An academic meeting place created by the International Forum for Jewish Music Studies (IFJMS) for communication, information, discussion for scholars, archivists and practitioners in all aspects of Jewish music and a platform for continuing activity.

Defining Jewish Music

1 reply, 2 voices Last updated by Jane Enkin 2 years, 7 months ago
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    • #41977

      Jeffrey Fisher

      At Monday’s (1.2.21) informal IFJMS gathering on Zoom (rather intimate – there were only 7 participants – but very interesting), the topic of Defining Jewish Music suddenly came up for discussion. For all those involved in Jewish music (even for myself, with only 3 years of experience in the field), this is a well-known (some might say, well-worn) topic but without any clear result to its discussion, because there has never been – and probably never will be – one definition that is acceptable to all. We were reminded of the definition presented way back in 1957 by Curt Sachs at the Paris Conference on Jewish Music: Jewish music is that music made by Jews, for Jews, as Jews (there are a whole lot of problems here). There was a suggestion that IFJMS should adopt one particular definition, but no agreement was reached here. Outside this particular discussion, we know that there are those who dislike the term Jewish Music, possibly because of the difficulty of defining it adequately. There is another aspect that I personally find interesting – that one composition can be considered differently as Jewish music, depending on whether you are the composer or the listener. For example, You can detect a klezmer tune in Mahler’s 1st Symphony: the listener may decide that as a result, this can be considered as Jewish music (there are other examples of the infiltration of Jewish melodies into the classical music of famous Jewish composers). But did Mahler intend for his 1st Symphony to be Jewish music? Did he compose it as Jewish music? In my view, most probably not. Intention (kavana, in Hebrew) is extremely important in the Jewish way of life: we are told, for example, to pray with kavana, with intent, as if we meant it. So I argue that a work of music whose composer did not intend it to be Jewish music is not Jewish music. I invite others to offer their comments on this statement. In any event, I’m sure that however well-known (or well-worn) the topic of Defining Jewish Music is, this is a classic case of a topic whose discussion is TO BE CONTINUED.

    • #42072

      Jane Enkin

      The kavana is important.  Someone can compose one piece as Jewish music and the next as something else. We heard David Amram on Conversations on Zoom and it was clear that he had selected his Jewish compositions for us to hear — in his case, they included Jewish text, or Jewish narrative, or motifs from Jewish folk music. There was no implication that his other compositions, and his jazz performing, are necessarily Jewish too just because he wrote them. I can certainly say this is true of my own song-writing and performing.

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