Music and Justice

Our inaugural conference in February 2023, “Music and Justice: A Dialogue through Thought, Creativity and Music,” was paired with performances of musical works related to this topic. One work in particular, Dave Brubeck’s The Gates of Justice, was written in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a time of rising tensions between Jewish and African American communities. Speakers at the conference–which included three of Brubeck’s sons–explored a range of issues surrounding the history and shared experiences of Jews and Blacks in America and how music like The Gates of Justice can promulgate spiritual messages relevant to the civil rights movement in the 1960s in addition to contemporary social movements.

Cantors, Opera Singers, and Jewish Performance Culture

The Center also regularly holds academic conferences, such as the upcoming “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Synagogue: Cantors, Opera Singers, and Jewish Performance Culture,” which will take place in 2024. This conference, which began as a working group in Fall 2022 led by Dr. Daniela Smolov Levy, explores the boundaries between religious and secular life, and highlights the challenges American Jews face in maintaining cultural identity and connecting with diverse audiences in various media, such as opera, musical theater, and film. 

Journal of Synagogue Music

Through 2020 and 2021, our director Mark Kligman worked with Judah M. Cohen to revisit the topic of contemporary Jewish music, soliciting responses from a diverse set of experts working within this field to explore trends in the last twenty years of Jewish music. This project culminated in the publication of 17 essays in the September 2021 issue of the Journal of Synagogue Music, which together explore the ways in which Jewish music draws on tradition while simultaneously forging new directions; topics run the gamut of musical expression, from liturgical, popular, and art music to Klezmer and music from the Middle East and North Africa.

Oral History Project of American Jewish Music

Some of our programs utilize unique software to host and visualize information for researchers or anyone else with an interest in Jewish music and its history. The Oral History Project of American Jewish Music, for instance, comprises hundreds of audio and video interviews with key figures in Jewish music, such as cantors, composers, and performers. This database includes searchable transcripts and metadata for oral histories that were undertaken over the course of four decades, and we continue to add to it. 

Discography of American Jewish Music

The Database of Recorded Jewish Music (DRJM) is a project that began in 2019 with the aim of exploring how research methods and tools utilized by the digital humanities might complement the study of Jewish music–broadly conceived–in various fields, such as musicology, ethnomusicology, library science, and Jewish studies. We aim to apply various techniques, such as data visualization, network analysis, and textural analysis, to a comprehensive database of recorded Jewish music that includes over 130,000 recorded tracks compiled from five different archives. This data-oriented approach opens up new avenues for research and analysis that is broad in scope within a field typified by highly focused studies on individuals or small groups. Specifically, such an approach enables researchers to look at trends and patterns in Jewish music over long periods of time that could glimpse entire genres of music and historical periods, and that could reveal connections in unexpected places. 

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