Genres of Jewish Music
The Jewish Music & Cultural Festival embraces all forms of Jewish musical genres: Klezmer, folk, theater, contemporary, blues, jazz, Hasidic, religious, and Ladino.
The Klezmer genre, which first made its appearance five centuries ago, is the traditional instrumental music of the Jews of Eastern Europe. Among the Hasidism, Jews were encouraged to express their piety through the ecstatic fervor of music and dance. The term Klezmer derives from the Hebrew words “kley zemer," which mean vessel of music or musical instrument. The soulful music of the synagogue mixed with the verve of Gypsy melody is crucial to the Klezmer sound. Lively dances known as freylakhs, bulgars, horas, and shers are interspersed with soulful doinas and niguns.
Klezmorim were not only residents in the small backwater shtetls (villages). They were just as likely to be found in the major European cities playing life-cycle events; such as weddings, “bris’s” (circumcisions), bar mitzvahs, dances and parties, and even in concert halls.
Concurrent with the immigration of Jews from Europe came their musical culture. In the New World, the musicians as members of large bands were able to rise from the base poverty they had previously known. They were exposed to jazz and readily
incorporated it into their repertoire. Jewish music also found a willing partner in the Yiddish theater companies that dotted Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The Jewish theater, and later the movies, gave to the community a vast store of song and dance still enjoyed today.
The music of the Jewish liturgy is also part of our musical heritage, and it often finds expression in secularsettings outside the synagogue in concerts and festivals.
Ladino is the secular language of Sephardic, or Spanish-speaking, Jews. Their musical legacy reflects the Iberian culture in rhythm and tonality, and is vastly different from the sound of Eastern European music. However expressed, all musical genres reflect the same life cycle events: birth, childhood, love, marriage, joy, and parting.