The Choreography of Jewishness: Klezmer Music, Dance, and Gesture in Ashkenazic Culture

Titsworth Marjorie Leff Miller ’53 Lecture Hall

Open to the public

/ Wednesday


The Ashkenazim of Eastern Europe became the largest transnational Jewish culture of modern times. It was only this large Jewish ethnic groupspeaking the Yiddish languagewho created a series of interlocking religious and secular musical repertoires, not shared with co-territorial cultures. Emerging in 16th century Prague and spreading throughout the broad territory of the Eastern Ashkenazim, the Jewish musical guild-member, the klezmer (pl. klezmorim) shaped an influential repertoire within this Jewish musical system.

In Jewish culture the upper body was held to be the seat of both emotion and the primary means of communication. Gesture was integrated both into the spoken Yiddish language and into communicative solo or group dancing to instrumental (klezmer) music. Much of the musical and choreographic history of the Ashkenazic Jews is embedded in the klezmer repertoire, which functioned as a kind of non-verbal communal memory.

Based on the Feldman's book, Klezmer: Music, History and Memory (Oxford University Press, 2016), this talk and demonstration focuses on the klezmer repertoire and choreographic style as expressions of Jewish musical thought and gesture.

Walter Zev Feldman is a leading researcher in both Ottoman Turkish and Jewish music. He is a performer of the klezmer dulcimer, cimbal, the Ottoman lute tanbur, and Ottoman percussion. His book, Music of the Ottoman Court: Makam, Composition, and the Early Ottoman Instrumental Repertoire, is taught as a basic text worldwide. In 2004 he co-directed the successful application of the Mevlevi Dervishes of Turkey as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity for UNESCO and is currently preparing the monograph From Rumi to the Whirling Dervishes: Music, Poetry and Mysticism in the Ottoman Empire, sponsored by the Agha Khan University.

Feldman is an authority on Ashkenazic dance, forming part of his current research on the role of gesture in the performing arts, which he taught at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU on the Square. In 2017 he gave a series of workshops on this topic in Tokyo and in Moscow.

Sponsored by the Dance Program and Religion Faculty