Klezmer 101

Klezmer music has been around for ages. It has been dormant to most people, however, until making a come-back recently. What is Klezmer music and why has it begun to experience a rival in recent years?

What is Klezmer Music?

Klezmer actually means "musician" in Yiddish. It has come, however, to characterize the style of music played by Ashkenazi Jews for celebration and cultural expression. This type of music actually tries to replicate the human voice, sounding a bit like crying, laughing or wailing. It almost always features a violinist, who is able to make these specific sounds. A klezmer band usually also includes a fiddle, a bass or cell, a clarinet and a drum. Sometimes, there will also be hammered dulcimers and an accordion.

Other Sounds It Incorporates

Klezmer draws on centuries of old Jewish traditions, but it also incorporates other sounds. It uses music from European and international traditions such as Roma or Gypsy music, Easter European folk music, French Café music and early jazz.

Let's Dance!

Klezmer music invites - and even begs - people to dance. Most of the dances that people do with klezmer music are set dances. They are similar, in this way, to the Anglo square dance or the contra dance. Klezmer music also has traditional waltzes and polkas. Recently, people have been doing tangos with klezmer music as well.

Why Has Klezmer Revived?

Klezmer music has its roots in the old Jewish villages or shtetls of Eastern Europe long before the Holocaust. It was originally meant to imitate the voice of the cantor in the synagogue. Klezmer played a large part in the culture and celebrations of Eastern European Jewry. When the Jews of Eastern Europe immigrated to North America, they brought their klezmer music with them. However, as happens with so many cultural things, people wanted to acclimate to their new surroundings and blend in. They moved away from traditional Jewish music in order to blend into American society. Then in Europe, the remaining Klezmer bands vanished with the Holocaust. Just in the last 30 years or so, klezmer music has enjoyed a revival. Bands have begun popping up who have revived what their ancestors were playing, and more people have been requesting klezmer bands for their functions and celebrations. This new form of klezmer music has been influenced by Israeli music and culture and now creates an interesting blend of old Jewish history and the modern day people.

Klezmer's Significance

The revival of klezmer music is a very exciting phenomenon for Jewish historians and for Jewish people. It shows that the younger generation is seeking information about their heritage and is reviving some of the culture that was abandoned long ago.