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What is klezmer?

Klezmer music originated four hundred to five hundred years ago among the Jewish inhabitants of central and Eastern Europe. Ranging from heart-rending ballads to exuberant wedding dances, its melodies and rhythms blend the flavours of East and West. At the turn of the century it travelled with Jewish immigrants to North America where it continued and continues to develop despite the near destruction of the East European Jewish world which gave it birth.

Klezmer music reflects the history of the Jewish diaspora. The Jewish imagination blended cantorial synagogue melodies with local folk music from Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Greece, Turkey and, more recently, America and Australia.

In the Early 1920's, klezmer music was alive and well, especially in the USA, though it nearly died out as musicians explored other fields of music open to them in the New World; classical, pop, jazz and, paradoxically, 'folk'.

Since the late 1970's a revival has been taking place based on early recordings. Tuition from 'first generation' immigrant klezmer musicians helped here. There are now up to 200 klezmer bands in the USA, many in other countries from Argentina to Norway and a growing number in Australia,

What is Yiddish?

During the Middle Ages, Yiddish evolved as the everyday language of the Jews of Eastern Europe while Hebrew was reserved as the language of prayer. Developed from Middle High German around the turn of the first millennium, Yiddish also contains elements of Hebrew, Romance, Slavic languages with more recent influences from English.

Yiddish accompanied the Jewish immigrants as they travelled to new lands. It is the language in which songs associated with klezmer music are sung. Yiddish is an expressive and emotive language. It has given rise to a broad and rich tradition of theatre, literature, poetry and song in Europe, Australia and the Americas.