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Hearing Ashkenaz: What Can Klezmer Music Tell us about Jewish History?

Mon, December 18, 1:15 to 2:45pm, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, Union Station Room

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


Studies of pre-1900 East European Jewish cultural history have long noted the centrality of music to the formation of a distinctive Ashkenazi Jewish civilization. Yet historical scholarship has largely restricted itself to the twentieth-century life and afterlives of East European Jewish musical culture. This roundtable takes a new look at the question of the role of sound in classical Ashkenazi culture, taking as its point of departure the recent publication of Walter Zev Feldman's KLEZMER: MUSIC, HISTORY, MEMORY, the first large-scale historical monograph on the musical dimension of traditional Jewish life in Eastern Europe to be published since the 1930s. Moderated by historian James Loeffler, the panel of historian Nathaniel Deutsch and ethnomusicologists Lyudmila Sholokhova and Walter Zev Feldman will discuss new theories of the formation of Jewish vernacular aesthetics from 1600 to 1900, including the interplay between rabbinic authority and popular religious and cultural practices; the development of gendered dance and communal celebration norms; and the relationship between Jewish and non-Jewish musical cultures. This roundtable will focus on how the historical reconstruction of Eastern European Jewish musical traditions can inform current debates in the fields of modern Jewish cultural history, Yiddish culture, and Jewish Studies, as well as the larger desideratum of a sensory history of Ashkenazic Jewry.

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