Week 4 | Listening Guide

This week we are listening to:

Musical Traditions in Israel: Treasures of the National Sound Archives

All tracks are available on UC Berkeley’s bCourses website, as well as online at the links below. (My recommendation is to use bCourses).

It is a compilation of ethnomusicological field recordings highlighting the collection of the National Sound Archives (NSA), which were established in 1964 at the National Library of Israel (http://web.nli.org.il/en/music/Pages/default.aspx).

The NSA house hundreds of thousands of recorded items, documenting a host of Jewish, Muslim, Christian and other musical traditions represented in modern Israel, as well as Jewish musical traditions across the global diaspora.

This compilation (originally issued on audio cassette, then on CD, and now available online: http://web.nli.org.il/en/Music/Compilations/Pages/compilation005.aspx) constitutes a veritable “audio tour” of both Jewish and Israeli sounds, presenting an intensely diverse traditional musical landscape through the performances of original culture bearers (or informants).

Most recordings (not all) were collected in Israel. Some were collected by Israeli researchers who conducted their fieldwork abroad.

The CD booklet (also available on bCourses) gives specific details about the following traits:

Title or incipit (beginning words of a song) of the piece recorded
Typology and occasion of the performance (i.e., vocal, instrumental, for the liturgy, for weddings, etc.)
Informants’ names and other biographical information
• Name of the researcher/s who conducted the fieldwork, date and place of recording
• NSA Call number

a) Tracks 4, 5 and 6 highlight the role of music in the transmission of traditional lore in Judaism: from father to son, from teacher to pupils, as well as in individual study.

b) Tracks 2, 3, 8, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21 and 22 offer the diverse sounds of liturgical music from the synagogue traditions of Europe, Asia and Africa. They represent Ashkenazi (originally from central and eastern Europe), and Sephardic (originally from the Iberian peninsula) musical traditions, along with those of the Jews from the Islamic world (at times called mizrachi, or “oriental” Jews, in Israeli Hebrew).

c) Tracks 1, 7 and 23 are Jewish wedding tunes (from Morocco, Yemen and Eastern Europe), which represent a variety of “para-liturgical” traditions (the term is described in this week’s reading assignment)

d) Tracks 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 19 represent some of the most important non-Jewish musical traditions that are rooted in Israel (Bedouin, Greek-Orthodox, Palestinian-Arab, and Samaritan).

While listening to these tracks (choose at least one from each group), you may want to focus on different aspects:

1. Soundscape: what kind of musical world (European, Asian, African, etc.) does the music represent?
2. Performance style: solo or group singing, instrumental accompaniment, etc.
3. Language: Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, a Jewish language (Judeo-Spanish, Yiddish, etc.), other.
4. Context: What occasion is the music destined to? Who is/was the audience? Why was it recorded?

It may well be that the only common characteristic to all these musical examples is that they are all transmitted by oral tradition.

In terms of sound, they indeed are extremely diverse…

Who would want to define this mosaic of diverse sounds as “Jewish Music”?

(Ideas about these issues are found in this week’s readings: Grove Dictionary of Music Online, “Jewish Music”).