Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Youtube: all the Penny Songs I've recorded so far (with subtitles)

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Saturday, March 2, 2019

Baym breg fun mer (On the Banks of the Wabash Far Away) - Yiddish parody of a very famous song of 1897

In 1897 Paul Dresser published "On the Banks of the Wabash Far Away" and the song was incredibly popular: in its first year 500,000 copies of the sheet music were sold and the eventual revenue topped $100,000. It became the Indiana state song and the title of a movie.

I've started pawing through about 20 issues of a self-evidently titled publication, Lider Magazin (Song Magazine) full of Yiddish theater lyrics, printed at the turn of the 20th century. (They are housed at YIVO). It seems pretty obvious that the new Jewish immigrants were hungry to join in with American pop culture and, since they didn't know the language yet, the Hebrew Publishing Company paid coupletists to write Yiddish versions of famous English language songs.

I found some of the penny songs in the magazines. A a lot of the material skews older and less sarcastic than the penny song collection from Hebrew Union College. Isaac Reingold, who wrote this parody, would not later have written such a sappy Yiddish version of a sappy song.

Reingold uses the French word mer which means sea, but there are trees, not sand, and altogether the song seems more about a river.

Also, look what happens when a girl goes out with a new guy - she ends up almost immediately in the cemetery. Did our protagonist kill her? Did the new guy kill her? Or was it just one of those things? I guess her death is the reason for the shrek and ume which otherwise seem rather out of place!

Aviva Enoch came over yesterday and recorded the keyboard parts for three of these songs. Thanks, Aviva!

Words and translation after the jump.

Hart baym breg fun mer in shotn fun di boymer
Dortn in mayn heym un mayn gan eydn tselt,
Dortn zits ikh oftmol eynzam vi a troymer
Un troym dort fun mayn yugend, fun mayn kindhayt velt.
Ikh ze un okh! Mayn harts vet shir tseshpringen,
Dos ort vos flegt mir safn freyd un lust,
Dort flegt mir oft mayn muter lider zingen,
Kindvayz, ven zi flegt mikh presn tsu ir brust.

Oh vi shtil iz yetst bay nakht arum di bregn
Fun di boymer falt an eyme un a shrek
Durkh di shayn fun mond bamerk ikh nokh di shtegn
Afn mer vu mayn yugend flit avek!

Lang tsurik shpatsirt hob ikh farbay di korn
Mit mayn heys gelibte Meri bay mayn zayt.
Es vor dan ven ikh hob ir heylik geshvorn
Az ikh lib ir, oh, ikh lib ir un ikh layd.
Ir entfer dan hot vi muzik geklungen,
Zo lib un tray, fun falshkeyt nit keyn shpur.
Es hobn dan di foygl undz gezungen
Un fareynikt hob undz demolt di natur.

Nor shnel farbay iz yener troym fun glik un hofn
Avek iz dan mayn libste un nit mer tsurik.
Nor eyn mol hob ikh ir shpatsirn ongetrofn
Mit a tsveytn velkher hot geroybt mayn glik.
Nit lang tsurik bin ikh farbay di kvorim,
Dort shloft mayn libste, okh, vi shmertst es mir!
Ikh hob durkh ir gelitn fil yesurim,
Dokh makh ikh zi nit shuldik un fargib es ir!

By the bank of the sea, in the trees' shade,
There, in my home, in my paradise,
I often sit, lonely as a dreamer,
And dream of my youth, of the world of my childhood.
I see, and oh! My heart practically bursts,
The place that used to bring happiness and cheer,
There my mother often sang to me when I was a child,
When she would press me to her breast.

Oh, how quiet it is now by the banks at night,
From the trees fall horror and fear.
Through the moonshine I still notice the path
By the ocean, where my youth flies away!

Long ago I walked past the corn
With my dearly beloved Mary by my side.
It was then that I made a holy vow
That I love her, I love her and suffer.
Her answer rang like music,
So loving and faithful, not a trace of deceit.
Then the birds sang to us
And we were united by nature.

But quickly that dream of happiness and hope was gone.
My beloved was away and never came back.
Only once did I meet up with her,
Walking with another who robbed me of my happiness.
Not long ago I went past the graves...
My beloved sleeps there! Oh, how it grieves me!
I suffered much misery because of her,
But of course I don't blame her, and I forgive her.


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