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“Avreymele melamed” Performed by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2017 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman.

The amusing children’s song Avreymele melamed (Little Abraham, the Jewish Elementary School Teacher) tells the story of the shlimazl (bearer of poor luck) of the shtetl. This week’s posting features a performance of Avreymele by Lifshe Schaechter Widman in the Bronx in 1954 (recording by Leybl Kahn):

The song became popular thanks to numerous cantors who included it into their repertory. The transformation from LSW’s folksong to the cantorial version is notable. LSW’s verses rhyme and have a distinct melody throughout. She playfully sings “shirem hashirem” instead of “shir hashirem”, turning the “Song of Songs” into the “Umbrella of Umbrellas.”

f23ab2af7d5e72bfa94ad6553c627887--elementary-schools-schools-in

The much longer cantorial versions feature a recitative style with no rhyming verses. For an example of the cantorial version, see this video featuring the Cantor Simon Spiro, complete with chorus and orchestra, arranged by Maurice Goldman and produced by the Milken Archive:

Many Yiddish folksongs entered the cantorial repertoire thanks to Menachem Kipnis’ successful Yiddish songbooks and performances throughout Poland between the world wars. Kipnis (1878 – 1942)  was a singer, cantor, folklorist, journalist and photographer. It is clear that his version, which has many more verses than LSW’s, was the basis for the cantorial versions. Attached at the end of this post are scans of Kipnis’ “Avremele Melamed”. The version of the song in A. Z. Idelsohn’s Thesaurus of Oriental Hebrew Melodies (Vol. 9)  is also taken from Kipnis’ collection.

Cantor David Kossovitsky, Oberkantor Boas Bischofwerder, Mike Burstyn (in Hebrew) and Gojim (Austria) among other cantors and singers have had a lot of fun with this song. Though cantors have taken the song far from its folksong roots, the playful call-and-response – implied in LSW’s and heard in Spiro’s version –  was not lost along the way.

When the song was translated into Hebrew and performed in the Israeli musical איש חסיד היה [Ish khasid haya] by Dan Almagor (1968) it attained a new and wide audience.

Here is a recent performance of the song in the Israeli musical:

The nature of the song almost invites singers to create new verses about a shlimazl. One of my favorites is performed by the Columbia University Jewish vocal group Pizmon, who sing in Yiddish but add a verse in English at the end:

And who do you think it was
who came late to shul
and his cell phone went ringing
right in the middle of the rebbe’s dvar toyre?

Thanks this week to David Braun for help with the transcription. 

Transliteration / Translation:

Spoken by LSW: Dus is a kinderlidl: Avreymele melamed.

Avreymele melamed
Avreymele melamed.
Oy! Ze’ mir gegangen zikh budn –
Avreymele melamed.
Gehat hob ikh a shudn.
Avreymele melamed.
Oy! Tsulib dem shirem-hashirem,
Avreymele melamed,
makhn di yidn pirem.
Avreymele melamed.
Oy! Avreymele melamed.
Bist Avreymele!

Spoken by LSW: This is a children’s song: Avreymele melamed [Avreymele the Elementary Schoolteacher]

Avreymele melamed.
Oy! We went bathing
Avreymele melamed,
and suffered a loss –
Avreymele melamed.
Oy! Because of the “umbrella of umbrellas”,
Avreymele melamed,
Jews celebrate Purim,
Avremele melamed.
Oy! Avreymele melamed.
You’re indeed Avreymele.
avreymelemelamed1kipnis2

From Kipnis, Akhtsik folks-lider (Warsaw, 1925):

kipnis1kipnis2

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“Nakhtishe lider” Performed by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2012 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

The author of the text to “Nakhtishe lider”, Herz Rivkin was born Herzl Heisiner in Capresti, Bessarabia (today Moldova) in 1908, and died in a Soviet gulag, November 14, 1951. The poem is taken from  his only printed poetry collection “In shkheynishn dorf”  [From the Neighboring Village], Bucharest, 1938. Reprinted in Bucharest, 1977.

Herz Rivkin

The composer of the melody is unknown. The performer of this week’s posting, Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman (my mother), learned this song in Chernovitz in the 1930s. The only recording of the song is by Arkady Gendler on his CD “My Hometown Soroke”,  2001. That version is incomplete with two verses by Rivkin, and a third by Gendler.  Gendler titles the song “Nakhtike lider” which is the original title in Rivkin’s book.

Singer Michael Alpert has initiated and directs a concert program with singer/bandura player Julian Kytasty which brings together Jewish and Ukrainian singers and musicians in a collaborative program, the title of which “Night Songs from a Neighboring Village” was inspired by this song.

I recorded my mother’s performance of “Nakhtishe lider” at home in the Bronx in the 1980s. The audio quality of the recording is unfortunately not stable (be careful when listening – the volume increases significantly at 0:27), but Schaechter-Gottesman’s singing here is a wonderful example of what I would call urban interwar Yiddish singing and contrasts powerfully with the older plaintive, communal shtetl-style of her mother Lifshe Schaechter-Widman.

Nakhtishe lider fun shkheynishn dorf
farblondzen amol tsu mayn ganik.
Zey leshn mayn troyer; zey gletn mayn umet.
Zey flisn vi zaftiker honig.

Night Songs from the neighboring village.
Lose their way to my porch.
They extinguish my sadness; they caress my melancholy.
They flow like juicy honey.

Lider khakhlatske, muntere, frishe.
Vos shmekn mit feld un mit shayer.
Zey filn di luft un mit varemkeyt liber,
vos shtromt fun a heymishn fayer.

Ukrainian Songs, upbeat and fresh
that smell with field and barn.
They fill the air with a loving warmth,
that streams from an intimiate fire.

Nakht iz in shtetl, ikh lig afn ganik.
Ver darf haynt der mames geleyger?
Iz vos, az s’iz eyns? Iz vos, az s’iz tsvey?
Iz vos az shlogt dray shoyn der zeyger?

It’s nighttime in town; I lay on my porch.
Who needs today my mother’s place to sleep?
So what if it’s one? So what if it’s two?
So what if the clock strikes three?

Her ikh un ikh veys nisht iz yontif in dorf.
Tsi es hilyen zikh glat azoy yingen.
Az vos iz der khilek? Oyb s’vet bald, mir dakht
di levone oykh onheybn tsu zingen.

I listen and I don’t know if it’s a celebration in the village,
or just some kids are singing.
But what is the difference? If soon, it seems
The moon will also start to sing.

Azoy gisn amol zikh fun skheynishn dorf
heymishe, zaftike tener.
Biz s’heybt on frimorgn tsu vargn di nakht
un ez heybn on kreyen shoyn di heyner.

In this way pours out, from the neighboring village
intimate, juicy melodies.
Until the early morning begins to choke the night
and the roosters start to crow.