Thursday, January 19, 2017

The NRR Project #33: ‘Fon der Choope’

A typical klezmer ensemble of the turn of last century.
‘Fon der Choope’
Abe Elenkirg’s Yidishe Orchestra
Recorded April 4, 1913
Klezmer is secular Jewish music. Say what?

Here’s the thing. Traditionally, in Judaism, instruments are not played on the Sabbath – songs of praise are sung unaccompanied, usually to tunes, also known as prayer modes, in use for centuries. But hey, what culture doesn’t have music in it? And at weddings, parties, and the like, bands of musicians would play what developed into klezmer -- a vital, emotional, dance-oriented music that developed in the Jewish communities of Europe during the 19th century, a hybrid of Romani, Turkish, and Russian influences, steeped in the melodic modes of the prayer services.

Here’s the first surviving recording of the genre made in America. It’s credited to Abe Elenkrig’s Yidishe Orchestra, about which not much is known. Abe was a barber, and played trumpet and led an ensemble on the side, performing for social occasions. The 10 sides he and his outfit recorded for Columbia shine light on the genre during one of its most obscure periods.

“Fon der Choope” (“For the Wedding”) is a typical klezmer piece (ironically, the term wasn’t used until the 1980s – until then it was known as Yiddish music), the typical ensemble consists of trumpet, clarinet, violins, flute, accordion -- portability for traveling musicians. The high, keening melodies, based on sacred phrasings known as cantillations, give the music a penetrating feelingness.

The recording is fascinating in that it captures the music before jazz began to influence it. The first recording of jazz was four years away, and once it enters the picture it begins to perlocate into klezmer – and vice versa. A lot of the minor-key work, the vocal-style inflections, and the forthright emotionality found its way into early jazz, via practitioners such as Dave Tarras. Naftule Brandwein, and Ziggy Elman (Elman’s 1938 klezmer instrumental “Fralich in Swing” was Caucasianized into the hit song “And the Angels Sing” a year later.)

However, mainstream American Jewish culture was more interested in assimilation at the time. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the Klezmer Revival took place, which revived traditional approaches and inspired new hybrids as well. Now klezmer is inextricably wound into the DNA of American music – aren’t you glad?

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: ’Castles in Europe One-Step.’ 

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