The Schmooze

How to Sing Like a Real Folk Singer

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here

Can you say with certainty that someone sings in an authentic Yiddish style? Fortunately, we have materials to help us figure it out — the records and CDs of folksingers, the recorded compilations from Ruth Rubin, Sofia Magid, Ben Stonehill and others; the recordings in the “Vernadsky Library” in Kiev, and the homemade family recordings that show up from time to time.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that you can’t speak only about one style, or even several. It all depends on the age of the singer, their birthplace and where they grew up.

Even in my family, two singers can sing in completely different styles. My grandmother Lifshe, from the small town Zvinyetshke, sang with a lamenting, sad voice, inviting listeners to sympathize with the suffering she expressed. My mother, from the larger city of Chernowitz, sang with less ornamentation but with a more secure feeling.

In the new recording from Brooklyn resident Herschel Melamed, “A Long Life In Yiddish,” you also hear a folksinger who sings in an authentic folk style. The CD includes 18 songs, and although the project was not undertaken as a commercial enterprise, it looks and sounds professional. In fact, two discs were produced with the same songs: one without musical accompaniment, and the second with the help of musicians Avi Fox-Rosen and Alec Spiegelman.

Herschel Melamed was born in Opalin, Poland and grew up in Luboml, where he worked in his brother Kalman’s shoe shop. At the beginning of the Second World War he became a soldier in the Polish Army and was later sent by the Soviets to a communal farm in the Ural Mountains, where he spent the war. His daughter Myra told me that he might have stayed there, but he learned that his younger brother Laizer had survived, so he left the communal farm and traveled westward to Chernowitz, where he married and where his daughter was born.

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How to Sing Like a Real Folk Singer

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