Archive for I. L. Cahan

“Mir af a shifl, dir af a lotke” Performed by Zelig Schnadover

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2017 by yiddishsong


Commentary by Itzik Gottesman.


This  one-verse song ‘Mir af a shifl, dir af a lotke’ (“A Boat for Me, a Canoe for You”) was performed by Zelig Schnadover, and recorded by Itzik Gottesman in Mexico City, 1988. Curiously, the first line from this ditty appears under the boat in the above 1960s painting of the Israeli artist Arie Aroch (1908-1974), who spent his childhood in Kharkov (Kharkiv), Ukraine.

Zelig Schnadover was born in 1907 in Slavuta [Yiddish – Slavite סלאַוויטע ] Ukraine. In 1920 they “escaped the Bolsheviks” and the family went to Poland. He had his bar-mitsve in Brody, [Yiddish – Brod], Poland. He lived in Poland until 1926 and learned the song there. Schnadover emigrated to Mexico City in 1926/27.


Zelig Schnadover

To make money in the early years in Mexico City Schnadover was part of a group of singers who provided the soundtrack to silent movies, many of them Russian, so they sang Russian songs. They didn’t have much time to prepare – usually they had not seen the movie earlier so amusing things happened. An example he gave was for Abel Gance’s film  Napoleon. The group was still singing a waltz as the projector was already showing a battle scene. When I knew him he had been the longtime owner of a stationary store, a papeleria, near the center of the city, the Zocolo.

Mir af a shifl,
Dir af a lotke.
Mir a sheyn meydl
Dir a tshekhotke

Me on a boat,
you on a canoe.
Me – a pretty girl
You – one with tuberculosis. 

After the initial posting, musicologist Dmitri “Zisl” Slepovitch pointed out a connection to a song he had recorded from Sterna Gorodetskaya in Mahilyow (Mogilev), Belarus, which was posted earlier to the Yiddish Song of the Week.

Also, a variant of the song from Brest-Litovsk (Yiddish – Brisk, now in Belarus) appears in I. L. Cahan’s 1912 collection with no music but with a second verse and presents it as a dialogue. The first verse sung by “He”, the second one by “She”.

Ikh af a shifele
Du af a lodke,
Ikh a soldat,
Du a soldadtke.

Ikh af a shifele
Du af a lotke;
Ikh a sheyn meydele,
Du a sukhotke.

I on a boat
You on a canoe.
I – a [male] soldier
You – a [female] soldier. 

I on a boat,
You on a canoe
I – a pretty girl
You – a girl with tuberculosis.

Here is how it appears in Cahan’s 1912 collection:


Special thanks for help with this week’s posting goes to Tamara Gleason Freidberg, Paul Glasser and Rachel Greene. 


“Bay a taykhele” Performed by Feigl Yudin

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2015 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Ethel Raim and Itzik Gottesman

From Ethel Raim:

Feigl Yudin moved to the United States at the age of 14 from Grodna (Grodno) Gubernia, now in Belarus. Her parents stayed behind in Europe, so upon arriving to New York City she was housed by landslayt (contacts from her hometown), who took care of her until she was able to support herself. A skilled seamstress, Feigl continued working in the needle trades in the US for most of her life and was an active participant in the progressive labor movement.

When the Center presented the landmark concert with legendary clarinetist Dave Tarras on November 19, 1978, at Casa Galicia (now Webster Hall) in Manhattan, Feigl Yudin was a featured artist, among others. A native Yiddish speaker, she loved singing and was one of those people who could hear a melody for the first time and commit it to memory almost instantly.  She would say, “When I hear a melody it haunts me and I must get the words.” Feigl had a large repertoire of Yiddish songs which she learned both in Europe and in the US, and, as you will hear, was a beautiful singer.

From Itzik Gottesman:

This love song is a strophic lyric quatrain which is typical of the Yiddish tradition. (See accompanying booklet to LP Folksongs in the East European Tradition from the repertoire of Mariam Nirenberg Prepared by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett with Mark Slobin and Eleanor Gordon Mlotek, 1986, pages 5 – 6).

Yudin’s repertoire was recorded by Ruth Rubin starting in 1948. Four of her songs are included in the volume Yiddish Songs from the Ruth Rubin Archive (2007) and her song “Ba a taykhele” begins the collection.

It states there that the song was collected in 1967 and other versions can be found in I. L. Cahan’s collection Yidishe folkslider mit melodyes (1957) and the volume by Beregovski and Fefer – Yidishe folkslider (1938).

The suggested parallel in Cahan (song #175) is not convincingly a variant of this song, but the Beregovski and Fefer version is the exact same as Yudin sings it, and I am inclined to think that Yudin learned it from an Amerucan leftist Yiddish chorus/choir where the songs from the Beregovski and Fefer songbook were quite popular.

Bay a taykhele vakst a beymele.
Vaksn af dem tsvaygn.
Mit alemen redstu, mit aleman bistu frayndlekh.
Nor mir heystu shvaygn.

Bay a taykhele vakst a beymele
Vaksn oyf dem blumen.
(Haynt) freg ikh dir libster – ven vestu shoyn kumen?
Ven vestu shoyn a mol kumen?

Bay a taykhele vakst a beymele
Vaksn af dem bleter
Freg ikh dir libster ven vestu shoyn kumen?
Leygst alts op af shpeter.

By a stream a small tree grows.
On it grows branches.
You talk to everyone; you’re friendly with all.
But me – you ask to be silent.

By a stream a small tree grows.
On it grows flowers.
(Today) I ask you my beloved – when will you come already?
When will come for once?

By a stream a small tree grows.
On it grows leaves.
I ask you my beloved when will you come already?
But you keep putting it off for later.


“Tayere Toni” Performed by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2011 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

I have found only one other version of Tayere Toni – in the Pipe collection “Yiddish Folksongs from Galicia” edited by Meir and Dov Noy, Jerusalem, 1971 page 118-119. There the names of the lovers are Bronye and Bernard. From the Pipe version it is clear that the song is a ballad – Bernard does indeed die in the third verse, and in the fourth verse Bronye shoots herself and they are buried together in one grave. A motif much more common in non-Yiddish ballads, rare in Yiddish ones.

From Lifshe Schaechter-Widman’s shorter version, recorded in 1954 in the Bronx by song collector Leybl Kahn, a ballad-story is implied but is left hanging, and I have to wonder did Lifshe not sing the other verses because she did not know them or because they did not appeal to her? Didn’t ring true or Jewish? The fact that she doesn’t repeat any of the lines also implies that we are dealing with a ballad, a story in song; Lifshe was more inclined to repeat lines in lyric love songs than in ballads.

Though the use of German names in Tayere Toni would lead one to believe that the song is relatively new, the beautiful melody sounds very old to me. Her singing, as always, is haunting and so complex given the relative simple melody. By the way, the great folklorist I. L. Cahan (not to be confused with Leybl Kahn) “disqualified” a song that Shmuel Zanvil Pipe had collected because the character’s name in the song was Moritz. “Moritz”, wrote Cahan, could not be part of any folksong.

But today we have to respectfully disagree with Cahan (and I think Pipe wasn’t too happy about his judgement in this case either). Jews in the Galician and Bukovinan territories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had German names, and were no less “folky” because of it.

Pete Rushefsky adds:

Musically, Tayere Toni reinforces the conversation between Bernard and his beloved Toni with a subtle harmonic interplay in the key of Bb minor.

The first two lines of each stanzas are rendered in Bb minor and harmonized by Bb minor, F major and Bb minor: a simple I Minor – V Major – I Minor progression that effects a light waltz-like melody as Bernard attempts to woo Toni. Harmonically each of Bernard’s two lines stand on their own – there is a simplicity and purity to his love.

Toni’s answers in the stanza’s third and first half of the fourth lines contradict Bernard, and are voiced to resolve (incompletely) on the C of a dominant F major chord. Toni’s response requires the full duration of her two lines to resolve harmonically, and for a moment, a listener tuned to Jewish modal tendencies wonders if she might distance herself further from his sentiments with a full modulation to F-freygish (also known in cantorial literature as “Ahava Raba”, or “altered Phrygian” – F, Gb, A, Bb, C, Db, Eb).

But despite a rapidly ascending then descending movement in the last line that is frequently seen in freygish melodies, Toni does not reach down to the tell-tale subtonic Eb which would confirm F-freygish. Rather, at the end of the stanza, Toni’s cadence resolves back to the tonic Bb. Though there is complexity in her responses and desires, in the end, these two are fated to live and die together.

“Tayere Toni, kim aher tsi mir
Nem dir a beynkl, zets zikh anider lebn mir.”
“Tayerer Bernard, ikh ken nisht zitsn leybn dir.
Di mame vet araynkimen, un vet shrayen af mir”

“Dear Toni come over here to me,
Take a chair, and sit next to me.”
“Dear Bernard, I can’t sit next to you.
My mother will enter and will yell at you.”

“Tayere Toni, ikh ken dikh nisht fardarbn.
Zeyst dekh az ikh halt shoyn baym shtarbn.”
Tayerer Bernard, vest nokh vern gezint.
Tayerer Bernard, di bist mayn tayer kind.”

“Dear Toni, I can’t ruin you.
Can’t you see, that i am dying.”
“Dear Bernard, you will become well,
Dear Bernard, you are my dear child”.

Spoken Dialogue after the song:

LEYBL KAHN: Dos lid hot ir gehert fun vanen?
Where did you hear this song?
LSW: Dos hob ikh gehert in Zvinyetchke.
I heard this in Zvinyetchke.
LK: In der Bukovina.
In Bukovina?
LSW: Yo, di Bukovina.
Yes, Bukovina.
LK: To vi kumen azoyne nemen vi Toni un Bernard?
So where do the name Toni and Bernard come from?
LSW: Bay undz hot men dokh daytshmerish gezingen.
We sang, after all, Germanized Yiddish.
LK: Menshn fleygn hob azoyne nemen.
People used to have such names?
LSW: Ye, avade.
Yes, of course