Happy spring, everyone!
There’s lots to report here in the Sound Archives, but I’d like to focus on the exciting recent developments in the digitization and dissemination of the field recordings of the legendary Yiddish song zamler (collector), historian and performer Ruth Rubin – arguably the world’s largest and most invaluable collection of traditional Ashkenazic songs and singers.
Last summer, Bay Area Yiddish singer/accordionist Jeanette Lewicki spent a fruitful month interning in the Sound Archives, cataloging and transferring a large portion of the Rubin tapes to the digital domain. The Ruth Rubin database now contains 926 songs (an estimated 1/2 of the entire list), of which 357 (of an estimated 2,000) have been digitized – a great start. Heartfelt thanks go to Jeanette and to New York’s Center for Traditional Music and Dance for its financial support and ongoing encouragement towards the eventual completion of the project.
In the meantime, north of the border in Québec, a Canadian cultural activist and friend of YIVO has been raising funds locally (where she has dubbed the project The Lost Reels) through the auspices of the city’s Foundation for Yiddish Culture and the Jewish Public Library to help us continue our work in making Montréal native daughter Rubin’s materials widely available at last. A first Canadian fundraising effort was held last August:
Subsequently, a letter was sent out to the local constituency. In part, it read:
THE LOST REELS: RESURRECTING YIDDISH FOLK SONGS
Dear Lover of Yiddish and Music
I’m coming to you as a Yiddish-speaking music-loving technology-embracing journalist, because our Jewish heritage is being lost. Disintegrating at New York’s YIVO Institute for Jewish Research are 125 hours of undiscovered Ruth Rubin recordings. If we don’t take action, these songs will be lost to the world forever.
Ruth Rubin, born Rivka Rosenblatt in 1906 in Montréal, was a self-taught ethnomusicologist and Yiddish folklorist.
In the 1920s she married, moved to New York City and began her zamling. For decades Rubin travelled North America, gathering together lovers of Yiddish and song. Sticking a microphone in every potential troubadour’s hand, she would ask them to warble songs from their childhoods in Europe. Every melody was accompanied by an oral synopsis and the how the crooner came to know the tune.
Prior to her death in 1990 at age 93, Rubin donated her un-archived materials to YIVO. For over 20 years, the boxes containing hundreds of undiscovered songs have sat essentially untouched and unexplored.
Losing hundreds of voices and unique songs – to let them die, after Ruth Rubin so deliberately preserved them, would be a shande (shame). We simply can’t succeed without your help…
To further entice you, here is Mannie Bach introducing and performing the charming song Uha, ikhe libe dir, as recorded by Ruth Rubin in Montréal in 1955:
Our Montréaler has set up an easy way to support this project – all donations above $54 will receive a Canadian tax receipt. Please click below to get started:
We are setting up an account for U.S. donations as I write.
Stay tuned for more information on the Ruth Rubin preservation project and other goings on in the Sound Archives.