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Case Study of a Traditional Yiddish Folksinger:

A Working Paper and Field Report in Context

Toby Blum-Dobkin

I joined the Yiddish Folksong Project in 1973.  The project, under the direction of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, aimed to identify and interview traditional Yiddish folk singers and to document the role of music in East European Jewish life.  


I was fortunate to be acquainted with Yitzchak Milstein, a tailor living in Brooklyn New York, who had been born and raised in Shidlovtse (Szydlowiec) Poland.  My ten interviews with Mr. Milstein were conducted between February 27, 1973 and September 18, 1974, at the home of my parents, Frania and Boris Blum, in Brooklyn NY.


In 1973 and 1974, Dr. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett taught several seminars at Columbia University and YIVO.  These inspiring courses were instrumental in coalescing the scholarship behind the Yiddish Folksong Project and in shaping the team members' interviews.   Seminar members studied the methodologies of previous folklorists and ethnographers, developed interview goals and questionnaires and discussed the interviews as they progressed.  


I submitted a seminar paper, "Case Study of a Traditional Yiddish Folksinger" (1975),  based upon my interviews with Yitzchak Milstein.  The first portion of this paper is presented here in facsimile form, photocopied from my uncorrected initial typescript.   I also submitted a more complete version, which is about twice as long.


I would characterize the case study as a working paper and field report.  It represents an intermediate phase of the YIVO Folksong project, after the core interviews had been completed and transcribed, but before the many issues of translation, transliteration, typographical errors and variant spellings had been fully addressed.  


Utilizing available technologies, I had typed and photocopied my field notes, translated segments of the interviews, and then literally cut and pasted the photocopied and carbon copied segments, interspersing them with my commentary.  I also included several segments of the Yiddish transcriptions produced for the project by Bella Schaechter Gottesman


Recently, when I revisited the interviews in a panel at Yiddish New York (12/23/2019) and in commentary for "Yiddish Song of the Week" (ed. Itzik Gottesman 3/7/2020), I was struck again by Mr. Milstein's commitment to the memory of his home shtetl and its musical life, and by his description of his role not as that of a musical  expert or an interpreter of songs, but simply as "a libhober fun musik" - a person who loved songs and singing. 

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