Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Musical Explanation 1/19/16: Tateh Siser by Abe Elenkrig

The name of this Klezmer song is apparently 'Tateh Siser.' In Yiddish, Tateh means father. Not that my Yiddish has been particularly good in the last twenty-seven or so years, but the best I can guess for what's meant by 'siser' is either 'zitser', which literally means 'sitter', or 'tsiter', which means a trembler. "The Sitting Father" doesn't make much sense as a name, though I doubt the tunes' names had to make sense, but if the name of the song is actually 'The Trembling Father', it would make some amount of sense in an onomatopoetic way - as this piece is little but fast sixteenth notes.

Its composer, Abe Elenkrig, is listed on wikipedia as a 'trumpeter, barber, and bandleader.' Like so many Klezmer musicians, it's almost impossible to find any further information about him on the internet. What distinguishes him from the great Klezmorim who came before him is that we have any record of him at all.

Like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, we have no idea how the presence of a microphone changes what we hear. I suppose we can only speculate that the number of musicians in the studio was far larger than would generally be present in most Klezmer performances. I would imagine that there are three reasons for this: it was an honor to be recorded, an early recording device required more sheer volume, and to be a success America, then as now, required novelty. To impress an American audience, it was not simply enough to have a few Jewish wedding musicians, you needed enough musicians to call yourself an 'orchestra.' Furthermore, as there are probably far more musicians in this recording than would generally play this type of music in the old country, I would imagine that the tempos are quite a bit slower than Klezmer musicians would play their dance music, and the sheer bulk of instruments requires the players to be quite a bit more circumspect in how they improvise around the music.

Nevertheless, the Elenkrig recordings are a glory of music - perhaps the most accurate and authentic rendering we have of what pre-modern Jewish music sounded like.

For good measure, here's 'Lebedeg' which I think is just a bad spelling of 'Lebedik', meaning 'lively.' There is no way that Klezmer musicians today can recapture this flavor. Folk recordings like this were only possible in the early days of the gramophone, when we could capture musicians whose development was completely uninfluenced by the presence of microphone or other recordings.

Lastly, let's listen to Makhutonim Zum Tish, perhaps the most exciting of all Elenkrig's tracks. The Tish takes place before every traditional Jewish wedding, at which the groom is toasted (and sometimes roasted) by the male guests. 'Makhutonim' means the in-laws, therefore it stands to reason that the meaning of this piece is the "father-in-law's toast."

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