Klezmer Music - Defined

The word Klezmer comes from the Hebrew words "Klei Zemer" which mean "vessels of song." This is often translated either to mean musical instruments, or the musicians themselves, though the common term for Klezmer musicians is "Klezmorim."

Klezmer is the musical soul of the Ashkenazic (central and Eastern European) Jewish tradition. It was present in various forms throughout Eastern Europe and through Central Europe in countries like Hungary. Klezmer often took on regional characteristics, forming almost regional dialects; many people are surprised when they first hear Hungarian Klezmer, as it has very strong Gypsy elements.

Klezmer music served religious and secular roles, but the most common image that comes to many people's minds when they think of Klezmer is that of its role in Jewish weddings; tradition had it that wedding celebrations would last for an entire week, and shtetls (Jewish towns) were known to dance in the streets for days as Klezmer musicians performed for the community. While Klezmer is, based on its meaning, primarily an instrumental musical form, Yiddish songs are frequently performed with it, and Yiddish folk tunes indeed were an integral part of the life of Eastern European Jews.

Klezmer music came to the United States along with the immigrant Jewish populations in the 1910's and 1920's; in some cases, it gained a very American flare as the musicians incorporated elements of American Jazz into the music. Despite its huge popularity in the early part of the century, Klezmer died out almost completely after the second world war. In the 1970's, Klezmer began to make a revival and since then, it has steadily gained popularity. Today, Klezmer music has once again gained popularity and is evolving into a variety of styles. Some groups experiment with "Klezmer fusion," while others incorporate modern band instrumentations into Klezmer music.

Today we are past the Klezmer revival--the musical style is well established and Klezmer bands can be found throughout North America and Europe. It is an ever-evolving style and the expanding body of research on Klezmer is continuously increasing our understanding of its roots and its evolution.