- Passport to Jewish Music. Its History, Traditions, and Culture, and: Modern Jews and Their Musical Agendas. Studies in Contemporary Jewry. An Annual. Volume IX
The study of Jewish music is in transition. Within the last two decades, the field has shifted from a conversation between insiders seeking to document and perpetuate Jewish musical traditions, to a concern with the manner in which Jewish music sheds light upon (and is in turn illuminated by) the different cultural arenas of which it is a part. During this same period, scholars of Jewish music have also moved aggressively to engage broader issues in musical scholarship. A small but diverse group of writers, ranging from scholars to practicing musicians, educators, and journalists, has through this transition continued to produce a literature ambitious in its goals but frequently uneven in its quality. The two contrasting publications reviewed here have emerged from an intellectual climate in which long-held values co-exist, and sometimes come into conflict, with rapidly changing scholarly paradigms.
Irene Heskes’s Passport to Jewish Music seeks to document, perpetuate, and memorialize Jewish musical tradition, proposing that “history belongs to those who leave behind a clear record” (p. ix). The volume brings together thirty-four chapters culled from the author’s writings of several decades, organized under ten rubrics ranging from “Documenting the Heritage,” “The Yiddish Musical World of Eastern Europe,” to “The Holocaust Era.” These overlapping rubrics don’t serve the reader particularly well since they separate closely related materials; for example, the single lengthy article in Part VII “America” (“Three Hundred Years of Jewish Music in America,” pp. 177–226) is set apart from several shorter essays on emigré and native-born American Jewish composers ranging from Schoenberg to Bernstein (subsumed within Part IX, “Composers and Compositions,” pp. 273–309), and from a salient section on cantorial practice in twentieth-century America (found within Part II, “Bible, Liturgy, and Cantorial Art,” pp. 62–66). There are redundancies within and between individual articles as well, many of which might have been reduced by closer editing.
Because their original publication venues ranged from scholarly [End Page 53] journals to organs of major Jewish organizations, the contents of the thirty-four essays differ sharply in length and style; they also range in content from the documentary to the strictly valedictory. Of greatest interest to this reader are sections that draw upon Heskes’s long-time personal association with many of the scholars and composers mentioned in several essays, such as information drawn from the personal papers of Cantor Gerson Ephros (pp. 18–20), and Heskes’s observations on little-discussed aspects of Jewish musical life, including the “Commissioning of Jewish Music” ( pp. 305–8). Her personal accounts of various conferences and festivals, for instance, “Musical Festivities in Israel” (pp. 259-56), provide valuable documentation of ephemeral events.
Given the diverse readers for whom these essays were originally intended and the lack of detailed musical discussion, the contents of this book may appeal to a general readership in a manner in which a strictly scholarly tome would not. However, caution is needed for those unfamiliar with current scholarship, which is not always represented critically in these pages. As just one example, Heskes’s defense of the late Eric Werner’s “sacred bridge” hypothesis in “Builders of Sacred Bridges: Scholars and Studies in Jewish Music” (pp. 23–34), is not persuasive, omitting a major reconsideration of Werner’s work by chant scholar Peter Jeffery, “Werner’s The Sacred Bridge, Volume 2: A Review Essay,” The Jewish Quarterly Review, Volume 77, No. 4 (April 1987): 283–98. In general, Heskes’s view of Jewish music is one that looks largely to the past, devoting its attention to liturgical music (“the first of all music” [p. 46]) and to great cantors and composers. The dynamic musical worlds of present-day Israel...