Strom, Yale

by Jean-Gabriel Davis

Born in 1957 in Detroit, USA, Yale (Yitskhok) Strom is an ethnologist, fiddler, composer, writer, photograph, teacher and filmmaker.

His parents, Yiddish speaking Jews with Lituanian, German, Ukrainian and Belarusian origins, raised him in the love of Jewish tradition. A cultural education (music, songs, traditional meals) and religious education (they went to the synagogue, held a kosher home...). But Yale’s parents were also progressists and impregnated with a political conscious, and sent him to a public school.

At the age of 8, having a good musical ear, Yale starts taking violin lessons, following one of his teachers’ advice. His parents played a little piano and his mother loved classical music. His father loved to sing hassidic nigunim he used to hear as a child. At the age of 12, Yale moves out of Detroit with his family and settles down to San Diego. Two years later, he leaves a little his violin, and prefers spending time with his friends. To remotivate him, his music teacher tells him of a youth orchestra giving auditions soon. Yale, who likes competition, starts exercising more seriously on his violin, in order to enter the orchestra. Very stressed on the day of the audition, he is sure to have failed. But two weeks later, a letter informs him that he is accepted in the orchestra. This will change his motivation about music. Playing with other young people, working for concerts, gives him back the taste of musical performance, and he will then work regurlarly on his instrument. He will stay in this orchestra for about 6 years.

At the university, Yale Strom studies American civilization, as well as wood handcraft. But he doesn’t feel he is a good handscraft. He then starts law studies, but won’t finish it either.

Aged 23-24, he wants to create his own klezmer band, but with an original repertoire. Of course, he can find tunes in the existing sheet music books, but this doesn’t interest him. He wants something new. He asks himself if there are unknown Jewish melodies in Eastern Europe.

After a little research, he gets the adress of a retirement home for Jews in Zagreb in ex-Yougoslavia (Croatia today). In 1981, he buys a one way ticket to Vienna, and there starts his first ethnographic expedition. From Vienna, he goes to Zagreb, and after walking 10 km, he arrives to the retirement home. He will spend ten days there, collecting stories and melodies from the residents.

In 1982, he creates his klezmer band, Hot Pstromi.

He leaves again in 1984 for a second expedition, still with this idea of collecting Jewish tunes with the corresponding stories. For over thirty years, he will do more than 70 trips and field research. On one of his expeditions, he discovers cantorial sheet music in an abandoned synagogue in Carei in Rumania. This music will inspire him to write pieces for a string quartet « In The Memory Of ... ».

In 1998, being already a recognized klezmer musician, he is asked to write a symphony for the 50th anniversary of the state of Israel. He is also the first klezmer musician to have played for the General Assembly of the United Nations.

His 15 published CD’s run the gamut of traditional klezmer to "new" Jewish music. Since the beginning, he has been composing his own New Jewish music, which combines klezmer with Khasidic nigunim, Roma, jazz, classical, Balkan and Sephardic motifs
Strom is one of the only top composers of Jewish music to carry on the tradition of writing original songs, with Yiddish lyrics, about humanitarian and social issues. He also played with world known musicians, such as Andy Statman, Alicia Svigals, Mark Dresser, Salman Ahmad ...

He is the author of 11 books (ethnographic, musicologic, photography books, children’s books, music methods and music scores). All speak of Jewish or Roma culture. The Book of Klezmer: The History, The Music, The Folklore, published in 2002, is a 400 page history with original photos and sheet music gathered by Strom during his many ethnographic trips to Central and Eastern Europe. In 2005 he publishes A Wandering Feast: A Journey through the Jewish Culture of Eastern Europe, which is part cookbook, part travelogue. He also wrote the first biography of the famous klezmer clarinet player Dave Tarras: The King of Klezmer, which includes rare photographies and music scores.

Finally, Yale Strom directed 9 award winning filmed documentaries, among which : The Last Klezmer: Leopold Kozlowski, His Life And Music (1994), Klezmer on Fish Street (2003) or A Man From Munkacs: Gypsy Klezmer (2005)

- Yiddish Book Center: Wexler Oral History Project
- Le site internet de Yale Strom

Browse Yale Strom’s collection in our archives

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