With song to the struggle : an ethnographic and historical study of the Yiddish folk chorus / by Marion S. Jacobson.
Yiddish choruses, or groups of lay singers conducted by professionals, originated in Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century and flourished within the fraternal movements established by immigrant Jewish garment workers in the early twentieth century. Reaching their heyday in the thirties, forties, and fifties as the “voice of Jewish labor,” they introduced immigrant Yiddish-speaking garment workers to European art music while popularizing a broad repertory of Yiddish songs. I trace the careers of two choruses, the Freiheit Gezang Farein (founded by the communist-leaning Jewish People's Fraternal Order (the Ordn), and later known as the Jewish People's Philharmonic) and the Workmen's Circle Chorus (founded by the socialist Arbeter Ring). Their success helped to ignite a “Yiddish choral movement” that rapidly permeated Jewish left-labor culture and established itself as part of a larger American immigrant choral singing tradition. They functioned as grass-roots music academies, transmitting principles of formal choral singing to thousands of self-taught singers and instilling them with reverence for music in Yiddish.The first half of my dissertation examines the transformation of this tradition, using musical scores and archival sources to establish historical background and to outline a critical historiography of Yiddish music. The second half focuses on ethnographic observation and participation and interviews with contemporary singers and conductors. I illustrate how performances of Yiddish songs—initially linked with leftist and progressive ideals—were influenced by the two major developments affecting world Jewry: the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel. Within the latter two decades of the twentieth century, the klezmer revival and the veneration of Yiddish song as a kind of “heritage music” came to be a central part of Yiddish choral performance practice. In sum, the choruses had begun their career by offering opportunities for immigrants to acclimate to American culture, but later came to focus on maintaining yiddishkeyt (Yiddish language and culture). This dissertation concludes by describing new confluences among Yiddish choruses, professional Jewish chorales, synagogue choirs, and the careers of internationally-known Jewish singers, and by tracing some of the routes by which these groups disseminate Yiddish songs in performance, in print, and within the larger Jewish musical scene.
Record last modified: 2018-05-16 16:15:00
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