Archive for January, 2011

“Mayn shifl” Performed by Nitsa Ranz

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2011 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

Nitsa Ranz was born in Poland in 1922 and emigrated to America in 1950. Mayn shifl (My Cradle) was recorded at an event that I produced called Generations of Yiddish Song: A Concert of Mostly Unaccompanied Rarely Heard Yiddish Songs at the club Tonic on New York City’s Lower East Side on January 9th, 2001.

The other singers that day were Michael Alpert, Janet Leuchter, Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, Paula Teitelbuam, Joshua Waletzky, and Jeff Warschauer. Ranz had a unique singing style, and though the song turned out to be American in origin, as I later found out when I discovered the song sheet (see below),  she sings with much of the traditional style in her voice.


The poet of the song, Leah Kapilowitz Hofman (1898 – 1952), was a pioneer of Yiddish children’s poetry in the US. Mayn shifl can be found in her collection In kinderland, published in 1919 in New York. The song’s music was set by composer Pinchos Jassinowsky (1886-1954), who wrote the music to several well-known Yiddish songs including Der kremer (words by A. Liessin).

Az di mame leygt mikh shlofn
in mayn vigele,
vigt zi mikh un zingt a lidl
 fun a tsigele.

When my mother puts me to sleep,
in my cradle,
she sings me a song as she cradles,
about a little goat.

Vert mayn vigele a shifl;
for ikh vayt avek.
Oyfn groysn yam, un ken nit
kumen tsu kayn breg.

My cradle becomes a ship,
so I travel far away.
On the big ocean, I cannot
come to a a shore.

Un di khvalyes oyfn vaser
loyfn mit geshrey;
hoybt zikh af mayn kleyne shifl
glaykh ariber zey.

And the waves on the water
crash with a shriek;
but my little ship
lifts right over them.

Kumen yam-fish bald tsu shvimen,
 vinken zey tsu mir;
Az ikh zol tsu zeyer palats
nemen a shpatsir. 

Sharks soon come a‘ swimming
and wink to me;
that I should take a walk
to their palace.

Flit mayn shifl oyfn vaser,
firt mikh tsu a land,
vu es zitst mayn gute mame,
mit a bukh in hant.

My boat flies on the water,
takes me to a land,
where my good mother sits,
with a book in her hand.

Shtel ikh op mayn kleyne shifl
shtayg fun ir aroys
Bin ikh vider lebn mamen
zetst zikh af ir shoys

So I stop my little ship
and I disembark
Again I am near my mother
and sit in her lap.

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“Di mode” Performed by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2011 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

I never thought I would thank Google Books in this blog, but the website has opened up tremendous possibilities for the Yiddish folksong researcher. In addition to having access to song collections, one can type in a search word in Yiddish and find it in dozens or hundreds of works. The Harvard Library and its unique Leo Wiener Collection, which is full of 19th century Yiddish folk literature, is being made available on the site.

And so I was able to look at Yitskhok-Yoel Linetski‘s work Der beyzer marshelik (1869) for the first time in its entirety. One of the poems is called „Di mode‟ (“Fashion;” “modehas two syllables) and I immediately identified it as the source of a song my grandmother Lifshe Schaechter-Widman [LSW] sang called „Di mode.” 

Linetski (1839 – 1915) was one of the earliest maskilic (“enlightened”) Yiddish writers, and his novel Dos Poylishe yingl (1868) later called “Dos khsidishe yingl‟ was the first bestseller of modern Yiddish literature.

Yitskhok-Yoel Linetski

Linetski’s life story was amazing. He was raised in a strict Hasidic home in Vinnitsa, and when he was suspected of reading “forbidden” literature, he was married off at age fourteen to a twelve-year old girl. But then he convinced his young wife of his path, so they forced him to divorce her and marry a “deaf, half-idiotic woman” (see Zalmen Reizen‘s Leksikon fun der yidisher literatur). That didn‘t work either and when they tried to throw him into the river, he escaped to Odessa.

To analyze how Linetski‘s text was folklorized in LSW‘s version, recorded in 1954 by Leybl Kahn in New York City, is a longer essay. But as an example, compare Linetski‘s original refrain:

Oy a ruekh in der mode a leyd.
Vos zi hot af der velt a nets farshpreyt!

Oh, the devil take the fashion, what a pain,
That spread a net over the world. 

with LSW‘s refrain:

Oy, nor di mode aleyn, nor di mode aleyn, 
 hot far undz umglik gebrengt.

Oh, only the fashion alone, only the fashion alone
has brought us misfortune. 

Only in the last refrain does she sing “the devil take the fashion,” which I believe works better dramatically. Usually the “folk process” improves the longer, wordy maskilic poetry.

Other songs that originate from the work Beyzer marshelik are Dos redl  performed by (Israel Srul) Freed on Ruth Rubin‘s field recording collection “Jewish Life: The Old Country” and recently recorded as the title track of klezmer violinist Jake Shulman-Ment‘s CD A Wheel/A redele, sung by Benjy Fox-Rosen. LSW also sang a version of Dos vigele with the opening line „Shlis shoyn mayn kind dayne oygn…‟ which will be posted on this blog at some point.

In LSW‘s performance of Di mode you get to hear her sing a more upbeat song, with a great melody. The traditional aspects of  LSW‘s singing (the ornamentaion in particular) are applied to a more modern song, and the synthesis works wonderfully.

This recording of Di mode can be found on the Global Village Music cassette recording “Az di furst avek: a Yiddish folksinger from the Bukovina” now available on iTunes.










“Ikh vel nit ganvenen” Performed by Sterna Gorodetskaya

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2011 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Dmitri ‘Zisl’ Slepovitch

I recorded Ikh vel nit ganvenen (I Will Not Steal) in Mogilev, Belarus, from Sterna Gorodetskaya, born in 1946 into the only Jewish family that got reunited after the war in the village of Komintern, a Mogilev suburb. 

Photograph of Sterna Gorodetskaya by Dmitri Slepovitch

Sterna is also the aunt of Yuri Gorodetsky, a noticeable young opera singer who was for while involved performing Yiddish songs and cantorial pieces in Minsk, taking part in Jewish cultural revivalist movement there.

It was amazing to hear this song from a person of Sterna’s generation. She sang the song to me in memory of her mother, and that was the first time she performed it since she was a child.

To realize why it is so unique in that context, it is important to mention that unlike Moldova or Ukraine where the Jewish tradition was preserved to a considerable extent throughout the Soviet times, Belarus saw a much more powerful wave of assimilation, including the loss of the Yiddish language, in the post-war time. Most of the songs sung to us in the course of our fieldwork had been hidden in people’s memory for decades.

The song per se adds to a number of other “thief’s songs.” Chaim Kotylanski included two similar songs in his book, “Folks-Gezangen as Interpreted by Chaim Kotylanski,” Los Angeles, 1944. The lyrics of one, Nisht ganvenen nor nemen, resemble Sterna Gorodetskaya’s version in the chorus (compare: “Kholile nisht ganvenen, nor nemen, nor nemen”), though it employs a dance-like or march-like melody set in a major key. The other song, Kh’vel shoyn mer nisht ganvenen, is closer melodically to Sterna’s, as both are set in the natural minor.  In “Pearls of Yiddish Song” published by Chana and Yosl Mlotek there is yet another variant of ‘Kh’vel shoyn mer nit ganvenen.

My trip to Mogilev in January 2008 was the first one to follow the untimely death of Nina Stepanskaya (1954—2007), my professor and colleague with whom I collaborated over a decade on the Litvak music culture research in Belarus. Like Sterna Gorodetskaya who sang this song in memory of her mother, I would like this posting to be a tribute to and a small sign of appreciation of Nina’s invaluable input into Jewish music studies.

Ikh vel gegayen in krom keyfn irisn
Un az ikh hob dikh lib, iz ver darf dos visn?
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, ikh vel aleyn nemen,
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, nemen aleyn.

I will go to the store to buy some candies,
And whilst I love you, who should know about that?
I will not steal, I will only take.
Oh I will not steal, I’ll only take.

Ikh vel gegayen in mark keyfn bar(u)n,
Un az ikh hob dikh lib, iz vemen darf dos arn?
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, ikh vel aleyn nemen,
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, nemen aleyn.

I will go to the market to buy some pears,
And while I love you, whom should it bother?
I will not steal, I will only take.
Oh I will not steal, I’ll only take.

Ikh af a shif un du af a lodke,
Un ikh mit a tsveytn un du in chakhotke.
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, ikh vel aleyn nemen,
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, nemen aleyn.

I’m on a ship and you’re on a boat,
I’m with a buddy and you have consumption.
I will not steal, I will only take.
Oh I will not steal, I’ll only take.

Ganvenen, ganvenen, zol dos nit zayn iker,
Un nemen a bisele mashke un take nit zayn shiker.
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, ikh vel aleyn nemen,
Oy ikh val nit ganvenen, nemen aleyn.

Stealing oh stealing should not be the principle,
As it should be to have brandy and not to get drunk.
I will not steal, I will only take.
Oh I will not steal, I’ll only take.

“Tunkl brent a fayer” Performed by Jacob Gorelik

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2011 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

For more on Jacob (Yankev) Gorelik see the previous post on “A baysphil.” He sang Tunkl brent a fayer (“A Fire Burns Dimly”) in his apartment in the “Chelsea hayzer” (Penn south), on 7th avenue and 25th street in Manhattan, circa 1985.  This song about an “agune,” a women who was abandoned by their husband, is part of a genre of agune-songs in Yiddish. Chaim Grade’s Yiddish novel The Agunah (translated in English with that title) depicts the complexity of dealing with the agune, and the rabbinic disagreements over when to declare the woman free to remarry.

I believe one hears the influence of the great singer Sidor Belarsky in Gorelik’s singing, even when he sings his mother’s songs from his hometown. I have included the spoken introduction below because it was typical of how Gorelik would frame a song he was about to perform for a larger audience. It’s interesting how he implies that by attending the Yiddish theater, the immigrant was thereby just a short hop from meeting new women and abandoning the wife in the old country.

The scanned music and words are from the songbook Songs of Generations compiled by Chana and Yosl Mlotek. Gorelik had, apparently, sent Tunkl brent a fayer to the Mloteks  who ran a column “Readers remember” in the Yiddish Forward newspaper. Chana Mlotek continued to write the column  after Yosl Mlotek’s death in 2000.

A song of an “agune,” an abandoned woman, that I heard from my mother, may she rest in peace.

There was a time, the emigration, the great emigration at the beginning of the 20th century and earlier, and many wandered out to America. Towns were emptied out. Many women remained with children. They didn’t hear anything from their husbands. Some were faithful and sent over their most recent earnings to their wives; shared it with their wives and children.

Others forgot. In the “Golden Land” they forgot about their old home. They wanted a little joy and happiness and started to go to the theater; met other women and forgot that they had “an old home,” a wife and child. And such women were called “agune” – “she was connected” as long as the husband did not free her. And songs were composed on this on the spot.

I had heard such a song among the folk, and another one I heard from my mother, may she rest in peace. She had a golden voice when she sang. In general my mother sang minor-keyed (sad) songs.