Date of Degree
American Popular Culture | Jewish Studies | Musicology | Yiddish Language and Literature
Rumshinsky, theater, Yiddish, music
“The Musical World of Joseph Rumshinsky’s Mamele” consists of a set of three cases studies that demonstrate the enormous need and potential for further Yiddish theater music scholarship. There exists little Yiddish theater scholarship that addresses music in any meaningful way: scholars like David Lifson, Nahma Sandrow, and Joel Berkowitz tend to view Yiddish theater’s rich musical traditions as a footnote in the larger history of Yiddish theater’s dramatic development. Yet Yiddish theater music developed independently from Yiddish drama, and therefore needs to be studied from a primarily musical perspective. I connect scholarship across the fields of Jewish studies and musicology in order to add depth and nuance to the existing, limited scholarship on Yiddish theater music. Drawing on primary source materials, including play scripts, music manuscripts, and commercially published Yiddish broadsides, I begin to contextualize Yiddish theater’s rich musical legacy on the Yiddish stage and silver screen. As a form of immigrant entertainment for Yiddish-speaking immigrants in New York, Yiddish theater shows integrated many diverse musical influences from the Old World and the New and served as a model for Yiddish-speaking immigrant audiences to renegotiate their identities to become modern Americans. Furthermore, Yiddish theater’s immediate spatial and temporal proximity to Tin Pan Alley, early Broadway, and other immigrant theaters in New York hints at the possibility of multiple musical and textual cross-influences. As such, popular theater and its music played an important, though largely unexplored, role in the process of Americanization. Studying Yiddish theater music, therefore, not only restores an important component that has long been missing from the history of Yiddish theater, it also connects this history to the larger world of New York’s music scene in the early decades of the twentieth century.
Geller, D. A., "The Musical World of Joseph Rumshinsky’s Mamele" (2019). CUNY Academic Works.