Romaniote Jews

The Liturgical Music of the Romaniote Jews of Greece

My research at the EZJM critically engages the role of music in a wide variety of contexts, focusing on the intertaction of Jewish musics, past and present, with the musical and cultural production of the greater non-Jewish cultures in which Jewish musics are created, performed and marketed.  In this process, I continually address the  contentious and rather polyvalent term "Jewish music" and its applicability (or not) to the processes through which musical traditions develop and are considered to be Jewish either by practitioners or audiences. I am particularly interested in interactions between music and minority religious and social identities, and the many factors that play in shaping, motivating and mediating these relationships:  individual experience, the historial and cultural context of musical production, technology, the cultural heritage market and digital media.  My methodology synthesizes traditional ethnography (fieldwork) and musicology with current approaches from the fields of cultural studies and musical technology.

Part of a broader mandate of the urgent need for the preservation of traditional world musics that are in danger of disappearing, my current research on the liturgical music of the Romaniote Jews documents and critically analyses one of the many contemporary liturgical Jewish musical traditions that are at risk.  The Romaniote Jews have resided in Greece and its neighbouring regions for more than 2000 years, thus, their liturgy has ancient roots going back to the Eastern Roman Empire. My research draws on recent fieldwork conducted in Greece and New York with some of the last practitioners of this tradition. The analysis of the repertoire will consider how it can be considered the most recent musical incarnation of a long-enduring, geographically limited, orally-transmitted liturgical tradition that underwent many changes over the centuries. Specific attention will be paid to the recent revival of this repertoire, a process in which it is being reinterpreted to incorporate and express contemporary parameters of identity and belonging, in light of the influence of popular music and the role of technology plays in mediation, sustainability and dissemination.

My work highlights the challenges encountered by an ethnomusicological investigation of the long-standing musical traditions of a distinctive Greco-Jewish ethnic group that, historically, has been relegated to the periphery of Greco-Jewish society following the influx of Sephardi Jews in the 16th century, and about which very little music-related academic scholarship exists. Complex questions of history and identity must be posed in the process of the investigation, such as: can we even talk about the Romaniote and the Sephardic communities of Greece as separate social entities and/or ethnicities? Does Romaniote Judaism have its roots in ancient Jewish Hellenism and is there any continuity between them? Is there a Byzantine influence on the repertoire of the Romaniote musical tradition, past and present? How do we understand and present current manifestations of Romaniote music characterized by centuries-long oral transmission, but imbued with musical change such as popular music influences? Over and beyond the investigation of the disappearing Romaniote musical traditions, my work aims to develop new insights concerning the roots of “Western” civilization in light of the cultural legacy of a seldom-researched Jewish minority indigenous to Greece and the surrounding area. Part of this aim will be the development of a methodological and theoretical rubric for scholars in music studies that can be used to guide more a more methodologically rigorous critical examination of orally transmitted traditions that have historically been under-researched or that engage long-standing communities in which traditional forms of musical performance, religious and otherwise, are routinely practice.

 

Person to contact

Dr. Miranda L. Crowdus
Research Assistant
T. +49-(0)511-3100-7123
E-mail: Miranda L. Crowdus

Last modified: 2019-08-21

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