Klezmer Music

Klezmer music finds new life in America in the late 1900s.

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The contemporary era, with its technological immediacy and the shrinking of the global village, has created challenges that Jewish musical tradition never faced in previous generations. Moreover, the availability of musical notation and easy recording techniques have made possible the exchange of melodies between unlikely partners--and the near-instant incorporation of these tunes into otherwise "traditional" settings. Witnesses who know the source of such "borrowed" materials often rail at the encroachment of these foreign influences, and the conservators of Jewish music traditions (Oriental, Sephardic, and Ashkenazic) author long discourses on the deterioration of their heritage and the unhappy cultural future awaiting the next generation.

But while the challenges awaiting that next generation may be unprecedented, the very factors that have precipitated this 21st-century crisis of identity have also made possible the preservation of important aspects of Jewish musical history. Ethnomusicologists have studied the sounds of Jewish musical communities around the world. Books of this music and recordings of these songs have created a permanent record of the sounds of Jewish musical tradition. As long as there are people who call themselves "Jews" there will continue to be Jewish music. While it will continue to evolve and emerge as something not quite like its past legacy, those who respect the continuity of the Jewish cultural heritage, in all its diversity, will no doubt find a way to keep it within the sounds of Jewish memory and practice--as Jews have always done.

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Marsha B. Edelman

Marsha Bryan Edelman is professor of music and education at Gratz College. She also serves as director of the Tyson Music Department and coordinates the college's academic programs in Jewish music.