Nachman Rosen, The Music of Yesteryear

Nachman Rosen

Nachman Rosen is an ‘old soul.’ Nachman’s piano accordion, as he accompanies Cantor Yanky Lemmer, is fluid, gentle and reassuring as it underscores the passion of the song. Although Nachman Rosen is a man of the twenty-first century, he declares that his heart lies with “the klezmer and Chassidic music of yesteryear.”

Klezmer is defined as music of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe and the Yiddish speaking Jewish immigrants who came to America. Compared with most other folk-music styles, little is known about the history of klezmer music, and much of what is said about it remains unclear. There is, however, a heavy influence of Romani music, since the Roma lived side by side with Jews in Europe. Instrumental klezmer music is based upon religious vocal music, in particular music sung by the ‘cantor’, the religious official of a synagogue who conducts and sings the liturgical portion of a service.(Wikipedia/Klezmer)

Chassidic music comes from the Jewish sect from Poland and Ukraine in which music plays an important part in their spiritual life. “Ideas expressed in the music of the Chassidic Jews are angelic harmonies, secret melodies, a disregard for art music, devotion to God, direct communication with God and inspired melodies and rhythms as music is spontaneously sung while participants revel in a state of ecstasy…from the meditative to the explosive.”(All Music/Chassidic music)

Nachman Rosen and Cantor Yanky Lemmer

Author Seth Rogovoy states that many of the songs, quite long and detailed, were memorized and passed down orally, for centuries. Also, he explains, “one can’t help but linger on….the role of the Eastern European cantor, or chazan. The chazan…had to satisfy the popular desire…for a music which should express the sentiments of the Jew, interpret his ideals, his wishes, and his hopes as a Jew, give tonal expression to his pains and sorrows, release him from the weight of his heavy burden as an oppressed and disfranchised human being, and interpret that glorious past from the Exodus from Egypt to the Fall of the Temple. The Jew demanded that the chazan, through his music, make him forget his actual life, and that he elevate him on the wings of his tunes into a fantastic paradisaical world…” (Rogovoy,”What is Jewish Music?”)

“By the late 1930s, the accordion was often used for chordal accompaniment (rather than as a solo instrument). It was an integral element of the popular Hasidic bands of the 1960s and the “klezmer ensembles” that embraced the new Israeli music as well as earlier “Palestinian” music. Although it was often deemed “an outsider,” for the revivalists of the 1980s and beyond, the accordion has been characteristic of the klezmer style.” (“The Klezmer Accordion, An Outsider Among Outsiders,” Joshua Horowitz, from “The Accordion in the Americas, Klezmer, Polka, Tango, Zydeco and More”/Helena Simonett)

Jewish influence is credited in many songs in The Great American Songbook, such as “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” Jews have been here from the earliest times of settlement (1585, Ganz) and Temples were formed in the early 1850’s in both Nashville and Memphis, TN and founded, elsewhere, even earlier. As their numbers increased, they brought the ancient songs and stories sung and told throughout their religious and daily lives as they made their way. Migrating to every corner of the Americas, folk songs were likely influenced by their music. Many familiar songs could be candidates such as songs that evolved to be known as “Man of Constant Sorrow,” “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” and “House of the Rising Sun,” for example. From the beautiful, heart felt cry in the Cantor’s voice, as he sings of experiences steeped with deep meaning, to the straight up, honest, lovely accordion accompaniment of Nachman Rosen, we hear something different, yet familiar. As it lives within all Americans, one hears a yearning for a place to call home. Klezmer may be hard to define but, as Seth Rogovoy contends, you know it when you hear it.