The Milken Archive of Jewish Music announces the release of a significant new project which provides new insights into the development of Jewish music during the pre-Independence and first century of post-Independence America. “The Song of Prayer in Colonial and 19th Century America” provides an opportunity to learn about the foundations of early American Jewish music through the music that accompanied the Jewish immigrants as well as the original compositions and melodies that emerged in America.
The Milken Archive has been documenting, preserving and disseminating music which relates to the American Jewish experience since 1990. The archive holds a large collection of American Jewish music including oral histories, video footage of performances and many of the archive’s own recordings. The goals of Lowell Milken founder of the Archive, include the research of American Jewish music, compilation of historical documentation and encouragement of academic research relating to the American Jewish music experience.
The Milken Archive’s new project, “The Song of Prayer in Colonial and 19th Century America” follows early Jewish immigrants who arrived in America during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Beginning with families who fled the turmoil caused by the Spanish Expulsion and following through to the development of America’s Reform Movement, the multimedia volume explores the musical traditions of America’s earliest Jewish settlers.
The first American Jewish immigrants arrived from Spain and Portugal, often by way of South and Central America. Their liturgies included tunes and melodies of the Western Sephardic traditions. During these years, Ashkanazi Jews who immigrated to America generally joined the existing Sephardic community and integrated into their institutions.
The volume also highlights the religious music which accompanied the 19th century wave of Jewish immigration. Many of these individuals were adherents of the new Reform movement and introduced new melodies sung in German, Hebrew and English. The first volume of “Song of Prayer in Colonial and 19th Century America” demonstrates how these Jews worshiped with music that was often arranged in the style of Protestant hymns or sung to tunes borrowed from classical compositions. These immigrants sought to create a distinctly Jewish-American liturgy and their music expresses the infusion of their heritage with their new life in America.