Sunday, January 10, 2010

Six million ghosts in one room

In Cracow, Poland used to live a large Jewish community.
In an area called Kazimierz they were together and enjoying their culture and tradition.
But then the Nazis came in 1940.
And took most of the Jewish people away from Cracow to massacre them.

But the Jewish area of Cracow remains in spite of the bestial behavior of German military people and their assistants.
And this Jewish neighborhood is now part of the tourist attraction that Cracow has become.

At a pretty square called Szeroka is the Klezmer House.
A large house in which a restaurant.
Where every night at 8.00 h a concert of Klezmer music is performed.

Klezmer is a musical tradition which parallels Hasidic and Ashkenazic Judaism.
Around the 15th century, a tradition of secular (non-liturgical) Jewish music was developed by musicians called klezmorim or kleyzmurim.
They draw on devotional traditions extending back into Biblical times, and their musical legacy of klezmer continues to evolve today.
The repertoire is largely dance songs for weddings and other celebrations.
Due to the Ashkenazi lineage of this music, the lyrics, terminology and song titles are typically in Yiddish.
Originally, klezmer (plural klezmorim) referred to musical instruments, and was later extended to refer to musicians themselves.
It was not until the mid-to-late 20th Century that the word was used to identify it as a musical genre.
Early 20th Century recordings and writings most often refer to the style as "Yiddish" music, although it is also sometimes called Freilech music. Compared to most other European folk music styles, very little is known about the history of klezmer music, and much of what is said about it must be seen as conjecture.
Klezmer is easily identifiable by its characteristic expressive melodies, reminiscent of the human voice, complete with laughing and weeping.
This is not a coincidence; the style is meant to imitate khazone and paraliturgical singing.
Several techniques are used to accomplish this.
There are krekths, sobs and dreydlekh which are a form of musical ornament similar to a turn or trill.

Much of the traditional klezmer repertoire was written by professional klezmer musicians in the style of their region or tradition, and a lot of co-territorial music such as non-Jewish folksongs, Ottoman music, Romanian music, Ukrainian music as well as the musics of other minorities living in the same areas as Jews in Southeastern Europe such as Tatars and especially Romanies/Gypsies.
Historically, young klezmorim learned songs from their family and their elders in bands.
However, there were several breaks in history where this transmission broke down, including mass emigration but especially the Holocaust which destroyed most of Jewish life and culture in Europe.
Undoubtedly, a lot has been lost of whatever repertoire they played in different regions, especially wedding repertoire, since Jewish weddings would last several days, but technology of the time could only record a few minutes at a time.
As well, some recordings may have been made from one area which did not at all represent the klezmer repertoire from other parts of the region.
In the 21st century, klezmer is typically learned from fake books and transcriptions of old recordings, although the music was traditionally transmitted and learned by ear.

In Cracow in the Klezmer House at Szeroka Square the music is performed by three older persons.
A bass, a violin and a piano.

And the one hour concert with a 15 minutes intermission is a repertoire the musicians play a few times a week.
So, it is more than a routine for them: they can play the songs even with their eyes closed.
But nevertheless, there were moments when a sad song was played, that in spite of the routine the musicians were gripped by emotions.
And were playing from their heart.
This took place in a large, old room with antique furniture and paintings on the wall showing the Jewish people when they were still having a happy life in Cracow before 1940.
There were two other couples eating food: six people to listen to the concert.

The atmosphere was sad.
Very sad.
Not only because of the 19th century depressing interior.

Not only because of the elder musician playing music from a glorious past.
But because it was impossible to be in that room with that interior and that music without feeling the absence of the six million men, women and children that had their lives ended so unjustly and cruelly.
It was therefore a room full of too many ghosts.
A heavy, heavy load on the heart that could not be sweetened by the beautiful Klezmer music.

1 comment:

jeff said...

It is amazing what one human being can do to another.