Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Jews and Gypsies: The "Others" in European Music

The handsome fiddler seen above is András Horváth from the village of Jankamjitis, in the Szatmár region of eastern Hungary, who passed away in 1997. Before he died he recorded a series of Jewish dances that he had learned from the Markus family band of Jewish musicians in his village before WWII. Uncle András also beat three Fascist Hungarian Arrow Cross thugs completely senseless when they attempted to torture a local Jew in 1944. In his old age he became a Seventh Day Adventist, and he used to call me and go on about how much he loved Jews because they were "Jesus' people." Gypsy Musicians like Uncle András were my link to the sound of pre-war Jewish music, the stuff the record labels like to call "klezmer." Beginning in 1990, I was "apprenticed" to Árus Ferenc, a Gypsy fiddler in Méra, a small village near Cluj, in Transylvania. Feribácsi was another living repository of arcane Jewish tunes, but to learn them, I had to become a musician in his terms first - a primás, a Gypsy lead fiddler. The result of that training is the band I lead today, and this week I am off to, hopefully, pay homage to some of my teachers at the Weimar Summer Yiddish Workshops in Germany. This year director Alan Bern has focused on the role of Jewish and Roma musicians as "the Others" in the history of European music, and Alan has asssembled a number of participants to talk about the history and culture of "music on the perimeters" of the main culture. Next week is the conference/seminar/film component of the summer program. Later Di Nayes will return to Weimar with Florin Kodoban from Palatka to do a concert and a week of dance workshops - playing for the Klezmer dance workshops in the morning, and Transylvanian "Ţiganeşti" Gypsy style dances in the afternoon. I'm looking forward to playing with Florin - I knew his late father, Márton, well and Puma and the boys in the band have been playing with the Palatka band on and off since the 1970s. Jake Shulmen-Ment is planning to be there from NYC. Jake has been turning into the prodigal ace of NY fiddlers who play both klezmer and Transylvanian... so this should be fun. I'm hoping to do a few very early Moldavian lautar songs from the early 1800s mixed up with some older Klezmer stuff.Jewish musicians have been interacting with Gypsy musicians for over three hundred years in East Europe. Music - at least popular and wedding music - has traditionally been performed by hereditary dynasties of musicians, whether 'klezmer" families of Jews, or "lautar" (or "bashaldar") familes of Roma. Over the years that I have been collecting Jewish instrumental music in East Europe, my main sources have been Gypsy musicians who had once played for Jews and who maintained a repetoire of Jewish dances. This is mainly because in a small town or village, the local non-Gypsy musicians can usually play the music of their own ethnic group, but were rarely called on as professionals to play the music of any other ethnic group. Sadly, that generation is almost gone... One of my best teachers and sources was Gheorghe "Ionnei" Covaci from the vilage of Ieud in Maramures. He passed on in 2002.
The form of the classic "Gypsy" band - violins, cimbalom, and bass - also formed the basis for many Jewish bands in the era before commercial recordings. In Romania and Poland, the cimbalom - usually in its older, smaller form - was more often identified with Jewish musicians than with Gypsy music.
The photo above is that of a 19th century Gypsy band in Szolnok, Hungary. Below is the Schein family band in 1885. The Scheins emigrated to the US from Hungary and eventually integrated into the wider entertainment industry as the Amsterdams, most well known for the 1960s Jewish comedian Morey Amsterdam (hey... come on... the Dick Van Dyke Show, remember?)
About the only regions where Jews did not actively cooperate with Gypsy musicians was in the Polish and Russian "Pale of Settlement." In these regions, Klezmer families developed a strict system of musicians' guilds, called "tsekh" (similar to the Hungarian céh "guild" and modern cég "company") that governed the business territories and guarded the repetoires of any individual Klezmer band. The tsekh kept competition at bay, and Gypsy bands were relegated to playing for peasant weddings.In the Austro-Hungarian regions and Moldavia, however, the tsekh system was weaker or non-existent. In these areas a Jewish band would often fill its ranks with extra musicians from the local Roma musician communities. Kid fiddlers were cheap. Maramures fiddler Cheorghe Covaci "Cioata" once told me that pre WWII Jewish band leaders used to pay him "with cake." His cousin, Rajna Covaci told me the same thing. (My own band wouldn't take well to that.) After the Holocaust, in many regions such as Karpatalja, certain Gypsy musicians became the preferred musicians for the Jewish community, as did the Fiddler Manyo Csernovec from Tjaciv, Ukraine, the father of the musicians in today's Tecső Band.In the last couple of years many of the last generation of klezmer musicians who had learned their music as part of a Yiddish upbringing with ties to a fast vanishing "Old Country" have passed on. Paul Pincus, Howie Lees, German Goldenshteyn. Two days ago I heard that Leon Blank, the Polish born Swedish teacher of Jewish dance had passed away. He was a wonderful teacher, a real mentsch, and a great dancer (we worked together last summer in Poland.) While Yiddish culture is still alive in Europe, the sense of loss grows with the passing of each of these living treasures. Living musicians, like Ionu Covaci in Maramures, become all the more valued for the traditions they bear.On my last trip collecting music in Maramures, in Romania, I was still able to find Gypsy musicians who knew a repetoire of local Jewish music. Besides Ionu (who locally goes by the nickname "Paganini") there was also Gheorghe Urecche ("The Ear") who learned his tunes from his father, who had been a cross-border smuggler in league with a Jewish musician remembered as "Benzine." Let that be a warning to those named Ben-Zion. Historical folk memory can be merciless.

7 comments:

Ganch said...

Another incredible and inspiring post, bob. slow clap!

Gadjo Dilo said...

Yes, I never thought I'd be able learn so much about this subject from one single source. I'm sure there's a Yiddish phrase that would appropriately express my thanks - I only wish I knew it!

Gopk said...

Linked:)

徐若瑄Vivian said...
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GoatPictures said...

Hello...
Im trying to get in contact with you to discuss one of these photographs, but I dont see any info in the page. How can I contact you directly?
Regards
AK

dumneazu said...

Goat Pic: try email to zaelic AT gmail.com

pennys herb co said...

very special!!! {thank so much!!!