As an important part of the Yiddish culture, songs written in Yiddish in the 19th century took the common feature of being warm, melodious and joyful. People in the community sing in various occasions ranging from family gatherings to communal celebrations. As Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe started to move to the United States between 1880 and 1924, the Yiddish music received great influence from American jazz and evolved as a genre called klezmer. The term klezmer comes from Hebrew and literally means musical instrument, since the genre originally produces largely dance tunes and instrumental pieces.
In our language sessions, we had the privilege of learning well-known Yiddish folk songs written in the 19th century. The lyrics gave vivid depictions of traditional romantic relationships, food and clothing, and many other aspects of everyday life. Our language teacher Barry drew our attention to two famous musicians who compose and sing in Yiddish. They introduce Yiddish culture to a worldwide audience and at the same time add a global perspective to the cultural identity of the Yiddish community.
Aaron Lebedeff (1873-1960)
Looking across the eventful life of Lebedeff, he was born in Belarus and sang for the Hazzan – Jewish singer in the synagogue – in his childhood. During the WWI he gave concerts to army officers in Russian and China. After the war, he moved to Japan, where he and his wife started giving international concerts of Yiddish music. The year 1920 was the turning point of their musical career when the couple left for America, it was the year when Lebedeff became an overnight star of Yiddish theatre in America. His multicultural background has certainly inspired him to write about various cultures, good examples can be seen in songs like Di Rumenye, Rumenye(Rumanian culture) (1920s) and Rusische Libe (Russian love) (1930s). (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3ljx1roqto)
She was born in the Netherlands and started learning Yiddish from institutions in New York, Oxford, and Paris. As a professionally trained musician, Shura Lipovsky performed Yiddish music pieces in Europe, Scandinavia, Israel, Russia, the United States and Canada. In addition, she started teaching master classes for interested professional singers and conducting workshops on Yiddish music. Slowly she developed a model of Hassidic teachings and Kabbalah – ‘The Meditative Voice’, drawing on mystical features of Jewish melodies, meditation and movement. With the passion for Yiddish music, she continued to work with outstanding musicians from across Europe and the United States.
In 2004 she started a Jewish/Bosnian song program in collaboration with Musicians Without Borders. With her singing and storytelling, Shura Lipovsky becomes an excellent example of active involvement in intercultural and interreligious dialogue.
Learning about these two global ambassadors for Yiddish music inspires us to appreciate the Yiddish culture from a global perspective. Without prior knowledge of Yiddish, the eight of us who are from different cultural backgrounds all come together to sing and celebrate the dynamic cultures conveyed through Yiddish music. It is the musicians, who develop their inspirations through their experience in various cultures, that add the global perspectives to the undying klezmer music.