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American KlezmerIts Roots and Offshoots$
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Mark Slobin

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780520227170

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520227170.001.0001

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Sounds of Sensibility

Sounds of Sensibility

(p.129) Chapter 7 Sounds of Sensibility
American Klezmer

Mark Solbin

University of California Press

This chapter explores the historical formation of the klezmer phenomenon in terms of changing structures of feeling. It begins by considering arguments over terminology—not only the term klezmer, but also the word revival—and how these debates situate klezmer music within a larger musical landscape. It then relates the klezmer phenomenon to what Haym Soloveitchik has called the end of self-evident Jewishness. While stringent orthodoxy is one outcome of the tension between tradition and ideology, the klezmer revival is another. There follows an analysis of the fault lines of sensibility in the period immediately preceding the klezmer revival. While the popularity of old-time Jewish wedding music declined and an incipient heritage orientation to it can be detected within the Jewish music world of the time, this music was notably absent from the folk song and music revivals of the fifties and sixties. To better understand this absence, the chapter contrasts the musical sensibilities of Theodore Bikel, an international folk singer who specialized in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Russian songs, and those of Mickey Katz, who performed English–Yiddish comedy and musical parodies for largely Jewish audiences. Seen not as a musical wasteland, but as a plenum of shifting sensibilities, the fifties and sixties hold clues to the emergence of the klezmer revival in the seventies, its efflorescence in the nineties, and its changing character in the United States and in the “Jewish space” of Europe today.

Keywords:   klezmer music, revival, Jewishness, Theodore Bikel, Mickey Katz, Jewish wedding music

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