The Chronicle #60/2002
200 Years of Jewish Music in America
Precis of a three-part course inaugurating the HUC-JIR/FAU partnership
Dr. Mark Kligman
Associate Professor of Jewish Musicology, HUC-JIR/NY
history of Jewish music in America can be divided into four periods,
each about 50 years in duration. The first period, 1800-1850, was
a reflection of the largely German immigrants. Liturgical music
consisted of traditional chant singing and early reforms, most significantly
heard in the hymn singing. The Protestant style of worship was the
model for emancipated Jewry.
The change to the second period, 1850- 1900, began with the publication
of Salomon Sulzer's Schir Zion (1840). His significant contribution
was twofold: 1) some compositions kept traditional melodies but
added harmonization showing classical and romantic musical influence;
2) new liturgical compositions that artfully expressed the liturgy
with cantor, choir, and later organ. Composers in both Central and
Eastern Europe (Naumbourg, Lewandowski, Gerovitch, and Nowakowsky)
furthered these developments. Jews in America were recipients of
the European music changes - as people immigrated to America they
brought their music with them.
A transition to the third period, 1900-1950, was the Golden Age
of the Cantorate (1880-1930). This phenomenon coincided with the
largest wave of migration of Jews from Eastern Europe to America.
The cantors of this era combined the traditional nusach with operatic
embellishments. This liturgical style gave way to an American liturgical
style where some compositions made use of nusach and others were
newly composed works that explored new harmonies, colors, and textures.
Many of the composers of this era (Binder, Freed, Fromm, Piket,
and Helfman) were founders and active faculty members of HUC-JIR
School of Sacred Music.
The fourth period, 1950-present, has been a post World War II circumstance
where European musical traits are less common. During this period
liturgical music was met with an interesting challenge. As synagogue
attendance declined, music was typically seen as the "culprit."
In the 1970s a younger generation of American-born Jews saw themselves
as "American Jews" and crafted a new sound to express
this new identity. The NFTY camp music had a significant impact
on the Reform movement, yet the phenomenon was simultaneous in all
corners of the Jewish community. At present, the challenge of synagogue
music is no different from the same challenge of synagogue life:
to create a service where music draws from the past but is rooted
in modern sensibilities, with an aesthetic that is inviting yet
distinct from other parts of life.
Outside the synagogue, Jewish music has grown significantly in
the 20th century. European genres of Jewish music (cantorial, klezmer,
hassidic, and Yiddish) were seen as harbingers to the past in the
last few decades of the 20th century. In the realm of popular and
artistic forms of Jewish music, songwriters, performers, and composers
seek to draw eclectically from the past yet form new dimensions
to the growth of Jewish music. Composers Ernst Bloch and Leonard
Bernstein put aspects of Jewish music in the concert hall; Sam Adler,
David Diamond, Steve Reich, and others have continued this trend.
Recorded Jewish music has increased greatly since the 1970s. Some
have estimated that well over 10,000 recordings of Jewish music
have been made in the last thirty years. Another way to view the
impact of Jewish music in America popular culture is to see the
growth of klezmer music, now regularly part of concert series not
only in communities but in concert halls and jazz clubs, as well.
Liturgical music too has made an impact on popular music. Kenny
G has recorded a Shabbat service and Barbara Striesand's recording
Higher Ground includes a rendition of Max Janowski's Avinue Malkeinu.