Jewish music study is a loosely unified field that brings together strands from several scholarly traditions. Researchers trained in historical musicology typically use document study, note analysis, and contemporary aesthetic writings to examine how questions of “Jewishness” manifest themselves in the works of selected composers. Ethnomusicologists frequently utilize ethnographic fieldwork methods developed for studying musical practices of Jewish communities within a broad cultural and symbolic system. Jewish music researchers in Israel commonly focus on comparative cultural projects intended to illuminate stylistic or song-based pathways of transmission from one age or culture to the next. Cultural theorists tend to situate music as a medium for negotiating the borders between Jews and other groups. And with the lay public in mind, specialists and nonspecialists alike have generated numerous popular textbooks claiming to cover “Jewish music.” Each of these disciplines asks different questions about the nature of sound within Jewish contexts; yet central to all is the question of how the sound itself reflects concepts of Jewish life—providing researchers with a richly evocative common ground for substantive and interdisciplinary study.
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