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Paper Session
Nov 21, 2021 01:00 PM - 01:50 PM(America/Chicago)
20211121T1300 20211121T1350 America/Chicago Voices of a People: Rethinking Jewish Folk Music in Postwar America

In the introduction to the 1944 _Treasury of American Folklore_, the volume's editor Benjamin Botkin muses, "if folklore is old wine in new bottles, it is also new wine in old bottles," highlighting the temporal, cultural, and aesthetic instability of defining "folklore" and "the folk." This sentiment resonates strongly in post-World War II America, where "Jewish folk music" was a complicated-yet widely used-label, carrying competing, and at times contradicting significations. This music emerged from a variety of aesthetic, political, geographic, and historical contexts, echoing broader considerations about the meaning of "the folk," and particularly "the Jewish folk." Various actors prioritized different expressions of Jewish folk music, with influences that span Eastern European traditions, the sensibilities of the American folk revival, and the aesthetics of Israeli music.

In this panel, we explore multiple meanings of "Jewish folk music" in America during the early postwar period, examining a diversity of musical spheres, including Yiddish song, Hasidic music, and the American folk recording industry. Using musicological, historical, literary, and ethnographic methodologies, our papers interrogate the production, transmission, and reception of the musics that were-or could have been-nested under this label. We engage these musics in provocative tension, posing several interrelated questions: How were competing notions of Jewish folk music shaped by the historical circumstances of the Holocaust, the statehood of Israel, and the cultural assimilation of American Jews? How did pre- and post-war conceptions of the "folk" influence approaches to Jewish folk music? Who were the arbiters of "authentic Jewish music," and how did th ...

AMS 2021 ams@amsmusicology.org


In the introduction to the 1944 _Treasury of American Folklore_, the volume's editor Benjamin Botkin muses, "if folklore is old wine in new bottles, it is also new wine in old bottles," highlighting the temporal, cultural, and aesthetic instability of defining "folklore" and "the folk." This sentiment resonates strongly in post-World War II America, where "Jewish folk music" was a complicated-yet widely used-label, carrying competing, and at times contradicting significations. This music emerged from a variety of aesthetic, political, geographic, and historical contexts, echoing broader considerations about the meaning of "the folk," and particularly "the Jewish folk." Various actors prioritized different expressions of Jewish folk music, with influences that span Eastern European traditions, the sensibilities of the American folk revival, and the aesthetics of Israeli music.


In this panel, we explore multiple meanings of "Jewish folk music" in America during the early postwar period, examining a diversity of musical spheres, including Yiddish song, Hasidic music, and the American folk recording industry. Using musicological, historical, literary, and ethnographic methodologies, our papers interrogate the production, transmission, and reception of the musics that were-or could have been-nested under this label. We engage these musics in provocative tension, posing several interrelated questions: How were competing notions of Jewish folk music shaped by the historical circumstances of the Holocaust, the statehood of Israel, and the cultural assimilation of American Jews? How did pre- and post-war conceptions of the "folk" influence approaches to Jewish folk music? Who were the arbiters of "authentic Jewish music," and how did their choices vary between Orthodox Jews, secular Jews, and non-Jewish Americans? Through this multifaceted perspective, we shed light and advance the conversation on this momentous, yet largely understudied period in the history of American Jewish music.


The Goblet and the Plastic Cup: Tradition, Technology, and Art in Theodore Bikel’s “Jewish Folk Songs” Albums
Session 01:00 PM - 01:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 19:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 19:50:00 UTC

Theodore Bikel begins the liner notes of the 1958 LP _Theodore Bikel Sings Jewish Folk Songs_ self-reflexively, acknowledging, "for some time now it has been a debatable point as to whether or not I have the right to call myself a folksinger." Here, Bikel points to a number of important issues, namely, what it means to call oneself a "folksinger," particularly in mid-twentieth century America, and the complex task of defining "Jewish folk songs."


In this paper, I analyze the song selection, performance style, and album visuals of Bikel's 1958 LP and its 1959 follow-up _Theodore Bikel Sings More Jewish Folksongs_, to highlight the process by which a definition of "Jewish folk song" became represented within the landscape of the American folk recording industry. Particularly, I work to unpack the connection between Bikel's claims to folkloric authenticity-demonstrated through appeals to his family heritage-and the folk music apparatus that balanced an imagined folkloric purity through the medium of modern technology. 


Drawing on Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett's discussion of _Theodore Bikel Sings Jewish Folk Songs_ in the context of the klezmer revival, I diverge to emphasize the album as an important case study in the ideology and aesthetics of "folk music" in America. Informed by the work of scholars such as Joshua Walden and Gabriella Safran, I explore how Bikel evokes the Eastern European roots of Jewish folk music collection in his mid-twentieth century recordings. Further, I draw on the work of American folk music scholars Benjamin Filene and Karl Hagstrom Miller to situate Bikel's LPs in the environment of American folk recordings.


Presenters
ZL
Zeke Levine
New York University
“A New Thing for Israel”: Postwar Yiddish Music and the Politics of Jewish Culture in New York City
Session 01:00 PM - 01:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 19:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 19:50:00 UTC

During the early postwar period (1945-1960), global Jewish musical culture underwent a seismic shift: Israeli culture rose to become a dominant form of Jewish expressivity, sweeping away other Jewish practices in its path. Israeli folk songs and dances shaped the musical culture of the newly established State of Israel, but they also had a tremendous impact, largely overlooked, on Jewish music abroad. In this paper, I analyze the conflict between Yiddish and Israeli music in New York City during this period. Using a combined methodology of archival research, oral history, and musical analysis, I examine the shift from Yiddish music and klezmer towards Hebrew and Israeli folk music, as well as the reactions and oppositions to this shift. Through this inquiry, I argue that Yiddish music served as a platform for articulating alternatives to mainstream narratives about Jewish politics, and demonstrate the key role that Israel played in the transformation of American Jewish identities.


In their efforts to forge new national symbols, the architects of the Zionist project framed Israeli culture as the antithesis of diasporic Jewish traditions. Yiddish culture, which represented the Eastern European diaspora, was especially afflicted: Yiddish had long been in conflict with Zionism, but the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, combined with the devastating losses of World War II and the cultural assimilation of American Jews, dealt a heavy blow. Jewish communities around the world, in which Yiddish had been a primary marker of Jewish identity, had to negotiate the rising tensions between Israeli culture and their own traditions. Yiddish came to be seen as a tragic symbol of the Old World and the Holocaust, best to be forgotten, while Israeli culture represented a positive, forward-looking renewal for the Jewish people. Nevertheless, Yiddish actors, singers, and instrumentalists adapted to the new cultural landscape, resisting the erasure of their traditions and even incorporating Israeli symbols into their art. By interrogating this hitherto neglected period of radical transformation, my project illuminates the transnational cultural conflicts that lay the foundation for Jewish music for the rest of the twentieth century.

Presenters
US
Uri Schreter
Harvard University
Different Folks: The Coming of Age of Hasidic Folk Music in the Wake of the Holocaust
Session 01:00 PM - 01:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 19:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 19:50:00 UTC

What do we talk about when we talk about Hasidic folk music? This paper juxtaposes an unlikely duo of Hasidic folk music greats, one of whom achieved great fame and popular acclaim outside of the Hasidic world, and another whose prominence was taken for granted with the Hasidic community, but is practically unknown outside of it. Hasidism, a religious Jewish movement rooted in 18th century Eastern Europe, characterized by its kabalistic underpinnings and recognized for the isolationist lifestyle it espouses, has always placed music at the center of its spiritual practice. The transplant of Hasidism to American shores after the Second World War engendered new iterations in the way Hasidic music was played and received. Shlomo Carlebach and Yom Tov Ehrlich represent opposite poles in the evolution of Hasidic music, and their varied approaches, stylistic choices, and audience shed light upon the changing mores in the conceptualization of Jewish "folk". For Ehrlich, music was primarily a pedagogical tool to preserve traditional Hasidic values; Carlebach used his music as a means to promote his goals of outreach, connection, and unity. 

 

Hasidic folk music is generally correlated to its ostensible founder, Shlomo Carlebach. In a style more redolent of the synagogue than the folk revival taking place around him, Carlebach composed tunes that he set to liturgical and scriptural texts which became the backbone of the religious musical repertoire across Jewish denominations. While Yom Tov Ehrlich's contemporaneous appearance on the music scene was met with less fanfare, it was nonetheless impactful within the grand scheme of Hasidic folk music. As a practicing Stoliner Hasid dwelling in Williamsburg from the 1950s, Ehrlich fused Russian folk songs and Yiddish lyrics in his long-form ballads, which became a staple in Hasidic households of the day. In contrast to Carlebach, who took to the stage to spread his musical and cultural vision, Ehrlich maintained the taut lines of a pious Hasid, and thus merited the imprimatur of Hasidic Rabbis of the era. Taken together, the two musicians and their contributions represent the panorama of the Hasidic folk genre.

Presenters
TW
Tzipora Weinberg
New York University
New York University
Harvard University
New York University
New York University
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