If you’ve long been hankering to gather around the piano with your family and sing classic songs of the American Yiddish theater, here’s your chance.
Surf over to http://dl.lib.brown.edu/sheetmusic/yiddish and you can download the lyrics and music to such classic hits as “A Greeting from the Hometown” from the 1905 musical The Jewish Yankee Doodle Dandy and “Oh, The Rabbi Will Punish Me!” from 1923’s Yankele. The newly arrived immigrants used the theater to deal with a surprisingly hefty range of subjects—everything from France’s Dreyfus Affair to the Triangle Shirt-waist factory fire that killed some 500 Jewish and Italian seamstresses in lower Manhattan.
Typically audiences received sheet music as a souvenir of their theater experience, says Rosemary Cullen ’82 AM, Brown’s senior scholarly resources librarian. Their covers feature pictures of such celebrities as Boris Thomashefsky and Molly Picon, two of the Yiddish theater’s greatest stars, as well as the occasional racy photo of a sheyne meydele in distress.
“I don’t know that any of these pieces are masterpieces,” says Cullen. “But who knows? Someday some scholar may come along and declare that one of them is.”
To date, some 200 of the library’s 1,700 pieces of Yiddish music have been posted online. Another 300 are expected over the next few years.