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New Discovery: Yiddish Tango

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 10.47.21 PMThose who know me are aware that I have a show of Yiddish songs I learned growing up, which of course, I love and perform when and wherever I can. I stumbled across the Yiddish tango quite by accident, and wanted to share my delight.

Ultimately, you could argue that this is either Yiddish music being played with a tango beat, or else tangos being played by klezmer instruments. And you’d be more-or-less right. But it’s actually much more than that, and has a long and intricate history, some of it ugly, some shining.

We can start with the tango developing out of other dance forms in Buenos Aires in the early 1900s. Most of this was occurring at the brothels and such on the waterfront, attended by the less savory portion of the population. Originally, the dance was designed to portray a prostitute and her pimp, and so was not danced in polite company. But as time went on, the music became less raucous, and though the dance remained more or less the same, it became more acceptable as a result. This video was apparently made at a tango contest in the 1900, and the tango had already gained enough popularity to be competitive.

Just so you know, I make no claims upon the videos that follow, or the music in them.

TANGO (Old film from 1900)

I mostly included this next video because, even though it’s a computer simulation, it shows the setting most of the participants would be in for an evening of tango.

TANGO – Computer simulation of dance with 1920s tango

Over the years, the tango music began to acquire lyrics, resulting in singers achieving stardom and increasing the popularity of the music.

At the same time as this was developing, there was a heavy influx of immigrants from mid and eastern-Europe. A large proportion of the newcomers were Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Slavic Jews, who were seeking escape from the pogroms and other persecutions in the area.  Part of that population ended up in the United States, but many went to South America, and particularly to Argentina, which was calling for laborers at the time (large areas of land to be developed now that the native population had been slaughtered). The immigrants gravitated to the dancing and good times as a way of easing their distress at being uprooted and displaced into a new and foreign setting.

So, into this musical environment came the influx of Jews from Eastern Europe, invited by the Argentinian government to work the land.  Between 1910 and 1940, 250,000 Jews entered Argentina, making Buenos Aires the largest Jewish community after New York. In much the same way as the Jewish cultural heritage made its way into the general culture in New York, so it also did in Buenos Aires. Jewish musicians began to become prominent in the world of tango as performers, composers and lyricists.

And as the Yiddish Theater, which thrived in New York and Buenos Aires, continued on into the 30s and 40s, songwriters from the theater began to write tangos, both for theater pieces and as stand-alone songs, suitable for dancing. One of the most popular players from Yiddish theater was Molly Picon, who was Yenta in the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof. She  wrote the lyrics for a lovely song called Oygn, set to a tango beat (also known as “milonga” with accents as follows 1-2-3-4-56-78)

Yiddish Tango – Friling

JACOB SANDLER Git mir ob main hartz tzurik

The tango became more and more popular, and it made its way back to Europe, in the tracks of American blues and Jazz (and later, rock and roll.) Soon you could find Yiddish-speaking musicians writing tangos for their own performances, especially in Eastern Europe, where there was still a strong Yiddish culture.

Old Polish tango in Polish and Hebrew: Graj skrzypku, graj!

By the time of World War II, Tango was the rage in Europe, in city and ghetto. But as the Nazis came to power, and began absorbing their neighbors, life became untenable for the Jewish population in general. Those musicians who did not escape, and ended up in the concentration camps, found themselves enlisted in Lagernkapellen orchestras by the Nazis.  They were required to play tango, in preference to jazz. This was because the Nazis saw jazz as more likely, and tango as less likely to inspire rebellion. And they were required to play tangos,  in particular the Tango of Death, as accompaniment to mass executions.

Jewish Music from Holocaust – Yiddish Tango

An example of El Tango de la Muerte:

El Tango de la Muerte

In the U.S., the Yiddish Theater continued to thrive, and tango was often the vehicle for the songs.  The Barry Sisters recorded this one:

Ikh hob dikh tsi fil lib

And today, in Buenos Aires, Yiddish tango is alive and well, in the form of the Yiddish Tango Club, founded by Gustavo Bulgach. Have a listen. You won’t be sorry:

Librescu Tango – Gustavo Bulgach KLEZMER JUICE

And if you’d like to hear a sampling of my Yiddish show, go here:

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Great Books for Artists (of Any Kind) Pt. 4

Over the years, I’ve found a number of books that got me motivated, thrust me into action, or helped me resolve some of the many stumbling blocks artists are prone to.  I discovered them mostly in random fashion, or they were recommended by a friend, or mentioned in something else I was reading. Here is an aggregated list (about 5 at a time, so you’ll have time to investigate them) of all the ones I found useful, and usually entertaining. (Disclaimer: I am not financially involved in any of these. Just appreciative.)

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 12.57.11 AMJohn Braheny’s The Craft and Business of Songwriting is a comprehensive and eloquent instruction book for those who dream of a career in songwriting. In it are answers, fuel, anecdotes, exercises, and examples from talented and well-known songwriters. This is not a book to sit and read and finish, but rather a reference book that you will want to keep handy.

Much of the information is culled from John’s years of experience, the workshops he presented and from those he interviewed who became his fans and his friends. He has passed on, but his wife, JoAnn is still working on their common legacy and is very active in the community.

John’s book goes all the way from defining creativity and developing a good song, to marketing and making money from your music. An invaluable book to have in one’s collection.

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 1.13.55 AMThe plain, unadulterated fun of making art in any form is often overlooked in the serious discussions of making “good” art.  These two workbooks are about that fun aspect, and they are so appropriately named, I just love using them. Both Songwriter’s Playground, by Barbara Jordan , and Songwriters Coloring Book, by Bill Pere, seem to capture that quality of fun that is what keeps us all addicted to creating art.

 

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 1.12.57 AMBoth contain exercises, scenarios, challenges and the like, all very entertaining and absorbing, and …. well …. fun!

 

 

 

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 9.38.21 PMAnd finally, a book just about creativity. Once again, an all-around explanation, defining the term, and how to develop it (We all have it!) How to ignore your inner critic.  What drew me to this one was the title: A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative.  It’s actually about using creativity in business, but applies to the artistic endeavor as well, of course. The author, Roger von Oech, Ph.D. wrote another one called A Kick in the Seat of the Pants.  Clearly this man understands the impact of a new idea!

 

If you would like to investigate how this played out in my own songwriting, please check out my music at http://janseidesmusic.com and I’ll send you some examples for free!

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Great Books for Artists (of any kind) Pt. 3

Over the years, I’ve found a number of books that got me motivated, thrust me into action, or helped me resolve some of the many stumbling blocks artists are prone to.  I discovered them mostly in random fashion, or they were recommended by a friend, or mentioned in something else I was reading. Here is an aggregated list (about 5 at a time, so you’ll have time to investigate them) of all the ones I found useful, and usually entertaining. (Disclaimer: I am not financially involved in any of these. Just appreciative.)

Screen shot 2014-02-12 at 11.07.27 PMSheila Davis has long been a respected writer and teacher of songwriting skills. The Craft of Lyric Writing is in use on the University level, and has been required reading for years. In it, she analyzes the lyrics of skilled professionals like Don Henley, Jimmy Webb, Stephen Sondheim and many others.

 

 

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 1.11.01 AMSuccessful Lyric Writing is an intensive workbook based on the principals of songwriting that Davis set forth in the former. It takes awhile to get through it, and is one of those workbooks you go back to periodically, but it’s totally worth the time and effort.

 

 

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 1.11.58 AMThe Songwriters Idea Book is subtitled 40 strategies to excite your imagination and help you design distinctive songs, and keep your creative flow.  It will help you break new ground in your songwriting, by revealing the relationship between language personality and the brain.

According to the publisher, the book covers territory like: using whole brain technique, stimulating the creative process, designing metaphors, and other poetic skills and learning to prevent writer’s block by increasing productivity.

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 1.16.23 AMWriting Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, though ostensibly about writing prose, is one of those books that is helpful to the creativity and imaginative play that produces everything we think of as art. As the blurb says, “Natalie Goldberg takes the practice of writing into the domain of the soul.”

The contents include exercises  and advice for circumventing writer’s block, finding ones own style, being compassionate toward one’s work. . Many of the chapters take the form of a personal journal of her life as she writes this book, and the reader begins to realize that every writer, even the ones that make it look easy and effortless — or maybe especially those — struggle with those issues with which we are all familiar. How to keep going, and keep writing, despite the adversity that is part of really living. Some of the most heart-breaking chapters deals with the illness and death of her favorite teacher. Even if one hasn’t lost someone important, reading about her loss, told her way, was a special and endearing experience. This is a writer who pulls no punches, and her books (she also wrote Wild Mind, which is a similar exploration) teach by example.

If you would like to investigate how this played out in my own songwriting, please check out my music at http://janseidesmusic.com and I’ll send you some examples for free!

 

 

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Great Books for Artists (of any kind) Pt. 2

Over the years, I’ve found a number of books that got me motivated, thrust me into action, or helped me resolve some of the many stumbling blocks artists are prone to.  I discovered them mostly in random fashion, or they were recommended by a friend, or mentioned in something else I was reading. Here is an aggregated list (about 5 at a time, so you’ll have time to investigate them) of all the ones I found useful, and usually entertaining. (Disclaimer: I am not financially involved in any of these. Just appreciative.)

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 1.28.54 AMThe Inner Game of Music, by Barry Green, was part of a popular string of books by W. Timothy Gallway and others, that I believe began with The Inner Game of Tennis.  They all describe the same phenomenon, but apply it to different activities, among them golf, music, work, stress and more.  More than anything else, they describe ways to let go of, or trick yourself into ignoring, your inner critic, and letting your natural abilities take over.

I found this advice immensely useful, not only for playing; the author was attempting to learn to play jazz on piano, but for writing as well. One of my favorite descriptions in this book was where he was playing, finally, in the way he’d been trying to learn and he’d beaten his inner critic. And the little critical voice said, “Well, that was great! How long can you keep it up?” “Forever” was not the answer, as it turned out.

I have had that experience myself.

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 1.05.44 AMPaul Zollo’s book, Songwriters on Songwriting, is an engaging and brilliant collection of interviews with various songwriters. It is also a description of how each writer works, as told by the writers themselves, and as such is full of advice for songwriters, both new and experienced.

Pretty much every songwriter I’ve ever admired has a chapter in this book, and Zollo is very good at asking the questions that enable to tell their own stories.  Among the many writers: Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, David Byrne, Tom Petty, Burt Bacharach, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, Randy Newman (who tells a story about Jimi Hendrix that will REALLY surprise you!), Brian Wilson and many, many more.

Plan to savor this one very slowly. Lots of meat on these bones.

 

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 1.15.44 AMWhat if? by Anna Bernays and Pamela Painter is exactly what it sounds like, a series of scenarios for fiction writers to play with. They themselves call them “writing exercises”, but here’s an example: Name the following characters. 1) a petty white-collar thief, 2) an envious, bitter woman, 3) a sweet, shy young man, 4) a grandmother who just won the lottery.

Can you imagine anything more fun?

 

 

 

 

Part 3 will be devoted not only to one of my favorite teachers of songwriting creativity, but to some of the more playful of the workbooks for songwriters .

If you would like to investigate how this played out in my own songwriting, please check out my music at http://janseidesmusic.com and I’ll send you some examples for free!

 

 

 

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Great Books for Artists (of any kind) Pt. 1

Over the years, I’ve found a number of books that got me motivated, thrust me into action, or helped me resolve some of the many stumbling blocks artists are prone to.  I discovered them mostly in random fashion, or they were recommended by a friend, or mentioned in something else I was reading. Here is an aggregated list (about 5 at a time, so you’ll have time to investigate them) of all the ones I found useful, and usually entertaining. (Disclaimer: I am not financially involved in any of these. Just appreciative.)

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 12.53.22 AMFirst and foremost, the Artists Way by Julie Cameron. With weekly exercises and challenges, good advice and moments of relaxation and enjoyment while one’s artist absorbs energy.  You can do the suggestions in this book multiple times and it will help you in a different way each time.

My favorite quote from it: “OK, Universe. I’ll take care of quantity, and you take care of quality.”

Indeed.

 

 

 

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 12.55.52 AMI have met Pat Pattison in person, and taken many songwriting workshops from him, including one online course (at Coursera.org).  He is a professor of poetry and songwriting at Berklee School of Music in Boston. He is so knowledgeable about what goes into a good song, how to set lyrics so that they “follow the natural contour of the language”, and lots of other aspects of songwriting.

John Mayer was one of his students, so that should give you some idea of the level of quality we’re talking about here.

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 12.56.13 AMAnd he never stops exploring the ways in which a good song becomes a great song. Every time I encounter him, or one of his books, I learn something new and my songs become noticeably better.

 

 

 

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 12.54.04 AMOf all the aspects of making art that prevent creativity, fear is probably the most prevalent and least understood, since we are all so good at putting a good face on it.  This book not only explains why that happens, and what it looks like, it offers suggestions on how to overcome that fear and get busy making your art. The authors are David Bayles and Ted Orland. To quote their introduction: “It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance”

And that’s just the introduction!

 

 

 

and finally (for today):

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 2.28.31 PMWhile this book is Jimmy Webb’s personal sojourn through some of his most brilliant songs, it is also practically an instruction book on songwriting. I have read it more than once, loaned it to friends (and gotten it back!!!), and thoroughly enjoyed his retelling of his circumstances, trials and triumphs. And who would know better how to write a great song?

 

 

 

 

 

If you would like to investigate how this played out in my own songwriting, please check out my music at http://janseidesmusic.com and I’ll send you some examples for free!