Scholarship

Jeremiah Lockwood is a scholar and musician, working in the fields of Jewish studies, performance studies and ethnomusicology. His work embraces archival and ethnographic research methods to explore 19th, 20thand 21stcentury Jewish liturgical music as a locus for understanding lived experience in contexts of political and social change. Jeremiah's career as scholar and musician engages with issues arising from peering into the archive and imagining the power of “lost” forms of expression to articulate keenly felt needs in the present. He successfully defended his dissertation in the Stanford University Graduate School of Education Concentration in Education and Jewish Studies in 2021, and is currently a 2022-23 Fellow at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.

In the 2021-22 academic year, Jeremiah was a Research Fellow at the UCLA Milken Center for Jewish American life. As part of this fellowship, he wrote a 30-part blog series offering snapshots of his archival and ethnographic research. CLICK HERE TO EXPLORE THE BLOG. Jeremiah is the Lead Researcher for the Cantorial and Synagogue Music Archive (CSMA), an ongoing project of the Cantors Assembly Foundation. In this role, he works with elder cantors to preserve, digitize and disseminate their personal collections of unique 19thand 20thcentury cantorial musical scores. The archive that is being built is currently available online even as it continues to grow. CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE CSMA ARCHIVE.

Download Jeremiah's Resume:

Jeremiah_Lockwood_CV2022-23.pdf

Jeremiah was the 2019-20 recipient of the YIVO Kremen Memorial Fellowship in East European Arts, Music and Theater, the 2020 AJS Women's Caucus innovative scholarship award and the 2021 Salo Baron New Voices in Jewish Studies Award. His writing has been published in Religion and American Culture, Studies in American Jewish Literature, Germanica, and In geveb, as well as in popular publications such as Tablet and the Forward.

Jeremiah’s thesis and current book project, Golden Ages: Chassidic singers and cantorial revival in the digital era, argues that a cadre of young Chassidic singers who have embraced a style of early 20thcentury recorded sacred music illustrates the contested nature of prayer practices in the post-World War Two Jewish American community. The dissertation suggests that contemporary Chassidic cantors are not only reviving a style of music but are also engaged in a revival of a form of comportment in prayer that foregrounds the role of aesthetics in sacred experience. Jeremiah’s dissertation has already generated a new archival project that is currently in development. Jeremiah is in the initial stage of researching and writing a cultural history of Jewish sacred records and recording artists of the early 20thcentury, accessing Yiddish primary documents from newspaper and archival holdings. His findings suggest that “golden age” recorded cantorial music offered power to artists on the perceived fringes of religious social norms to wield aesthetic and spiritual authority in the context of ritual performance.

Jeremiah's first book is currently in peer review at UC Press. An album of music that he produced featuring cantors who participated in his research was recently released in collaboration with the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO GOLDEN AGES.

Research Projects

Golden Ages

Golden Ages relates the engaging stories of a group of non-conformist musicians in the New York Chassidic community. Cantorial revivalists are singers who have immersed themselves in the archive of early 20th century commercial Jewish liturgical records, approaching them as a source to build performance identities and musical style. The work of cantorial revivalists is a product of the digital era, shaped both by access to internet-based archival sources and social media platforms for self-promotion. More frequently heard online, in private parties and in concert venues than in synagogues, the work of cantorial revival pushes at normative associations with Jewish prayer, blurring the line between ritual and art.

I suggest that contemporary Chassidic cantors are not only reviving a style of music but are also engaged in a revival of a form of comportment in prayer that foregrounds the role of cantor as arbiter of sacred experience. For cantorial revivalists to achieve their musical goals they must interpolate audiences into an embodied emotional response to the musical cues of the prayer leader. Producing this kind of sacred music community, centered on the experience of listening to the archive, is a utopian aspiration that has not been realized by the revivalists, and perhaps cannot be achieved in the cultural climate of the American synagogue. This has not dissuaded singers from investing time and resources into self-cultivation of a musical practice with no clear home in the current moment.

Golden Ages: Brooklyn Chassidic Cantorial Revival Today, an album produced by Jeremiah Lockwood featuring some of the brightest voices in the Brooklyn cantorial scene, was recently released. 

A concert version of the music from the album, featuring Yanky Lemmer, Yoel Kohn and Shimmy Miller, accompanied by and featuring new string quartet arrangements by Lockwood, debuted at the 2022 Krakow Jewish Culture Festival.

!31st JCF | Cantors’ Concert: Golden Ages – Hasidic Revival of Cantorial Music in Brooklyn from Eventstream on Vimeo.

Drawing on discourses of sound studies and the study of lived religion to historicize listening and contextualize ritual in social experience, Golden Ages delves into the subculture of cantorial revivalists to tell a story about the role of the archive in creative endeavors. This story is given shape by the changes in meaning that have accrued to Jewish worship music over the course of the 20th century. In part because of its absence from the contemporary synagogue, gramophone era Jewish sacred music has taken on a special significance as an object of aesthetic desire and fascination among a cohort of artists and cognoscenti. Ironically, in a communal context preoccupied with continuity, drawing on sounds of the past pushes artists to the sonic margins of Jewish American life, Orthodox or otherwise. In this book, I explore how revivalists have appropriated gramophone era cantorial music to serve as both a form of artistry and a ritual practice that runs against the grain of the norms of American Jewish religious life.

For performers such as Yanky Lemmer and Yoel Kohn, two of the singers I write about, the archive of old Jewish records provides the substance of an art practice that is both a means of aesthetic self-cultivation, and a form of countercultural non-conformity. These artists straddle worlds—Chassidic and secular, art communities and prayer communities—in their attempts to find a home for their work. Cantorial revival pushes at the limits of self-expression in the ultra-Orthodoxy community on the one hand, and the musical norms of the American synagogue on the other. Mastery of the sounds of old records does not lead revivalists in the direction of a structured career path or a communally stable identity. Instead of finding a home in the synagogue, the expected site of cantorial performance, revivalists harness the norms of musical performance in secular venues to make room for their concept of ritual music aesthetics. Cantorial revival gives voice to a critique of the norms of American Jewish ritual life, seeking to revive both a style of music and a form of sacred listening community that are defined as much by aesthetics as by religious orthodoxies.

Cantorial revivalists do not have an established home in any contemporary Jewish institutions where they can pursue their sacred music concept. Classic styles of cantorial music are not part of ritual practice in the Chassidic community, nor in most Modern Orthodox synagogues where the most successful Chassidic cantors are able to find employment. After attaining fluency in the sounds of early 20th century recording star cantors, Chassidic cantorial revivalists must learn other forms of Jewish liturgical music in order to hold employment. Instead of a linear narrative arc, the episodic quality of cantorial revivalist education involves a series of displacements of knowledge: Chassidic singers intentionally displace the ritual music of their birth community with a vocabulary derived from the archive of cantorial records, but then in the context of employment they must embrace localized prayer music practices instead of performing in their “target” area of expertise as interpreters of music learned from old records. American synagogues, including Orthodox institutions, have rejected the cantorial presentational style of prayer leading in favor of a participatory folk-pop liturgy that employs a framework of group singing of metered melodies. The classic cantorial style, as understood by revivalists, is an aestheticized version of Jewish prayer leading in which cantors function both as ritual leaders and as artists. Given its formal qualities as presentational music, stressing the division between performer and audience, cantorial revivalists frequently present their work in secular music making venues, such as concert halls or internet videos. “Out of context” presentations of sacred music allow cantorial revivalists to harness the associations of music venues with presentational performance to frame ritual music as a listening genre and for music audiences to be drafted into a sacred listening experience.

The research for Golden Ages also produced an album of music by some of the artists chronicled in the book. The album is scheduled to be released in the Spring of 2022, in coordination with the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival, the largest Jewish music festival in the world.

Melody Like a Confession

My proposed research project, Melody Like a Confession, will focus on the generation of transnational artists who created the archive of “golden age” cantorial records, exploring the ways in which media served as a force of cultural transformation across diasporic locations. I have already begun research on this project as a research fellow at YIVO in 2019 and have since sharpened my research agenda, focusing on the cultural history of contentious discourse surrounding cantorial performance, the construction of Jewish vocal identity and the role of individuals with non-conforming identities as ritual leaders. I have already presented some of my initial findings in talks at scholarly meetings and public forums.

The classic period of cantorial recording (1901-c.1950) was characterized by intense controversy, with critics framing records as a corruption of tradition. The anti-gramophone polemics of Cantor Pinchas Minkovsky (1859-1924) of Odessa, perhaps the best-known cantor of his day, were a touchstone for this debate. An influential book he published in 1910 revels in extravagant detail of the wickedness of cantorial records; Minkovsky imagines a carnival located in the exotic American locale of Texas in which automaton cantors sing in a hall of wax figures in an atmosphere of licentiousness and excess. Minkovsky was a leading practitioner in a style of cantorial music that drew on the aesthetics of European Christian choral music as means towards achieving aesthetic cultivation and social mobility for Eastern European Jews. The chorale style of cantors in elite synagogues in Europe had a diminished audience among immigrant Jews in the United States and was succeeded by a style of cantorial performance that was imagined as offering a representation of older, folkloric forms of prayer leading. The “authentic” sound of recordings star cantors in America was framed in opposition to the older sound of elite cantors in “old world” Europe.

In contrast to their critics who castigated their morals, recording cantors invoked the spiritual elevation and ethnic solidarity their records provided, extolling the virtues of their art as preserving the “the soul of the people.” Thousands of records were made by cantors and consumed by a robust record buying public for whom cantorial connoisseurship was an important part of public conversations about music and aesthetics. Cantorial records, and the print media journalism and advertising that supported their distribution, provided the listening public with what Erving Goffman called “frames” for conceptualizing the terms of Jewish sonic life. Recorded media allowed consumers to integrate the experience of prayer and the intimacy of synagogue practice with a public identity as knowledgeable experts in a domain of aesthetics and popular culture. In an echo of Walter Benjamin’s discussion of the utopian potentials of mass mediated art forms to liberate aesthetics from the monopolization of the elite, cantors articulated a vision for their work as part of a proletariat identity and valorized their artistry as preservationist of a culturally intimate folk experience.

The cantorial scene in America was characterized by an exuberant heterogeneity, that was facilitated by the embrace of new technologies, such as radio, Yiddish theater and recordings. Echoing the life ways of their American Jewish listening public, some star cantors were notorious for their non-adherence to normative religious observance and for their involvement in secular pop-culture, as stars of theater, opera, or vaudeville. In this same period, women performers of cantorial music made important contributions to Jewish recorded music, pushing at the limit of gender segregation in sacred music. Although traditional interpretation of religious law rejects the participation of the female voice in Jewish ritual, women performers of sacred music were able to find an outlet as cantors on radio, record and stage, forms of participation in Jewish ritual culture that were facilitated by technological media innovations.

Cantorial records resounded in the life of the immigrant community as both commercial commodity and a form of imagined ethnography. I seek clues in the history of these popular media objects to parse a moment in the history of American Jews as a newly emerging cultural category. Rather than simply regressing listeners into identities as consumers, as Theodor Adorno suggests in his writings on phonograph culture, cantorial records offered Jewish listeners a set of intelligible signs, markers of cultural intimacy rooted in a shared ritual culture. I look to the work of Paul Gilroy for a preliminary framework in analyzing the way music functioned across diasporic community to articulate structures of feeling and transcribe political experience, especially the traumas of dislocation and violence in the context of migration and shifts in public identity. Through detailed attention to the discussion of sacred music in the Yiddish press, I hope to illuminate the way public conversations about sacred music reflect private devotional experiences and changing conceptions of how listening practices shaped religious sentiments and conceptions of ethnicity.

My research is in dialogue with scholarly voices in the fields of performance studies and sound studies and will contribute to the history of lived religion in America by attending to music, media and listening practices as sites of religious experience. My project addresses a lacuna in the history of American Jewish lived religion. Beyond its potential scholarly impact, my research has an activist orientation towards reviving listening as a sacred experience in Jewish ritual contexts and towards broadening conceptions of who can speak on behalf of ritually conceived communities. I seek in the archive of old Jewish records a sound that will help narrativize Jewish political, social and sacred experience through the genre of recorded cantorial music, a forgotten moment in American Jewish popular culture. I am especially intrigued by and attracted to the paradox of the virtuoso artist as ritual leader, a figure that has largely become absent from Jewish liturgical contexts in which participatory frames of ritual music have become the norm. I am interested in illuminating the archival traces of the cantor as arbiter of historical memory in part because I see this role as missing in the contemporary American synagogue. I am pursuing this disappeared history of theatrical performance of sacred experience because I believe that performance is an aspect of synagogue ritual that is in need of greater visibility. I am interested in exploring the possibility that the cantorial archive can address current emotional and political needs through approaches to public ritual performance that were cultivated in the past.

Presentation Prayer and Crime, December 2020, with Yoel Kohn and David Reich

Music, memory, identity

An initial stage research project seeking to reconstruct the listening cultures of the gramophone era and its sustained resonance in the lives of present day musicians, listeners, and identity communities. This project draws inspiration from Walter Benjamin’s conception of the utopian potentials of mass mediated art forms. Early “Ethnic” records were a commercial art form, made to appeal to a narrowly defined audience and capture a share of the record buying public. Popular records that are calculated to hail members of a specific identity group inevitably shape the way identity is defined by members of the group. And yet beyond their role in interpolating listeners into identities as consumers along reductive lines of ethnic stereotype, mass mediated art forms have been utilized by artists and the communities they serve to preserve vital sonic artefacts as well as to create modern iterations of intimate forms of culture. The resulting recorded musics at times bear a power that cannot be reduced to their role as commodity fetish. I look to the work of Paul Gilroy for a preliminary framework to analyze the way music functions within communities to articulate structures of feeling and transcribe political experience, especially the traumas of dislocation and violence. I am interested in exploring how records, which in the view of Adorno reduce listeners to a consumer identity, can at the same time function as a form of solidarity, mutual aid and cultural pedagogy that offer listeners strategies for how to engage with new forms of social experience.

Live davening

An initial stage research project devoted to collecting and interpreting “live davening” bootleg field recordings of cantorial prayer leading surreptitiously recorded in synagogues by die-hard fans of cantorial music. Field recordings by cantorial aficionados seem to have been made since the first portable tape recorders became available and continue, to a limited extent, until the present day. Through the efforts of mostly anonymous collectors, we are privileged today to be able to hear the prayer leading of some of the great names of the cantorial tradition, including Pierre Pinchik, Moshe Koussevitsky, Samuel Vigoda, Leibele Waldman, and scores of other less well-known but highly accomplished artists.

What has come to be known as the “golden age” period of Ashkenazi cantorial music flourished in Eastern Europe and the Americas in the late 19th to mid 20th centuries and is continued today in the work of a handful of elder cantors and passionate revivalists. Cantorial music as a popular art form reached its apex through commercial recordings made in Europe and New York. While our knowledge of cantorial performance in the “golden age” is mediated through the archive of old Jewish commercial records, it is understood that the live experience of cantorial prayer leading was substantially different from what was heard on records. Records offered a theatrical, aestheticized version of prayer that by necessity of recording studio conventions and technical limitations lacked the durational qualities of actual prayer in the synagogue and the noisy friction of cantorial soloist interaction with the congregational bodies at prayer.

According to first-hand accounts in Yiddish literature and press, cantorial prayer leading performances were breathtaking displays of technical and emotional prowess that would leave congregations in tears. In one representative description we read:

“Cantor Samuel Vigoda ascended the platform in the middle of the shul…It wasn’t long before the group of people were cradled in prayer and were transformed from indifferent listeners to devoted daveners (people at prayer). The commonplace feeling disappeared from every Jewish face and the people were as if wrapped in a talis of holiness…Gathered together were frum (Yiddish, traditionally observant Jews) and secular; young and old; women and men bearing deep emotion on their faces and in their longing countenances shone the spirit of their grandfathers and grandmothers, from long disappeared generations, who still live in their gazing in the old sacred place.” (Pinchos Jassinowsky, “In der velt fun khazones un idisher negina,” Der morgn zhurnal, January 23, 1948)

Deep lovers of sacred music were willing to transgress Jewish ritual prohibitions on using electronics on the Sabbath and holidays to document the live experience of cantorial prayer performance. A lore has sprung up around the collectors, including stories about small fortunes spent on spy recording devices that could be hidden in pockets and prayer books that had the middle of the pages cut out to hold tape decks. These recordings circulated among fans in an underground network of reel to reel tapes and dubbed cassettes for decades. Today some of these historic recordings are available online, uploaded to YouTube and other file hosting sites. “Live davening” recordings offer an invaluable line of connection to the fiery spirit of Jewish sacred music that cannot be contained on the side of a 78rpm record. They serve as a time machine, transporting us into a rarified experience of listening as a Jewish devotional practice. Furthermore, these bootlegs are an important resource for young cantorial revivalists who are seeking to learn how to apply the stylistic approach of cantors they know from commercial recordings to the “live” experience of synagogue prayer leading.

“Live davenning” recordings are a transgressive document of a sacred art. They push at the boundaries of the permissible in order to celebrate and preserve the sacred. It is my hope that collecting and presenting sacred field recordings will shed more light on this corner of the world of Jewish expressive culture.

Publications

Lockwood, J. “Prayer and crime: Cantor Elias Zaludkovsky’s concert performance season in 1924 Poland.” In Geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies. May 2022. https://ingeveb.org/articles/prayer-and-crime

Lockwood, J. “Hassidic Cantors ‘Out of Context’: Venues of Contemporary Cantorial Performance.” Oxford Handbook of Jewish Music. Forthcoming.

Lockwood, J. “What is the cantorial ‘Golden Age’? hefker khazones (wanton cantorial music) or ‘the key to the Jewish soul’?” Cantors Assembly 75th Anniversary Journal. April 2022.

Lockwood, J. Lockwood, Jeremiah. “Prière et crime dans la Pologne de l’entre-deux guerre: L’agenda musical 1924 du chantre Elias Zaludkovsky.” Translated by Marie Schumacher-Brunhes. Germanica, no. 67. December 2020.

Lockwood, J. and Ari Kelman. "From Aesthetics to Experience: How Changing Conceptions of Prayer Changed the Sound of Jewish Worship." Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation. 2020. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/religion-and-american-culture/article/from-aesthetics-to-experience-how-changing-conceptions-of-prayer-changed-the-sound-of-jewish-worship/3398670020FB627E9FB50543C47ECE93

Lockwood, J. “A Cantorial Lesson: the lineage of a learning encounter.” Studies in American Jewish Literature, Special Issue, American Jews and Music, 2019. https://www.academia.edu/40580083/A_Cantorial_Lesson_The_Lineage_of_a_Learning_Encounter

Kirzane, J., et al. “Teaching Guide to Erotic Yiddish Poetry.” In Geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies, 2019. https://ingeveb.org/pedagogy/teaching-guide-to-erotic-yiddish-poetry

Kelman, Ari Y., et al. “Safe and on the Sidelines: Jewish Students and the Israel-Palestine Conflict on Campus.” A study by the Research Group of the Stanford Concentration in Education and Jewish Studies, 2017. https://stanford.app.box.com/v/SafeandontheSidelinesReport

Books

Lockwood, Jeremiah. Golden Ages: Chassidic singers and cantorial revival in the digital era. Currently in development.

Kelman, Ari Y., Ilana Horowitz, Ziva Hassenfeld and Jeremiah Lockwood. Almost Adults: What Bar and Bat Mitzvahs teach parents and children about being Jewish in America. Under review at University of North Carolina Press.

Book Review

Lockwood, J. review of Jewish Religious Music in Nineteenth-Century America: Restoring the Synagogue Soundtrack. by Judah Cohen. Musica Judaica Online Reviews, 2020. https://mjoreviews.org/2020/10/30/jewish-religious-music-in-nineteenth-century-america-restoring-the-synagogue-soundtrack/

Journalism

Lockwood, J. “Golden Ages: Cantors and their Ghosts” Jewish Culture Festival: News, 2020

Lockwood, J. “Blues Man of the Dirt” Satellite Magazine, 2015

Lockwood, J. “Legendary Voices: The Education of the Great Cantors” Jewish Currents, 2014 https://archive.jewishcurrents.org/legendary-voices-the-education-of-the-great-cantors/

Lockwood, J. “Saving Bulgaria's Jews: Church, State and Citizens United” Jewish Currents, 2013

Lockwood, J. “Songs of Desert Wanderers “ Tablet, 2012

Lockwood, J. “Searching the Torah's Seams: A Roundtable” Shm'a, 2012

Lockwood, J. “A Year of Revolutionary Nigunim “ The Jewish Daily Forward, 2011 https://forward.com/culture/134799/a-year-of-revolutionary-nigunim/

Lockwood, J. “Kol Nidre in Memories and Dreams” The Jewish Daily Forward, 2010,

Lockwood, J. “Mostly Marvelous Music in Boro Park” The Jewish Daily Forward, 2010

Lockwood, J. “Playing in Mali” The Jewish Daily Forward, 2010

Lockwood, J. “The Shofar and the Power of Memory” Shm'a, 2010

Lockwood, J. “Out of Africa: Hazanut and the Blues” The Jewish Daily Forward, 2009

Lockwood, J. “What is Jewish Music?,” “What is a Cantor?,” “What is a Shofar?” My Jewish Learning, web video series, 2009

Lockwood, J. “Hidden Melodies Revealed” Jewish Review Quarterly (UK), 2007