Narratives of here and of elsewhere in Scottish-Jewish music: Meyer Fomin and Isaac Hirshow

Alexander, P. (2019) Narratives of here and of elsewhere in Scottish-Jewish music: Meyer Fomin and Isaac Hirshow. Shofar, 37(3), pp. 19-58. (doi: 10.5703/shofar.37.3.0019)

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This article analyzes the role of music in the negotiation of Scottish-Jewish identity in early twentieth-century Glasgow through the lives and work of Isaac Hirshow (1883-1956) and Meyer Fomin (1888-1960), cantors of Garnethill and South Portland Street synagogues, respectively. Both men were born in Vitebsk Guberniya, both established their reputations in Warsaw, and both moved to Glasgow in the early 1920s, remaining there for the rest of their lives. An analysis of these men's parallel journeys suggests a fruitful dialogue between their own backgrounds and the varied identities of their Scottish congregations. Drawing on archive materials, newspaper reports, and musical examples, I therefore explore the ways in which these cantors and their music were both metonymic of a real and known Eastern Europe for immigrant populations, but also metaphoric of an (often fondly) imagined Eastern Other to those for whom roots were often multiple. I then discuss in detail a number of musical texts created by the two men after their arrival in the United Kingdom: a series of commercial recordings made by Fomin in 1922, and a cantata written by Hirshow as part of his 1938 BMus degree. These texts capture a perspective that looks two ways at once—to the “tradition” and history of Eastern Europe, and to the modernity of the West and the acculturation of an immigrant experience. They thus speak to a moment of transition, simultaneously framing and problematizing discourses of authenticity as expressed through material cultural production.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Alexander, Dr Philip
Authors: Alexander, P.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Journal Name:Shofar
Publisher:Purdue University Press
ISSN (Online):1534-5165
Published Online:22 October 2019
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2019 Purdue University
First Published:First published in Shofar 37(3): 19-58
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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