What is a Klezmer?

Mark Slobin, the American Jewish ethnomusicologist, points out that klezmer music was never considered an identity symbol for Jews previous to its "revival" in the 1970s.

In traditional Yiddish society a musician is a sort of necessary evil – you have to have them to fulfill the commandment to make the bride happy at a wedding, but you would rather your daughter did not marry one.

The word "klezmer" refers to a yikhes, a social rank, and a rather low at that. Klezmer  were families – dynasties – of hereditary musicians. In Iasi, in fact, the klezmer families had their own synagogue. The word klezmer, in reference to a musician, is rarely used by older Romanian Jews – they prefer musikant or shpiler.

Most of the older generation of Jewish musicians bristled at the word klezmer – Dave Tarras said that the word referred to somebody who could only play Jewish music, while he was a Jewish musician.


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