Klezmer is the Hebrew word for musical instruments. It is a musical tradition of the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe. Played by professional musicians called klezmorim, the genre originally consisted largely of dance tunes and instrumental display pieces for weddings and other celebrations.
The first klezmer known by name was Yakobius ben Yakobius, a player of the aulos in Samaria in the 2nd century CE. The earliest written record of the klezmorim is in the 15th century. It should be noted that it is unlikely that they played music recognizable as klezmer today since the style and structure of klezmer as we know it today is thought to have come largely from 19th century Bessarabia, where the bulk of today’s traditional repertoire was written.
In its historic form, klezmer was live music designed to facilitate dancing. Hence, musicians adjusted the tempo as dancers tired or better dancers joined in. Tunes could drag to a near-halt during a particularly sad part, picking up slowly, and eventually bursting into happy song once more. Like other musicians of their time, and many modern Jazz performers, early klezmorim did not rigidly follow the beat. Often they slightly led or trailed it, giving a lilting sound.
Klezmer instrument choices were traditionally based, by necessity, on an instrument’s portability. Music being required for several parts of the wedding ceremony, taking place in different rooms or courtyards, the band had to relocate quickly from space to space. Further, klezmorim were usually itinerant musicians, who moved from town to town for work. Therefore, instruments held in the hands (clarinet, violin, trumpet, flute) or supported by a neck or shoulder strap (accordion, cimbalom, drum) were favored over those that rested on the ground (cello, bass violin), or needed several people to move (piano).
What’s the best way for traveling musicians to schlep their instruments to a wedding in a faraway village? Why, in an old baby carriage, of course! But when the mischievous carriage takes off by itself and rolls from village to village, oy vey, oy vey, only a sweet klezmer song can save the day.
Join the Klezmer Bunch on a bumpy journey all the way to the wedding ceremony and sing along with the happy bride and groom. A wedding like this has never been seen A yidl mit fiddle and violin. The relatives drank vodka till their beards dropped and the in-laws gobbled goose and pastrami till their bellies popped. Amalia Hoffman captures the spirit and soul of klezmer with charming and whimsical illustrations where the music is playfully intertwined with every detail of village life.
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