Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Chunky Chocolate Bars & Raisins and Almonds: Henry Sapoznik talks Yiddish Theater and Radio

Living on the North Coast (aka Michigan) has many perks. One of them is that between the University of Michigan and Michigan State we have a steady stream of exciting Jewish music related visitors. Yesterday Henry Sapoznik came to MSU to talk about Klezmer, Yiddish Radio and Theater, and give a Klezmer performance master class. I was only able to attend the Yiddish Radio and Theater lecture, but am so glad I did. Sapoznik is not only incredibly knowledgeable, but he is one of the people personally responsible for rescuing and chronicling a lot of Yiddish theatre and radio shows from being discarded or lost. He's also a fabulous story teller.

I don't think that last night's lecture was recorded, but here's a snippet of Sapoznik giving a similar lecture at last year's Paper Bridge Summer Arts Festival at the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA.

Hank Sapoznik on the Forward Hour

I had great intentions of taking notes through his lecture but a) got so caught up in his story telling that I forgot and b) realized that he's written a fabulous book on Klezmer and co-produced a 10 part radio show on Yiddish Theater. Reading and listening to those would be way better than my notes.

I do want to share one great story from the lecture. According to Sapoznik, one of the cellars that some unique Yiddish radio shows were rescued from belonged to the family that owned Chunky Chocolate Bars. It turned out that at the heyday of Yiddish radio, between the two world wars, the owner of Chunky Chocolate was a big supporter of Yiddish radio. He both advertised heavily on Yiddish programs and funded and recorded Yiddish theater to be performed on the air. Why? The answer (maybe) comes from the signature song of a Abraham Goldfaden opera that Sapoznik found on an aluminum master disc in his cellar. The theme song of this opera...Royzhinkes mit Mandlen (Raisins and Almonds). Sapoznik happily speculates that this man so loved Goldfaden and his song that he dedicated a candy company to producing chocolate bars that with ingredients drawn from an opera song, and then years later supporting revivals of opera the song came from. Royzhinkes mit Mandlen is a classic of the Yiddish theater and has been recorded so many times that it's often considered a folk song. In case you haven't heard it, here's a lovely presentation of it that includes the Yiddish and English lyrics.

Judy Albert singing Royzhinkes mit mandle

Hat tip to David Marc Klein of the Heartland Klezmorim for inviting me to the show, to the MSU Jewish Studies Program for hosting the lecture, and to YouTube user schnuffibossi for posting the Judy Albert video. Thanks folks.

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