SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Klezmer Music: Roots and Revival

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

This course aims to provide in-depth knowledge and understanding of the Jewish Klezmer music tradition, including its roots in the European Jewish diaspora during the Middle Ages; its development in Eastern Europe over several centuries; and its revival and transformation in the USA, Israel, Europe, and elsewhere, during the twentieth century. The course seeks to develop the student’s music analytical skills, critical thinking and understanding of wider issues in the study of world musics, including the concept of diaspora, the insider/outsider status of performers, and the transformation of functional performance traditions for the “world music” concert stage.


2 hours per week

Scope and syllabus

This specialist course is designed for Music students (or non-Music students who have a musical background) whether familiar with, or new to, this subject area. It is designed to complement and enhance the Department’s provision of courses on musics currently popular on the “world music” scene. It also reflects the well established place of Klezmer music among the performance activities of SOAS students, and will make use of the holdings of the Jewish Music Institute Library, housed at SOAS.

Focus will be placed on an analytical understanding of the musical structures and forms of traditional Klezmer music, and upon the exploration of issues of identity, migration, diaspora, and musical change.

Outline of lectures

  1. The Musical Heritage of the Jews: a survey
  2. The Early History of Klezmer in the context of Medieval Christian and Jewish Europe: Klezmorim (musicians) and Badchonim (jesters)
  3. (i) Yiddish Folk Music in the Shtetl (village) and Ghetto; (ii) the rise of Hassidic Song in the context of Traditional Eastern European Non-Jewish Genres (e.g. Roma music); (iii) Traditional Dance Forms
  4. (i) Aspects of Jewish Liturgy, Ritual and Worship; (ii) the “Golden” and “Modern” Ages (respectively before and after World War II) of the Ashkenazi  Hazzan (cantor).
  5. (i) The influence of Synagogue Chant on Klezmer Modality, Improvisation, Ornamentation, and Performance Practice; (ii) Klezmer and the Jewish Wedding Repertoire: Instrumentation, Harmony and Rhythm
  7. (i) The History of Klezmer in the USA; (ii) The Klezmer Revival in the USA in the 1980s, with special reference to the Klezmatics: session/workshop led by their current trumpeter and director Frank London (to be confirmed)
  8. Klezmer in the UK, with reference to Gregory Schechter Klezmer Band, Klezmer Swingers, London Klezmer Quartet, Merlin Shepherd Klezmer Trio, Oi-Va-Voi, She’Koyoch, Shir, Stewart Curtis’ K-Groove, etc.
  9. Klezmer on the European Continent and Israel, with special reference to the Austrian Band Budowitz: session led by their sometime clarinettist Merlin Shepherd
  10. “Insider/Outsider” and other social issues: session led by Dr Paul Tkachenko
  11. (i) Summary of the Course; (ii) Listening Test

It is intended that several visits to London venues featuring “live” Klezmer performances will be arranged during the term.

Method of assessment

One Listening Exam (worth 10%); One 1 500 words Coursework (worth 40%); One 2 500 words Coursework (worth 50%)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules