By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, September 12, 2008

Nowdays, klezmer is a trendy form of Jewish music, a cornerstone of the Jewish culture revival. Its current popularity contrasts sharply with the image of the wandering musician of Eastern Europe eternalised in the classic Yiddish song, "Yidl Mitn Fidl" (Yidl With The Fiddle), which describes two wandering klezmorim, Yidl and Arye, travelling on a hay-wagon in rough weather and coming to the conclusion that "life is a joke!", "Dos lebn iz a shpas!"

In Yiddish, klezmer denotes the musician; however it derives from the Hebrew, kli zemer, which means musical instrument. Kli means a tool or vessel; zemer means music, praise or song as in zemirot, songs that are sung on Shabbat. Somehow, in Yiddish, the musician and the instrument became one.

Klezmorim took their music from liturgical tunes and used them for secular purposes. To this day, klezmer melodic modes are called by the prayers from which they derived. So for example, Ahava Rabba and Mishabrach are, to the klezmer musical terms and not the names of liturgical blessings.

The late 20th century saw a revival of klezmer, mainly in the United States. Musicians sought old, rare recordings of klezmorim of the past and copied and adapted their style.

Klezmer is the definitive soundtrack of the shtetl, and evokes misty-eyed nostalgia for that vanished world.

Last updated: 1:19pm, September 11 2008