Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Jewish Music From Bucovina

By Miamon Miller 

In December of ’09, Mel Bay published an online article I wrote regarding Romanian folk music from the region of Moldavia.  In that short piece, I said that

Those of you who play klezmer and other types of Jewish music may have taken special notice of this article’s title “Hora Mare”.   Moldavia was one of several Eastern European areas rich in klezmer tradition and it’s not surprising there are many words borrowed with identical or near-identical meanings.  For example, the Romanian ‘doina’ has a similar rubato and improvisational quality to its Jewish counterpart.”

The above paragraph is directly relevant because the selection for this article is another hora mare from the sub-region of Bucovina within Moldavia; but in this instance, it’s one with a distinctly Jewish character.  What gives this flavor of ‘Jewishness’ is a subject worthy of a discussion lengthier than can be presented here.  Suffice it to say, when I’ve played this piece for Romanians knowledgeable in music and dance traditions, they say ‘ah, this is a Jewish hora mare’ and when I play it for Jews steeped in shtetl folklore, they’ll say ‘it could be Romanian but it’s definitely Jewish.’

I learned this hora mare about 25 years ago from a Jewish clarinetist and accordionist who grew up near Bucovina.   He not only showed me the tune in the slower dance tempo of 3/8 (with rhythmic stress on beats 1 & 3), he also illustrated how the first two melodic phrases could segue and be transformed into a faster 2/4 version of the same dance.

It’s especially interesting that a melody played in one dance rhythm and time signature may be equally adaptable to others.  It’s a very practical way of extending repertoire in an inventive way while simultaneously satisfying the clients’ request (i.e., “musicians, play a slow hora and then a faster one”).

Since then, I’ve found developing this musical skill quite useful outside the Romanian/Jewish context.  For example, practically any 2/4 tune can be turned into a waltz albeit some are more amenable to this transformation than others.   Truthfully, you may never be called upon to turn the Beatles “Yesterday” into a waltz, but I was asked to do exactly that on a gig earlier this year.

With that, here’s the Jewish hora mare in both its 3/8 and 2/4 forms.

Miamon Miller


 In Romanian, ‘hora’ means ‘circle dance’ and ‘hora mare’ means ‘big circle dance.’
In Yiddish, ‘shtetl’ means a village or very small town.
The metronome markings are approximations.

I found a version of the 2/4 melody on Youtube:

About the author:
Violinist Miamon Miller has been a fixture in folk music for 40 years.  In the 1970s and early 80s he was a musician with, and later directed, the Aman Folk Ensemble.  During that period and subsequently, he has played with many other groups including Pitu Guli, Bucovina Klezmer, Fuge Imaginea, Trei Arcusi, Moondog Trio and the As Yet Quintet.  Whether playing with mariachi or klezmer bands, Middle Eastern music, or jazz, he approaches all styles with near-equal enthusiasm.
Miamon has a B.A. in music composition and an M.A. in ethnomusicology (both from UCLA). He studied Transylvanian folk music for a year in Romania on a Fulbright grant and has made many research trips to that country.

A native of Los Angeles, Miamon is also involved in mainstream music having recorded with Neil(s) Sedaka and Diamond as well as other well-known artists.  His compositions and arrangements have made it to Hollywood in projects as diverse as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Arabs in Detroit, Keeping Up With the Steins and Swimming in Auschwitz.

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