Jewish Religious Music in Nineteenth-century America
Restoring the Synagogue SoundtrackBook - 2019
In Jewish Religious Music in Nineteenth-Century America: Restoring the Synagogue Soundtrack, Judah M. Cohen demonstrates that Jews constructed a robust religious musical conversation in the United States during the mid- to late-19th century. While previous studies of American Jewish music history have looked to Europe as a source of innovation during this time, Cohen's careful analysis of primary archival sources tells a different story. Far from seeing a fallow musical landscape, Cohen finds that Central European Jews in the United States spearheaded a major revision of the sounds and traditions of synagogue music during this period of rapid liturgical change.
Focusing on the influences of both individuals and texts, Cohen demonstrates how American Jewish musicians sought to balance artistry and group singing, rather than "progressing" from solo chant to choir and organ. Congregations shifted between musical genres and practices during this period in response to such factors as finances, personnel, and communal cohesiveness. Cohen concludes that the "soundtrack" of 19th-century Jewish American music heavily shapes how we look at Jewish American music and life in the first part of the 21st-century, arguing that how we see, and especially hear, history plays a key role in our understanding of the contemporary world around us. Supplemented with an interactive website that includes the primary source materials, recordings of the music discussed, and a map that highlights the movement of key individuals, Cohen's research defines more clearly the sound of 19th-century American Jewry.
1. This book explores an under-researched era of American Jewish history through the lens of the music used in religious contexts from the 1840s to the early 1900s. Author Judah M. Cohen argues for a uniquely American experience in Jewish music and for the previously overlooked role of central European traditions in American Jewish music.
2. The project has a companion interactive website that is being created in partnership with IU Libraries. The website will host primary source materials including nineteenth century American synagogue music works and new original recordings of these scores. An interactive map will highlight the movement of Jewish musical figures from one American congregation/city to another between 1840 and 1908.
3. Cohen is an established scholar of Jewish music based at Indiana University and a returning author to Indiana University Press.