Polish Jewish Cabaret: a library of wonderful but forgotten Yiddish songs of the 1920s - 1930s. Have a listen!

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Lola Folman's "Der Kashtenboym" shows up, reimagined, at the Stonehill Jewish Song Collection

Ben Stonehill collected Yiddish songs at the Hotel MarseilleiseThe Stonehill Jewish Song Collection is a website created by Miriam Isaacs, Ph.D. - it currently features about 60 songs out of the more than one thousand recorded by Ben Stonehill in 1948 in the lobby of the Hotel Marseilles from singers who were Holocaust survivors living there temporarily. His many hours of tape were digitized by the Library of Congress's American Folklife Center.

Stonehill, born in 1906 in Poland, had lived in America a long time and was running a floor-servicing business when he decided on his own to help preserve the music of the European Jews. From the Holocaust Museum site:

Lacking recording equipment but determined to pursue his mission, Stonehill took a sales job at a local wire-recorder dealership, and emerged from the showroom with a salesman's demonstration model wire-recorder. Nearly every weekend that summer he hauled this machine by subway from his home in Queens to the Hotel Marseilles in order to record songs and stories from hundreds of survivors he encountered in the hotel lobby.

He'd sit in the lobby sticking his microphone in front of everybody, young and old, and said "sing something." What a treasure!

Isaacs writes about her work with the songs:
After working on the songs of the Stonehill collection for three years now, I have excavated only a fraction, a third at most. My reactions to the materials have shifted over time. My initial reaction, upon reading the list of the songs’ first lines, a list that Stonehill himself had made, was of a longing for home. That meant both the lost homes from before the war and a longing for new homes. I think of these songs as voices from a lost world, like Atlantis.

Naturally I was eager to start listening to the clips which Isaacs is putting up on soundcloud. I was particularly interested in the one she calls Di mame hot a teckterl (The mother had a daughter) because it is an odd variant of a song my band recorded on Cabaret Warsaw: Der kashtenboym. I asked Miriam if she thought this was a folksong Lola Folman had appropriated and re-written, or whether Stonehill's singer just remembered it oddly. Dr. Isaacs replied:
The singers back in 48 were singing from memory, without the luxury and perhaps hindrance of written text, so there was variation and adaptation indeed.

Please check out her version by clicking the link above, and then compare it to ours which I translated and discussed here: Der kashtenboym (The Chestnut Tree) by Lola Folman

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