Klezmer Music - The Basics:
Originally, the word "klezmer", from the yiddish language, meant simply "musician". However, it has come to characterize the style of secular music played by Ashkenazi Jews for joyful celebrations such as weddings.
What Does Klezmer Music Sound Like?:
Klezmer music is intended to replicate the human voice, including sounds of crying, wailing and laughing. It is generally the violin's job to do this imitation. Often, a klezmer band will include a fiddle, a bass or cello, a clarinet and a drum. Secondary instruments include hammered dulcimers and accordion.
Non-traditional Influences on Klezmer Music:
Klezmer music, though drawing on centuries-old Jewish traditions, also incorporates various sounds of music from European and international traditions, including Roma (gypsy) music, Eastern European folk music (particularly Russian music), French Cafe music and early jazz. In different regions of Eastern and Central Europe, klezmer developed slightly differently, leading to an exciting range of subgenres.
Dancing to Klezmer Music:
Klezmer music is made for dancing. Most dances which are intended to go along with klezmer music are set dances (much like the Anglo square or contra dances). Klezmer music also has many traditional waltzes and polkas, and in later years, many musicians picked up some tangoes and polkas, which remain in the repertoire.
Klezmer Music and the Holocaust:
Like most aspects of European Jewish culture, the Holocaust nearly decimated the tradition of klezmer music. Because klezmer, like most folk musics, is an aural tradition, when the older musicians died, the music died with them. A sparse few survivors, though, helped revitalize the music and musicologists have worked tirelessly to record their repertoires.