· Voices of Ashkenaz ·
Photo: Adam Berry
Ashkenaz! There is no term that would better describe the complex history of the songs presented in this album. In medieval Hebrew, Ashkenaz refers to the geographical region that at the time was German-speaking territory. An Ashkenazic Jew was simply a Jew living in this part of Europe, speaking Western-Yiddish, which was still pretty close to the Middle High German of the time. But then it got complicated. Driven out of their homeland by pogroms in the wake of the Crusades and the Black Plague, many German Jews headed to Poland and Lithuania where a new Ashkenaz constituted itself that became the spiritual and intellectual center of European Jewry until the Holocaust. There in eastern Europe, something special happened. Jews did not fully assimilate linguistically into their new environment but instead transformed their language – Western Yiddish – into Eastern Yiddish, which would eventually be spoken by some 10 Million Jews in Eastern Europe and worldwide. An incredible wealth of music and culture came to life in this transnational, pan-European Jewish community that stretched from Lithuania in the north to Bessarabia in the south.
The songs in this album present a segment of Eastern European Jewish repertoire that has a strong connection to German and song topics, texts and melodies – a connection whose actual roots still remain to be found. Did German and Western Yiddish Songs migrate east with their singers? Did they travel “on their own” in printed song sheets, crossing linguistic and political borders in Europe? Were they brought back and forth by travelers between the two Ashkenazic communities, East and West? The exact history of this repertoire remains largely unknown so far. But the music and texts tell us a story greater than a particular song’s history. Somehow, these songs parted ways, developing and blossoming in their respective cultural and geographic realms for hundreds of years. Seeing these songs join forces once again conjures up a long overdue family gathering: “My, you haven’t changed a bit!” “You just never age…” “How’s Grandpa?” “We have so much in common!”
This repertoire tells an extraordinary European story. A story of a Europe united by songs, sung by people on all sides of the political, religious, cultural and social borders in the East and the West, long before the European Union was even the beginning of an idea.
We, the musicians on this album, have had a remarkable time collecting, arranging, performing and recording this material. We hope that our enthusiasm and passion for this repertoire communicates itself to you as you listen to this music. Enjoy!