Thursday, April 27, 2006

From the mailbag... (continued)

Yitz has responded to this post. He writes:
Nachzor l'inyaneinu: the Pasternak quotes - these I copied from ASJ's blog, which I had sent him in an e-mail, which I had copied directly from a book by Pastenak:

>>In the words of R. Velvel Pasternak, a contempory Jewish musicologist, "Those who opposed chassidism, and many music scholars who made little effort to understand the soul of chassidic music, never failed to emphasize that foreign elements can be found within its melodies. However, even the borrowed motifs never remained as they had originally been. They were worked and reshaped into a new form, the form of the Chassid. From this a new melody resulted, born of spiritual Judaism, which became the individualistic melody known as the chassidic niggun."

And later he says, "The surprising and interesting thing about chassidic music is that it could take the foreign elements of the surrounding cultures, and create a unique body of song with its own definite characteristics."<<

I assume the words of his you were challenging as "wishful thinking" were these:

However, even the borrowed motifs never remained as they had originally been. They were worked and reshaped into a new form, the form of the Chassid.

NOWHERE does he say that non-Jewish tunes were not used by Chassidim. He only says that they were reworked, not as the original. Again, you can only bring me proof about Shamil or Napoleon's March [or any other of the 9 you mention], if you've heard the original from the Russian peasant or the French Army. By changing the beat, rhythm, adding a Yiddishe "kneitch" to the niggun, the tune may still be recognizable as to its "provenance" as you say, but that doesn't mean that it hasn't been "worked & reshaped into the form of the Chassid," as Pasternak asserts.

Let me give you a more contemporary example, although it's only a theory of mine. The was a secular tune called "Just Whistle a Happy Tune," from the musical/movie "The King and I". The second part of it is remarkably similar to the second part of Reb Shlomo Carlebach's niggun, Barcheinu Avinu. I discovered this the first time when listen to an instrumental version of the niggun by Musa Berlin. Now it may be mere coincidence, but let's say, for the sake of argument, that Reb Shlomo, even consciously [which may be stretching it a bit, but let's say...] took this motif & adapted it to his niggun. THAT is what Pasternak means - it didn't remain the same as the original, even if you could detect its origin.

Now, l'taameich, if you could only find 9 examples [many of which are debatable, as I've mentioned] of this, out of the thousands of Chassidic niggunim that were composed, I'll still have to say that Pastenak's assertion is right on the money!
He also sends a few more quotes from Pasternak:
"The strains of shepherd melodies evident in the Baal Shem Tov‚s music in no way harmed the Kedushas HaNiggun, the sanctity of the melody, for the essence of a niggun, according to Chassidus, is the sound; and if the sound is derived from impure sources, there is a duty to elevate, purify and sanctify it until it is worthy of the responsibility for which it was created. Some of the Chassidic leaders considered it a holy duty to use secular tunes for sacred purposes. Many leaders felt that this was a greater virtue than creating an original melody.

And from ArtScroll's translation of a R. Zevin story:

And so the young lad grew up in the home of Rebbe Shmelke, and all the melodies and shepherd songs that he knew, he made holy. The books of Kabbalah explain that all the tunes in the world originate in the Heichal HaNegina in heaven. The Other Side - impurity - knows neither melodies, nor the taste of joy, since it is itself the source of melancholy. Only through the sin of Adam did certain stray sparks fall into the unholy domain of the Other Side, and the task of the tzaddik is to elevate those sparks of melody that have gone astray.

And that is exactly what this little boy who tended geese did with the songs he had known from the woods. He recalled, for example, a song that ran like this:

Forest, O forest, how big you are!
Rose, O Rose, how far you are!
If only the forest were not so vast
The rose would be nearer to me.
If someone would take me
out of the woods
Together, O Rose, we'd be.

And now, lilting to the same melody, this is how he would sing this song:

Exile, O Exile, how long you are!
Shechina, O Shechina, how far You are!
If only the exile were not so vast,
Then the Shechina would be closer to me.
If Someone would take us
out of it soon
Together, O G-d, we‚d be.

That inspired gooseherd grew up to be a tzaddik celebrated as a sweet singer of Israel ˆ Rebbe Yitzchak Isaac Taub, better known as the Rebbe of Kaliv.

THIS is one of the Kaliver "Hungarian" songs that you refer to in your list of 9. Again, they have definitely been "reworked in the form of the Chassid."
A few points. Yitz's attempted explanations to the contrary, it is generally acknowledged among chassidim that some secular songs (not just melodic motifs) were adopted by the chassidim. Even such chareidi publications as the Jewish Observer and Yated Ne'eman have acknowledged this. The specific JO article I'm thinking of, "Who Took The Jewish Out Of Jewish Music" was written by Dovid Sears, a well-known Breslover chassid, and published about nine years ago. In it, Sears acknowledges that Rebbes have taken secular tunes, even as he condemns others for doing so.

A while back I addresses a series of Yated articles that were published on Deiah V'dibbur. Here are some excerpts from those articles:
A few sources might be useful here: See Rambam in his Perush Hamishnayos to Avos 1:16 where he describes as foolishness those people who protest if they hear songs sung in a foreign language even if the subject matter is quite proper. We see from here that the Rambam knew of secular songs that were mutar, or even recommended. The Chida (Birkei Yosef Orach Chaim 560) quotes the Sefer Chassidim that says one shouldn't sing "pritzus" songs, but there is nothing wrong with using the melodies. Also see Teshuvos Yechave Da'as 2:5 where he rules that it's mutar (and perhaps even a mitzvah min hamuvchar) to sing kedusha to arabic love songs.(Link to my original post on this.)
Incidentally, here's a quote from a letter written by Rav Nissan Karelitz:
And from this we should understand how careful we must be to avoid the opposite of this, that is, to see and listen to the music of reshoim even at a simcha shel mitzvah. But we must make sure that the whole execution of the simchah should be from a holy source, and even if they change slightly the words or the music, tumah should not be acquired by changing it to kedushah, and we should distance ourselves from these songs.
The hosts of simchos must request and make conditions with the musicians that they play only songs and tunes from holy sources and not chas vesholom the opposite.(Link to my original post on this.)
Here's another:
"In earlier times, most of the non-Jewish music was respectable and could be used for singing with holy words. Even simple peasant music was clean and fit for playing at Jewish simchas. But in modern times, with the development of recording and radio and the entertainment business that catered to the masses, a new purpose was found for music -- to arouse the yetzer hora."(Link to my original post on this.)
The notion that chassidim alone didn't take secular melodies, when all other Jewish groups thought history have, AND when much of their music is clearly influenced by the surrounding secular music, AND when such is considered common knowledge strikes me as wishful thinking more than anything else.

The idea that through "changing the beat, rhythm, adding a Yiddishe "kneitch" to the niggun, the tune may still be recognizable as to its "provenance" as you say, but that doesn't mean that it hasn't been "worked & reshaped into the form of the Chassid," is directly refuted, both by the tunes I listed, as well as Rav Karelitz's letter which I cited above.

I'm not an ethnomusicologist, and my knowledge of secular Eastern-European melodies is less than encyclopedic. Yet, even so, I was able to quickly list several secular tunes adopted by the chassidim. If any ethnomusicologists want to chime in here, feel free. Incidentally, I'm quite sure there are more secular melodies sung specifically by Chabad chassidim, but the titles are escaping me.

I know some borrowed songs that I can't name. For example, I bought a tape about fifteen years ago called "20 German Beer Drinking Songs." One of the songs on that tape was a march that was being played at Chassidic simchos in NY at the time. Since I know neither the name of the march, nor the German tune, I can't cite it here.

Regardless, if Pasternak wishes to assert that original chassidic melodies that incorporate secular motifs are "worked and reshaped into a new form, the form of the Chassid etc.", I can accept that assertion. However, the notion that all secular melodies adopted by the chassidim were reworked is 100% Meah Achuz untrue!

On this subject, P'sachya writes:
I can add at least one song to your list of yeshivish/chassidish songs from non-Jewish sources. It's the song that was sung by London School of Jewish Song as "Olam haze domeh l'prozdor", and is sung by today's bochurim as "Ashrei mi she'amalo ba-torah". I heard it on a live Theodore Bikel album from the '50's as a Romanian folk song.

There have also been rumors about the popular melody for Maoz Tzur - either that it was a German lullabye, or possibly even a Lutheran hymn (!). In any case, I have yet to hear of any rabbanim banning either song from your better yeshivishe affairs (or menorah lightings).

Oh, and let's not forget Kazatzke. Whenever a customer tells us not to add all those "goyishe" quotes to the holy Kazatzke (it's a Russian peasant dance, folks)...anyway, don't get me started.
PT, shepping nachas, forwards this link.

Jacob Laufer writes in response to Maoz Tzur - Nusach Nadverna:
The "Hashlishi" is not forced as the preceding phrase in practice is said "U-FISH-IY" although this raises a question as to why it is singular when the "CHATOAY" is plural.
Jordan Hirsch writes:
Monroe Power's horn section, Nachman Freund, Moshe Fried, and Yossie Farkas are all students of mine. This is part of a resurgence of interest in instrumental music I am witnessing in the Satmar community that I think bodes well for the future of live music in the Jewish community. I have been performing frequently in Williamsburg and Borough Park alongside one man bands, and have a number of new students in Kiryas Yoel.

The subject of live music year round was discussed extensively in an article by Rabbi Aharon Kahn in an early volume of the RJJ Journal.
I've noticed the resurgence of Chassidic instrumentalists too and agree with this assessment.

The Khan article is one of the sources I used when researching these topics.