Chassidic’s Klezmer Hora Medley
Last night Jews gathered as families for the Passover Seder whether they were fortunate enough to confined together under one roof, connected by technology like Zoom or streaming video, and sometimes only by longing. This year the special poignancy of celebrating a night when a death-of-the-first-born-sons plague passed over the captive Hebrews must have been palpable.
Klezmer music reflects the joy of deliverance from slavery in the Exodus story but also notes of underlying sorrow over the sacrifice of Egypt’s sons including the vast majorities of ordinary farmers, laborers, and servants who had nothing to do with the captivity of Jews.
Of course Klezmer is secular not sacred music but it seems to reflect that dichotomy which persisted through centuries of exile, wandering, and oppression.
A Ukrainian Klezmer band from around the turn ot the 20th Century.
Klezmer originated in the Ashkenazi shtetels of Eastern Europe growing out of the social folk songs performed by violins, flutes, and simple drums at dances, weddings, and other gatherings. Over the 19th Century Western instruments were introduced including brass cornets, trombones, and tubas as well a concertinas or accordions. But no new instrument was more important than the clarinet which often took the lead from fiddles. The evolving form also encouraged improvisation on the traditional melodies.
In the late 1880’s Klezmer was becoming established in the crowed immigrant tenement slums in New York, Boston, and other American cities. By post-World War I Klezmer was influencing the development of Jazz because Jews were usually the first whites to adopt and play Black music. That was especially evident in the use of the clarinet rather than the cornet or trumpet as the lead instrument in some jazz combos led by Ted Lewis and later Benny Goodman and occasional forays into minor keys.
Klezmer musician and dancers at an Orthodox Jewish wedding.
After another World War, jazz would feed back into American Klezmer music now being performed by second and third generation Jews developing a new distinctive sound. Preservationists now keep the earlier European style alive in the U.S. and Israel and are sometimes harshly critical of non-traditional innovation. But that, as they say, is like trying to squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube.
A contemporary American Klezmer band in includes an electric guitar, a full drum kit, and a woman fiddler. She would have been barred from a traditional Orthodox group that practiced strict gender segregation.
Today’s selection is Chassidic’s Klezmer Hora Medley is from the compilation album Klezmer Violin & Clarinet Best Jewish Music