheles had to say, he said out of his 
personal experience, from his town and his place.  If anyone is taking 
those statements and making general conclusions about all of Poland or even 
the whole region, then that person doesn't know what he or she is doing and 
is either a bad scholar or a bad listener to a good scholar.  No general 
statements can be made about Poland, because there were no national music 
guilds or even provincial (=in Polish and Yiddish called 'gubernye') ones. 
  What may have happened in certain sections of Warsaw or Vilna had no 
reflection to what happened anywhere else in Poland and Lithuania, 
including Lodz and Cracow.  Same goes for small towns or even large towns. 
 What happened in cities of 5,000 or 40,000 people did not necessarily 
reflect what went on in Vilna between 1939.  Vilna was unique, Warsaw was 
unique and Lodz was unique in yet other ways.   I can tell you that 
historians who have written on guilds cite very, very few music guilds and 
the information about them is very sparse.  I am sorry that I can cite 
details for you, because I have not looked into those books in some years. 
 I can tell you that artist unionization happened rather late and the word 
"artisan" should not be confused with "artist" and the history of 
non-Jewish minstrel guilds in medieval times does not necessarily reflect 
on formal associations of Jewish musicians after 1900.

>Polish klezmer scene early in the 20th c.

You have to remember that this is a time before mass communication, radio, 
phonograph, TV or even a national train service.   Forget about cars. 
  Whatever is happening musically is happening locally and klezmer 
musicians would travel by horse and wagon if not walk to gigs in the local 
towns around them.  Even between the world wars, travel for musical bands 
didn't get much farther.  Large towns may have had their set of bands that 
staked out their local territory and may have determined what their 
musicians played, but no one could tell the band(s) of the next set of 
towns what it could or couldn't play or which instruments were best and 
appropriate.  Tradition, local taste and musical creativity determined what 
got played at weddings and simkhes.  New repertoire were brought into towns 
by political groups, or, if one was lucky to get them in your town, roving 
theater troupes, or perhaps by mailed sheet music if one had the 
wherewithal to learn of them, no less procure them from the capitol or from 
other countries.  But there was no one musical association that could tell 
every musician which instruments to exclude.  If a new instrument was 
acquired, improved, or mastered by musicians in a local region, it might 
have become the local rage and the parents of the bride or maybe the rabbi 
might ask musicians to use that instrument; or maybe not to use instruments 
associated with the Russian army.  Remember, the Russian army, which even 
kidnapped children and young men off the streets and kept them in the army 
for 25 years without providing for your Jewish needs, was not popular among 
the Jewish folk.  The 1904-5 pogroms didn't improve this relationship 
either.  But to make a statement that the musicians insisted that "brass 
and all but the best clarinetists were being kept rigorously out of the 
kapelyes in Poland" can not have any documentary evidence that would allow 
anyone to make such a statement.  It may be that musicians in Lodz learned 
to unionize from their brethern in the textile factories at the turn of the 
century, but their dominion could apply only to their city and maybe, maybe 
to the little towns outside of the Lodz, but that is as far as their power 
could be enforced.  The repertoire that was played in the Yiddish theater 
and music halls of Warsaw had the greatest influence on what happened 
outside of Warsaw.  However, influence created by the burgeoning Jewish 
creativity and spirit has nothing to do with force and prohibition.  How 
would a guild in let's theoretically say, Warsaw, determine what happened 
in Kojenitz, or Brod or Wengerove?  Poland at the turn of the century or 
even before the WWII does not have this organized centralized government 
that one finds in, for example, France or Communist Russia.   Anyone who 
would suggest this, doesn't know Polish or Jewish history.

The fact is that musicians had no political or economic mechanisms with 
which to force musical taste, preferences, or repertoire nationally or 
regionally.  What the rabbis may have discouraged in popular taste is a 
whole different matter and their role in all this has not been raised by 
anyone yet.  If anything, the German and Russian government power in Poland 
from 1900-1939 had very strict rules about everything and anything 
involving public performances and their continuously changing edicts were a 
constant source of frustration, which required a lot of smarts to negotiate 
and overcome.  In fact, there are many stories of Yiddish theatrical 
troupes in Warsaw presenting one or two performances in one spot and 
running elsewhere for the location with the authorities on their backs 
because German was not the language of performance.   At other times, the 
troupes put up German language ads to advertise a play, and sometimes even 
daytshmerish would be used to begin the play, but as soon as the 
authorities left, the actors switched to Yiddish.  I don't know if rules 
about instrumentation were set in these particular cases, simply because I 
was not looking for such information at the time, but it is possible that 
rules about them were also set in the long list.  However, if governmental 
edicts included prohibitions of particular instruments, no one has raised 
this issue or brought any evidence.  But then that would apply only to the 
major cities/city and not to all of Poland anyway.

I strongly doubt whether Mr. Hescheles ever attempted to make general 
statements about Poland.  I have not read Zev Feldman's writing, but I also 
doubt that he has written the statement you attribute to him.  If Mr. 
Hescheles is making such statements, then he is a lonely man who knows that 
there is no one to challenge the stuff he is feeding his many interviewers. 
 He knows that as long as he provides his interviewers unique information, 
they will come to visit and brighten the day of a 90+ year old man.  As a 
ethnographer with heavy training in oral research, I can tell that, no 
matter how wonderful a person your informant is, and no matter how much 
s/he may love you, an informant tells you very different things if that 
person knows that you have no one else with whom to check the information 
s/he is telling you.  The last living informant on any subject can be as 
sloppy as s/he wants to be, by omission or commission, intentionally or 
unintentionally.  We have seen this happen many, many times.  I am told 
that Mr. Hescheles is a very interesting person.  But if he is saying these 
things, then I would say that he might have been an excellent informant 20 
or 30 years ago, but after so many young ga-ga-eyed musicians have come to 
interview him, most with little cultural literacy and each seeking to 
unearth some little known facts, he has been ruined by this time.  I don't 
know how much of a Yiddish reading fluency the present set of Yiddish music 
scholars really have, since even the best of them claim to understand 
Yiddish, but very, very few can speak it.  It may just take too long to 
comb through the many Yiddish texts that are available, and some may choose 
to go the fast route and use the person who will provide an immediate 
response in English.  Good scholars know that you can never depend on one 
source of info for anything, including eye-witness accounts to important 
events, including personal events.  If Mr. Hescheles's statements can not 
be corroborated, then you don't use them.  If you want to use them because 
you think they are important, then you must state that he is the only 
source of the information and that information has not/can not be 
corroborated at this time.   Period.   That means that you do not count 
them in when you make your final, general conclusions.

Personally, I would put my money on the highly respected Mr. Isachar Fater 
in Israel and whatever he writes.  So glad someone mentioned him here.


From:  Matt Jaffey [SMTP:mjaffey2 (at) mum(dot)edu]
Sent:  Friday, March 24, 2000 12:07 PM
To:  World music from a Jewish slant
Subject:  RE: In defense of the recorder

At 05:42 PM 3/24/2000 -0500, you wrote:
>>Guilds held control over the composition of kapelyes.
>What?  Who?  Where?  Maybe music directors in the Warsaw theater made
>formal exclusions, and this still needs to be checked if its true, but no
>such guilds existed in towns and villages.  You can not find take one
>little fact and rip it out of its context to make general, sweeping
>statements this way.

This was not one little fact, and it wasn't ripped out of context. But I
will tell you the context in which I heard it. I was suggesting to someone
who communicates with Zev Feldman that Zev might be relying a bit too
heavily on the testimony of one person (Mr. Hescheles), for his ideas about
what was going on in the Polish klezmer scene early in the 20th c. The
response was, yes, but what Mr. Hescheles has to say is so very valuable,
because, amongst other reasons, he talks about subjects that no one else
has ever talked about - he is filling in gaps in knowledge etc. etc. And
one example given was this notion that brass and all but the best
clarinetists were being kept rigorously out of the kapelyes in Poland.

I know that I'm getting this 3rd hand, which is why I don't consider this
to be authoritative info. In fact, there may be good evidence to
contradict. Do you have any? Or are you just saying that there is no
evidence, one way or the other?


>Regarding suitability of an instrument for playing klezmer - of course,
>tastes change. I have been told that, at the time when brass instruments
>were being introduced in kapelyes in the Ukraine, they were being
>rigorously excluded from kapelyes in the more conservative Poland, where
>guilds held control over the composition of kapelyes. Not only that, all
>but the very best of clarinetists were also being excluded in Poland. So
>for them, brass, and most clarinet playing, were considered unsuitable.
>This is supposedly from Mr. Hescheles. If anyone has more definitive info
>on this, I'd be happy to hear about it.

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