A stellar line-up of klezmer string players from around the world is resuscitating the ancient Jewish nign tradition, with a daily broadcast of traditional melodies dedicated to turning sorrow to joy.
Each nign (Jewish song without words) is taken from manuscripts dating back a hundred years and more, and will feature in a daily broadcast with the player online afterwards for live conversation (see below for names & broadcast dates).
Generally anonymous, nigunim are uniquely suited to our locked-down times: each is a tiny musical gem created by its long-forgotten composer to take you on a musical journey away from the sorrows of everyday life. The melodies are intended to be sung without harmony, by one person or many, at the table or to (self-) accompany dancing.
Moshe Beregovski. Photo courtesy of Dmitry Bayev
The melodies were assembled by Moshe Beregovski (1892-1961), a Soviet Jewish ethnomusicologist who dedicated his life to recording Jewish musical folklore and eventually fell foul of Stalin for his pains. Beregovski gathered more than 1000 field recordings of Jewish musicians spanning the years 1910-1950 and transcribed these tunes and more in five volumes entitled 'Jewish Musical Folklore'. The tunes for this project come from Vol. 4 – ‘Tish-Nigunim’ (table tunes).
The musicians are asking those who can afford to donate to support their online music-making, as all their live events have been cancelled. All proceeds from the appeal will go to the musicians participating in this project.
"The genre of Jewish textless songs was particularly developed with the advent of Hasidism (Hasid means pious), a religious-mystical movement that arose at the beginning of the 18th century and became widespread among Jews in Eastern Europe. It would be wrong, however, to attribute the emergence and development of songs without words exclusively to Hasidism since they, like tunes for the Sabbath hymns, were not only widespread in places and regions where Hasidism had almost no followers, but were also encountered among their ardent and active opponents (misnagdim)." Moshe Beregovski, Intro to 'Jewish Musical Folklore' Vol. 4, 'Tish Nigunim', 1946-1960
What do nigunim sound like?
Listen to a nign from Beregovski's collection, recorded in 1913 in Kovel, Volyn province by ethnomusicologist Zinoviy Kiselgof. It's a Freylekhs (happy tune) attributed to cantor Yosl Talner (1838-1919). The singers are Motl Shvarts and Pinkhas Paz, the Trisker Hasidim.
Watch men and women dancing & singing a nign together in rare archive footage from the early 1930s in Munkács:
Musicians participating in this project
Annette Siebert * Alexsei Rozov * Alex Koffman * Alicia Svigals * Alina Bauer * Amit Weisberger * Anna Lowenstein * Antti Korhola * Ariane Cohen-Adad * Beth Silver * Cookie Segelstein * Craig Judelman * Daniel Hoffman * David Brossier * Deborah Strauss * Eléonore Biezunski * Ernie Gruner * Francesca Ter-Berg * Gica Loening * Ilana Cravitz * Jake Shulman-Ment * Johannes Paul Gräßer * Lisa Gutkin * Mark Kovnatsky * Michael Alpert * Mitia Khramtsov * Monika Feil * Olga Baron * Sandra Layman * Semmy Stahlhammer * Steve Greenman * Vanessa Vromans * Yale Strom * Zoë Aqua
Australia * Belgium * Canada * England * Finland * France * Germany * Israel * Russia * Scotland * Sweden * USA
The Tish Nigunim and four other Beregovski volumes 'Jewish Musical Folklore' are available as pdfs on disc in Russian. There are also CDs from various ethnomusicological expeditions 1910-1945. Ordering information