Canadian Journal for Traditional Music (1973)

Yivo Folksong Project: New York, Montreal, Toronto

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett


The National Endowment for the Humanities is currently funding a project sponsored by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City to study Yiddish folksongs: "East European Jewish Folksong Performance in Its Social Context: An Analysis of the Social Systematization of Folksong Performance." The purpose of the project is to analyze Yiddish folksong performance in its social context on the basis of field data never before gathered. This study will integrate folksong with the other components involved in its use (participants, settings, linguistic and musical codes, performance styles, norms of interaction and interpretation, standards of excellence, and other factors outlined by Dell Hymes, "Models of the Interaction of Language and Social Setting," Journal of Social Issues 23

(1967): 8-28).

Through direct observation of actual performances and in-depth interviews (10-20 hours for each informant), we will attempt to construct a model of the social systematization of Yiddish folksong performance which should approximate the way the participants themselves view it. This analysis should have implications for the study of expressive behavior cross-culturally, especially in multilingual societies.

The interviewing will be conducted in Montreal and Toronto as well as in New York City. We have already begun working with several Canadian informants Mariam Nirenberg (Toronto) and Solomon Ary (Montreal), to mention but two and have recorded -some interesting immigrant and emigrant folksongs. We are now nearing completion of the first stage of the project, the preparation of questionnaires, field guides, and check lists, and the processing of pilot interviews. We would be grateful for leads regarding informants in Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal as we are still in the process of making contacts.

Columbia University,

New York, New York