Sherry Mayrent 78 RPM Collection Donor

Uploaded by MediaPlusYou on 31.10.2011

>>I was first introduced to the idea of Yiddish 78 RPM recordings when I attended my first
Klezcamp in 1987. I went just knowing that I needed to play this music and not having
a clue how to go about it. And what I learned there that very first year was that we had
to look to these recordings which were made in the first half or the first third even
of the 20th century. Because unlike other oral traditions where people can go back to
an old country or really find the old masters at whose feet they can sit, we'd lost several
generations. We'd lost a generation or two to assimilation in the very early 20th century
and then we'd lost another generation, and what came after it in the holocaust. So, there
weren't people, so many, to learn from. And these recordings became the stand-ins for
those missing generations. And I wanted to hear everything. And the fact is, in my experience
over these past how many years it is now -30 years, 29 years. I've never met a 78 from
which I never learned something, even the horrible ones. And I had the idea back then
this kind of fantasy dream that I would love to start a non-profit, maybe call it the National
Yiddish Music Center or something. And get transfers, collect transfers of every extant
Yiddish recording. And then I thought to myself, I went so far to consult a lawyer about how
to do this and then it suddenly dawned on me: If I as an individual couldn't get access
to this material, what made me think anybody was going to let an entity get access to it.
So, I kind of put it on the back shelf. And then, fast forward 20 years, I was wandering
through eBay one day, and doing a search for what Yiddish material, there was and came
upon a listing for 100 Yiddish recordings -78s. They had been owned by a cantor who
had recently died, and these dealer was selling them for his son. And nobody was bidding on
it. And I thought well, that's terrible. I should get these and at least I knew I could
give them a good home or not that I would keep them, but I could get them to somewhere,
an archive or something. And I bid on it and I got them. And getting the boxes and opening
them up it was like all 8 days of Hanukkah. It was wonderful. There were all these exciting
things in there. And I must admit collector as I am, somewhere deep inside my DNA, I love
the artifact. I don't need to own it, but I love it. I love to handle it, I love to
look at it, I love the labels and everything else. So, it was very exciting to actually
have these.And so I purchased 200 plus recordings that Dick Spottswood had all in pristine shape,
mostly Klezmer. And all of a sudden I had the corpus of a collection. And I started
being very systematic in my reviews of eBay listings and looked for other online resources,
and found dealers who had -we call them paper auctions for lack of a better word, but they
notify you online. And what happened was I discovered not only was there a tremendous
amount of material available, but because of the Internet I was having access to material
that nobody had even heard off before. I mean, we knew there were European recordings, we
didn't know what they are because nobody has done a discography. But we knew at least they
were there. But had no idea for example that there was a huge body of recording from the
Soviet Union from the 1930s and 40s. Or that there was a huge body of material from South
America, which was in fact a hot bed of Yiddish culture after the war. And as far as I can
tell, I have a good proportion now of what's available there. And stuff from Israel, lots
of recordings from Europe. At these point I'm still finding things, but they tend to
be the rarest of the rare. Just today, I was looking through eBay before we got here and
there were four things that I hadn't come across before. And I put in bids on them.
So, it's an ongoing thing and I really believe that at these point I can come very close
to accumulating for these collection pretty much what's extant. And I have help now from
a lot of dealers with whom I have relationships, who will often offer me first crack at bid
collection. And it's been a wonderful project and I'm so delighted that I have the power,
because I have the possession of these things to bring them here where the library and I
can partner in making them available to anyone who wants to learn from them. We send the
records down to a wonderful engineer Chris King who's in Virginia. He's a Grammy winning
engineer, and has amazing ears. And has managed to decode all the information on each record
to figure out what the set up was of the engineers who actually did the information input lo
these many years ago. So, he picks his needles and he sets up, his studio looks a little
bit like a spaceship. And he's got all of these filters, tubes, and what not. And he's
able to bring out all of the sounds that are there to be found on the recordings. And the
result, are transfers that are both incredibly intelligible where you can make out the beginnings
and ends of words in most cases, where you can pick out the inner voices of a choir or
the background instruments in a Klezmer piece. And very quiet in a lot of cases. Without
a lot of people believe in major noise reduction, he doesn't really do that, but he works towards
intelligibility. And I asked him once, how do you manage to get these things being so
intelligible. And he said, A lot of the intelligibility is about the playback speed. There seems to
be these belief, it's sort of like the library equivalent of the Hippocratic oath "First
do no harm," seems to be that you're not suppose to make any kinds of adjustments to equalizations
or any of that stuff. And they call it a flat transfer because it means the engineer isn't
putting any subjective information into it. But the fact is, the time that we're talking
about there was no standardized set-up. So, if you put everything to a standard set up,
you basically are destroying information. So, we've gone the root of saying let's go
for intelligibility. And I have no regrets about that at all. I don't think anybody can
dispute the importance of access to these material because as I mentioned before these
are our teachers. These are our old masters. And in terms of learning style, and I'm just
not talking about instrumental style but vocal style, arrangement style, humor, they're spoken
word things in these collection. Everything about the language, the cadences of the language.
In fact when I was learning to play, I played the clarinet, and when I was learning myself,
I spent a lot of time listening to Yiddish theater recordings. And at that point I wasn't
even paying attention to the words. I just wanted to get the cadences in my ear. So,
style is one reason why people need access to these. The other is repertoire, I mean
there are dozens and hundreds of Klezmer bands now around the world. And they're all singing
you know, have singers with Yiddish songs. And people have a very limited repertoire
that they do. And it's not just because everybody only ever wants to hear Russian klezmer or
something, it's because people don't know the vast array of tunes that are available.
So, having access to these information would be incredibly important for singers wanting
repertoire to perform. The other aspect of that is, that we do have a lot of information
on these recordings on the labels and in discographic information about what operettas these songs
are from. And so, Yiddish theater scholars will now be able to kind of have a field day,
and say, realize which things went together, and which things came from which plays. And
actually being able to hear what some of them sounded like. So, those folks need access.
People studying the literature need access. So, with all these people needing access were
left in the position where the actual accessibility is in question because of the Byzantine Copyright
Laws. And in fact I've given testimony about the need for it on the recently when the copyright
office was collecting information about that, because I feel it really is important. And
as we mentioned to Ken Frazier when we brought the idea of putting the collection here I
said, "It's not good enough really for performers particularly to have only access to streaming,
because you can't bring your clarinet to the library and play along with it. And you can't
necessarily slow it down, and loop a part or something like that, that you might need
to know whether you're studying the instrumental style of the vocal style, or whether you're
actually trying to make out words. You need to be able to listen to something over, and
over, and over again. So, if these things are going to be truly useful to the students,
and performers, and researchers who we want to give access to, they need to be able to
download them and take them home. Well, we're not there yet. But one of the things that
I loved about partnering with the library here at University of Wisconsin, is that the
people here seemed to be very committed to pushing the envelope in terms of accessibility,
and hopefully we can work together to find some way where people can use these things
usefully. Ideally I would love to see it in the situation. I don't know what the actual
resources are here at the university. But to be able to have students to be able to
download these things so that they can take some form of it off on their iPods or other
MP3 players, or in their computers and run them through software that will slow them
down or enable them to loop, or whatever it is that they need to do to learn from them.
I think for researchers, the possibilities are just about endless. We've already come
up with projects that people can do. And I have a pretty extensive database already in
terms of being able to find material on that sort of thing. But we need people to listen
to the songs and classify them by keywords. So, people can do searches for things like
wedding songs, or labor songs, or something like that. Or people to listen to the cantorial
music and classify it by which service it's from, or which holiday. So that people who
are interested in studying that kind of topic can use the material more effectively. There's
obviously much, much that could be done in terms of research into specific authors, singers,
composers, performers. Especially if you think for some people we have quite a lot of what
is known to be their recorded works. I've already talked to people here in the Folklore
and Linguistics departments about the possibilities of some of the things like, there's a big
collection within the sub-collection of humor -dialectic humor recordings. And some of which
is mostly in Yiddish and some of which is mostly in English with Yiddish accents and
everything in between as a way of studying humor which I know people are interested in.
And in terms of linguistics, what these collection offers is the possibility of comparing both
the music and the song language of Yiddish here in the United States versus Europe before
people ever got here. And South America, in Israel where people went directly from Europe.
So, these were all styles that were pretty much untouched by the American bandstand the
way the American version of the music was. That could be very interesting for both linguists
and musicologists. I think the other thing that I hope if it's not too grandiose is that
these collection and what we do with it can be a model for other people doing ethno-musicology,
research, and other cultural activities in terms of linguistics in theater and language,
and all the other things that I've mentioned. I know that the library has other 78s from
the ethnic groups that were here in Wisconsin. And I've already talked to people about using
that and taking what we've done with these transfers. And finding donors of their own
who could support that kind of work here as well. And we really hope to be a model of
how these material can be used and all the interesting things that can be done with them
as we go on to the future.