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Journal of American Folklore 116.460 (2003) 234-235
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Fiddler on the Move: Exploring the Klezmer World. By Mark Slobin. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pp. 154, black-and-white photograph, indices, bibliography, discography, CD.)
Fiddler on the Move is "neither a chronology nor a comprehensive survey" of klezmer music, according to the dust jacket. Instead, Mark Slobin applies his recent theoretical and methodological projects onto klezmer phenomena. Slobin would probably argue (and I would concur) that the klezmer terrain, as in other heritage musics, deserves the multiplexed treatment he provides.
Even though Slobin gives us a view into the vast complexities between klezmer's virtual and actual sites for expression, his text is not long. In chapter 1, "Klezmer as a Heritage Music," he asserts that even a musical system that is not widely distributed must contend with other systems, some of which are not obviously connected to music production. He proposes common themes that heritage musics often link up with—"national," "exotic," "diasporic," "postdiasporic/rediapsoric," "traditional transnational"—describing them first in general terms and then specifically as they relate to klezmer. He concludes that although "klezmer overlaps many of the basic parameters of the transatlantic heritage music system," having diverse edges in its creators and audiences, its "core sustains its distinctiveness because Jews do." He then alludes to topics in the next chapters—how Jewish distinctiveness is "not just one recognizable cultural niche, but a whole set of complementary or even competing subniches" (p. 35).
In the next chapters, "Klezmer as an Urge" and "Klezmer as Community," Slobin relates klezmer practices to consumption and social organization. He characterizes klezmer as "subcommodified," in that while there are market considerations for klezmer producers, in the scheme of "world musical commodifiation" (p. 32) the exchange of money surrounding klezmer production is small. Perhaps this is one reason for Slobin's approach to klezmer consumption: to examine marketing strategies alongside its "musical magnetism" and "power of evocation." He informs these last two approaches through personal histories of klezmer musicians' involvement in this genre. Through his use of these histories, we see that the lines of consumption and production are crossed, and we get a sense of the diverse motivations that link individuals to this genre. Although Slobin's analysis is framed as specific to klezmer, his approach would also serve for understanding larger sites of commodification, where scholars are so often caught up in analyzing production and consumption as separate entities.
The next chapter continues to use musicians' histories to examine the various social environments that influence klezmer. Slobin employs two analytic frames, nomadic and sedentary, to describe the variation in how klezmer communities operate. He uses the nomadic frame as a metaphor for klezmer performance—the temporary communities that exist around certain bands of klezmer performers. Here Slobin shows how bands come from socially motivated contexts to perform for diverse sets of communities. The sedentary frame describes communities of audiences and performers that are more stationary (although just as diverse), such as the annual Klezcamp and bands that play within more localized, socially related settings in the United States. Slobin ends his survey of [End Page 234] klezmer community types with European examples, but this section, although valuable in providing more examples and issues in klezmer performance, lacks the clarity of the previous sections. So many issues, such as tourism, diaspora, authenticity, and diverse social networks, are at work in these examples that it is difficult for the reader to sift through.
The final chapter, "Klezmer Style as Statement," seems to be a bow to musicological and ethnomusicological interests. While this chapter will be very helpful for scholars looking for an accessible guide for analyzing the sounds themselves, it may leave other scholars behind. It is with this chapter that the CD corresponds. A possible source of confusion (at least with my CD copy) is a missing track for the fifth song listed in the book.
Overall, Slobin's metaphorical style and ease in writing soften the complex dialogue he creates between theoretical concerns and a diverse examination of...