Contemporary klezmer: Music, identity, and meaning
Klezmer, the traditional instrumental music of Eastern European Jews, developed as the accompaniment to weddings and other communal celebrations. After an initial blossoming in the early-twentieth century United States, the style lost prominence due to a variety of historical, political, and social factors. Since the 1970s, however, Jewish and non-Jewish musicians have revived and transformed older styles of playing, both in North America and across the world. This thesis examines American discourses surrounding Jewish identity and traditional music, to demonstrate how earlier conceptions of authenticity, hipness, dissent, and difference continue to shape musicians’ and fans’ interpretations of klezmer. Drawing from ethnographic research, historical accounts, and theoretical work in folklore, cultural studies, and performance studies, the thesis emphasizes klezmer’s role as an active site for the collective and individual negotiation and performance of Jewish identity in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
0751: Judaic studies