Researching klezmer

Overview

As part of the development of klezmer at Manchester, we have an ongoing research agenda. This is interdisciplinary in nature – bringing together traditions of Performing Ethnomusicology (from Music) and Appropriate Methodology (from Education), as given focus through the lens of the klezmer revival.  In many ways, we see the development of klezmer-at-Manchester as what might be termed “Klez returns to college” building on Hankus Netsky’s “Klez goes to college” in which he reported on the development of klezmer ensembles in conservatoire contexts in the USA from the 1980s. Our research is also concerned with what it might mean (for all those involved) when mostly non-Jewish music students become immersed (in a conservatoire /academic type context) in the musical-cultures of klezmer, to be then developing their musical skills and understandings of klezmer in community contexts outside the university, and to be doing so often for audiences consisting, in part, of members of the local Jewish communities for whom klezmer might be portrayed as a “familiar unfamiliar idiom”. The development of these links between the university and the local communities represents a contribution to the university’s social engagement policy and, through the students’ immersion in the, often unfamiliar, klezmer and Jewish worlds in Manchester and beyond, the klezmer-at-Manchester project has an important intercultural education purpose which seeks to (contribute to the) combat(ing of) anti-semitism by means of a positive engagement with this musical aspect of Jewish civilisation.


 See also: Ellie Sherwood’s (from L’chaim Kapelye, MKK 2012-13) ‘Musicking with Others‘ blog and klezmer-focused MusB Dissertation (June 2014).

See also the documentary by Ellie Sherwood and Rob Foot, Klezmer in Manchester: People and Passions


 

 


OUR PAPERS TO DATE


July 2016

‘Klezmer returns to college’ – intercultural experience and social engagement through musical performance.

Richard Fay, Ros Hawley, and Elinor Sherwood, E.

(Music Department, The University of Manchester)

In this paper, having introduced the music-culture known as klezmer (a word combining the Hebrew words klei and zemer and translatable as ‘vessel of sound’), we outline our approach to teaching it in recent years in a UK conservatory-type context in which Western Classical music is prioritised, and then reflect on the broadening of our students’ musical, cultural, and contextual horizons through engagement with, and performance of, klezmer.

As widely discussed (e.g. Rogovoy, 2000; Sapoznik, 1981, 1999/2001; Slobín, 2000, 2002; Strom, 2002), the genre of music now known as ‘Klezmer’ has roots dating back to the Middle Ages and was originally an integral part of the wedding (and other) celebrations of the often Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jewish communities in central and eastern European. Those communities experienced great oppression throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and were very largely destroyed during the Holocaust. However, this music-culture survived as a result of emigration and the resulting establishment of diaspora communities especially in the USA. Recordings made in the early part of the 20th century in this New World context (and, as recently discovered in the EMI archives, also in Europe) captured some of the Old World sound and provide invaluable access to an otherwise lost sonic and cultural world. As the century progressed, these recordings also evidenced the desire, to quote a local radio jingle of the time, for ‘Jewish melodies in swing’, i.e. for a mixing of Old and New World musical sensibilities. Then, as the emigrants settled, and their children and grandchildren became a part of the American melting pot, klezmer almost disappeared completely. It seemed that this shtetl-music had limited relevance and resonance in the new cultural setting where few wanted to remember the Old World experience of being Jewish. However, for the revivalists of the 1970s and 1980s, sufficient recordings had been archived and enough older klezmorim (i.e. klezmer musicians) remained to ensure that American klezmer could be rekindled and reframed as part of the contemporary music-scape. Since then, and not without controversy, klezmer has mushroomed into a transglobal world music genre with a widely distributed pool of players and aficionados. But what this might mean varies from context to context. For example, the reappearance of klezmer in countries such as Germany and Poland (from which the Jewish presence had all but been eradicated) has led to some commentators to speak of cultural appropriation whereas others view the revived forms in terms of cultural translation (Waligorska, 2013).

A starting point for our teaching of klezmer lies with the teaching in the 1970s/80s in the USA by the revivalists, an approach described, for example, in Netsky’s seminal chapter, “Klez goes to college” (2004). However, our context is substantially different. We have been teaching klezmer in a UK university department for the last five years only – an initiative which, echoing Netsky’s work, we describe as ‘klezmer returns to college’. Given that the available klezmer pedagogy relates to an earlier era and to a particular musical, cultural, and educational context, we needed to develop an approach, shaped by the pioneering work of others, but nonetheless reframed to be appropriate for our time and context. A further source of pedagogical inspiration lay with the traditions of Performing Ethnomusicology (e.g. Krüger, 2009; Schippers, 2010; Solis, 2004) and with World Music Education (e.g. Campbell, 1996; Campbell et al, 2005). Additionally, we brought an intercultural purposefulness (e.g. Field, 2010) to our thinking, and we sought to challenge the givens of our field, to be socially transformative (re our students’ engagement with local audiences, Jewish and non-Jewish), and to enact in some ways the developing traditions of Applied Ethnomusicology (e.g. Harrison, Mackinlay & Pettan, 2010). In the paper, we outline the main characteristics of the approach we have developed as shaped by these diverse possibilities.

Each year, a group of between 8-15 students learn to play klezmer, a genre which for them is typically an unfamiliar musical idiom flowing from unfamiliar cultural roots. By the end of their taught time with us they must be able to perform klezmer, a musical ‘Other’ for them, to audiences significantly Jewish in make-up (another cultural ‘Other’ for our students). This world music (klezmer) education process generates not only a dialogue between differing music-cultures (and their associated forms, and learning and performance styles, of which we will say more in the paper), but also a dialogue between the disciplines of Ethnomusicology and Intercultural Communication (especially concerning the criticality with which ‘culture’ is used). Further, most of those teaching and learning klezmer in this 21st century Mancunian (UK) context are not from a Jewish background and, whilst for some this might be seen as part of the aforementioned cultural appropriation, we believe that it has enabled purposeful intercultural dialogue through music. It also represents a process of social engagement which is playing an important role in the developing cultural weave of our city, as well as helping to shape our students’ musically-framed understandings of the cultural and intercultural. (862 words)

REFERENCES

Campbell, P.S. (1996). Music in cultural context: eight views on World Music Education. Reston, VA.: Music Educators National Conference (MENC).

Campbell, P.S., Drummond, J., Dunbar-Hall, P., Howard, K., Schippers, H. and Wiggins, T. (eds.) (2005). Cultural diversity in music education: directions and challenges for the 21st century. Queensland: Australian Academic Press.

Field, J. (2010). Middle school music curricula and the fostering of intercultural awareness. Journal of Research in International Education, 9(1): 5-23.

Harrison, K., Mackinlay, E. and Pettan, S. (eds.) (2010). Applied ethnomusicology: historical and contemporary approaches. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Krüger, S. (2009). Experiencing ethnomusicology: teaching and learning in European universities. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing.

Netsky, H. (2004). “Klez goes to college”. In T. Solis (ed.), Performing ethnomusicology: teaching and representation in the world music ensembles (pp.189-201). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rogovoy, S. (2000) The essential Klezmer: A music lover’s guide to Jewish roots and soul music, from the Old World to the Jazz Age to the Downtown Avant-Garde. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.

Sapoznik, H. (1981). Liner notes for Klezmer Music 1910-1942 – available from: http://media.smithsonianfolkways.org/liner_notes/folkways/FW34021.pdf (last accessed 30th December, 2015).

Sapoznik, Henry. (1999/2006). Klezmer! Jewish music from Old World to our world. New York: Schirmer trade Books.

Schippers, H. (2010). Facing the music: shaping music education from a global perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Slobín, M. (ed.) (2000). Fiddler on the move: exploring the klezmer world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Slobín, M. (ed.) (2002). American klezmer: its roots and offshoots. Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press.

Solis, T. (ed.) (2004). Performing ethnomusicology: teaching and representation in the world music ensembles. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Strom, Y. (2002). The book of klezmer – the history, the music, the folklore from the 14th century to the 21st. Chicago, ILL.: Cappella Books.

Waligorska, M. (2013). Klezmer’s afterlife: an ethnography of the Jewish music revival in Poland and Germany. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Keywords: ethnomusicology; ‘culture’; dialogue; interdisciplinary; social engagement

[Paper (to be) presented at the 2nd BIBAC (Building Interdisciplinary Bridges Across Cultures) International Conference, hosted by Cambridge University, UK, 31st July-01st August, 2016]


November 2015

Ethnomusicological bridges and social engagement through klezmer: interdisciplinary dialogues and intercultural performances

Richard Fay, Ros Hawley and Elinor Sherwood
(Music Department, The University of Manchester)

ABSTRACT
Whilst the concept of ‘culture’ has been and remains under critical scrutiny within the field of intercultural communication, the concept features prominently, and often uncritically, used in many popular and academic discourses including Ethnomusicology and heritage processes such as folk museums. The focus of this paper is on the musical worlds of klezmer, a genre of music which was originally the wedding music of the eastern European, often Yiddish-speaking, Ashkenazi Jewish communities, a musical ‘culture’ which survived the traumas of the c20th in large part through its diasporic existence in the USA, and which, not without controversy, has become transglobal world music genre since its revival began in the 1980s. In particular, we reflect on our five-year experience of teaching klezmer within a Music Department oriented mostly towards western classical music. Each year, a group of students learn to perform klezmer, a musical ‘Other’ for them, often for audiences significantly Jewish in make-up (another cultural ‘Other’ for our students). This music education process generates not only a dialogue between differing musical cultures (and their associated forms, and learning and performance styles, of which we will say more in the paper), but also a dialogue between the disciplines of Ethnomusicology and Intercultural Communication (especially concerning the criticality with which ‘culture’ is used). Further, most of those teaching and learning klezmer in this context are not from a Jewish background and, whilst for some this might be seen as a form of ‘cultural necrophilia’, we believe that it has enabled purposeful intercultural dialogue through music. It also represents a process of social engagement which, we believe, is playing an important role in the developing cultural weave of our city, as well as helping to shape our students’ musically-framed understandings of the cultural and intercultural.

[Paper presented at the 2015 IALIC (International Association of Languages and Intercultural Communication) conference, 27th-29th November, 2015, as hosted by Peking University, China.]


June 2014
Performing ethnomusicology and the cultural other: experiences of klezmer ensemble participation in Manchester
Richard Fay, Ros Hawley and Elinor Sherwood (Music Department, The University of Manchester)
ABSTRACT
Manchester University’s klezmer ensemble exemplifies the “performing ethnomusicology” practices (Solis, 2004) in Western Conservatoire-type contexts whereby students, through a process of participatory cultural adoption, learn to perform other musics. Klezmer, originally the wedding music of Eastern European Jewry, has – through migration, diasporic translation, destruction of home world, and revival – become a complex musico-cultural phenomenon meaning different things for different people in different contexts; thus, it might be seen as a reclaimed cultural inheritance (in the US) but as ‘cultural necrophilia’ (in Poland and Germany). In this paper, we report on the experiences of musicians and audiences when our typically non-Jewish music students perform klezmer for largely Jewish audiences in Manchester at community events through which klezmer is being translated for a new age and new context. In keeping with klezmer’s liminality and multiple reformulations in time and space, we frame the report in terms of cultural translation rather than cultural appropriation.
[paper submitted for the Adopting the Cultural Other: Western Participatory Borrowings proposed conference of 19th-20th June, 2014 (Bangor University, Wales)]

 

January 2014

Exploring Appropriate World Music Methodology: Klezmer returns to college

Richard Fay (Manchester Institute of Education / Music Department, University of Manchester)
Abstract:
I will present a collaborative Music Education teaching project and associated appropriate methodology research endeavour. This is focused on the teaching of a Klezmer World Music Ensemble which, with Ros Hawley, I am exploring through an interdisciplinary lens centred at the meeting point of the small cultures appropriate methodology strand of enquiry in my home field of TESOL (from Adrian Holliday) and the performing ethnomusicology strand of thinking (from Ted Solis). Using this lens, Ros and I are engaged in researching, through broadly ethnographic participant-observation and related activities, the emergent characteristics of the pedagogical culture and practices of the Michael Kahan Kapelye which we run in the Music Department here at The University of Manchester.
[Paper presented at the “Establishing meaningful research-focused collaborations and exploring areas of synergy and productive dissonance” Interdisciplinary Symposium, 31st January, 2014, as hosted by Faculty of Humanities at the University of Manchester.]