Mikhl Gelbart [Michael Gelbart] / מיכל געלבאַרט

Antiwar songs by Mikhl Gelbart [Michael Gelbart] / מיכל געלבאַרט

Mikhl Gelbart
1889–1962

"Born near Łódź, Gelbart toured with and wrote music for a theater group before immigrating to the U.S. where he was involved with the Arbeter Ring and wrote more than 120 Yiddish songs."

Mikhl Gelbart was born in a small town near Łódź, Poland. Between 1909 and 1911 he toured with a theater group for which he wrote music, and in 1912 he immigrated to the United States. He became intimately involved with the Arbeter Ring (Workmen’s Circle) in New York, directing the music for many of its Third Seders and at its children’s summer camps, and he taught in its afternoon schools. Although he made some attempts at larger forms, Gelbart is best known for his more than 120 Yiddish songs, many of which are settings of verse by well-known Yiddish poets. The songs have a simple folk quality and are firmly rooted in eastern European folk culture and its American extension—factors that sometimes lead to their assumed but erroneous identification as folksongs. To the contrary, many of them are properly considered art songs owing to their astute expression of serious poetry, their inventive lines, and their subtle taste.

Milken Archive of Jewish Music

"Mikhl Gelbart, a prolific composer, set to music the works of about 120poets and dramatists, composing six oratorios, 15 operettas, eightorchestral compositions, and published some twenty books of Yiddishsongs. He wrote over 300 songs for the Yiddish secular schools in America during his almost fifty years as the music teacher for the schoolsand Summer camps in the Eastern United States. Gelbart was an innovator as the first to write Yiddish songs for children specifically geared to theages of his students, choosing or writing lyrics carefully to match their abilities and vocabularies. Many of his books separate the songs intocategories such as kindergarten, play-songs, middle school, songs for soloists or choruses, holiday songs, etc. His songs have been taught notonly in this country, but around the world, and have been recorded or sung by just about every singer of Yiddish song. His is the kind of music thatinstantly became "folk music", thought to have been composedanonymously and to have been in the repertoire since before memory. Themusic of Mikhl Gelbart has always been an integral part of my teaching atthe Cleveland Arbeter Ring I.L. Peretz Sunday school.Mikhl Gelbart was born on August 21, 1889, in Ozorkov, near Lodz,Poland, one of 12 children to a poor khazn (cantor). At the age of six he sang, as a meshorer (cantor's assistant) for his father, then a synagogue-reader, an actor, an assistant for the town cantor, and thereafter for theKutner cantor. At the age of 15 he joined Itzik Zandberg's choir and theatregroup in Lodz. At 16 he was director of the town synagogue school.Between 1909 and 1911 he traveled around the provinces with a theatricaltroupe, and started writing music for their plays. He was director of the"Hazamir" choir in Tarsheydene, Poland. At the urging of his first wife,Hinde, the newly married couple immigrated to the United States in 1912,where he taught music and was director of the Yiddish singers-union inPaterson, NJ. In 1916 he was the director and pianist in another troupe,and cantor in a small town. He first taught singing at the Workmen's Circlein New York in 1917 and began teaching his own compositions to hisstudents. He published articles on Yiddish music and on how to createsongs for children. In the late 1920s he traveled from New York to writeand direct Yiddish musical theater in Philadelphia and in Yiddish summer camps in both places.Gelbart was animated and a stickler for details. He truly had a love for hisstudents, and called them his children, as he had none of his own, andeven though he was insistent on perfection and would make his choir singa line until they did it correctly, that love was returned, judging by thecomments of his former students I interviewed."

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