The Milken Archives Illuminate History

The Milken Archives: a Treasure House of History and Spirit

There are many trails by which one may explore human creativity and spirit. One of the best ways to grasp and enjoy the essence of a culture and people, to immerse as in a mikva, in the ways that human energy shapes the stream of time into the logic of history is to study a society’s music. The Milken Archives [1] is a unique project successfully engaged in this discovery. The Milken Archives founded by Jewish activist Lowell Milken [2], has amassed a large collection of documents which display the language, melodies and chants of Jewish Americans throughout the ages to present the history of the American Jewish community. Browsing through the Archives is a vital, delightful and very educational experience.

The Archive’s earliest materials document the music of the Jews who immigrated to North America as early as the 17th century. These people, together with other Colonial-era immigrants, were refugees from the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition. As they searched for opportunities to freely practice their Judaism, they settled in American colonies including Rhode Island, New York and South Carolina. Their worship centered on the Sephardic musical traditions of their ancestors. The Archive documents these early influences in its album Jewish Voices in the New World [3] which expresses the songs and prayers of the Colonial and 19th century Jewish American community and again in the archives’ second album, A Garden Eastward [4]which explores Ladino influence on the ritual and music of the period.

The Milken Archives continues to record the evolving American community with recorded examples of the Jewish musical presence of the 19th century. During this time German Jews immigrated in great numbers followed by Ashkenazi Jews from Poland, Romania, Russia and other Eastern European countries. Reform Judaism began to make its presence felt and the Circle of Life in Synagogue and Home album [5] provides a glimpse into holiday celebrations and life-cycle events of the non-Orthodox Jewish community. Other albums, such as Echoes of Ecstasy and Seder T’Fillot concentrate on Orthodox interpretations of Jewish observance as heard through cantoral music and prayers, a great and unique tradition of sacred music that fused popular and classical forms and moods.

The Milken Archives continues to expand its collection of historical Jewish music to provide an authentic record of American Jewish experience and to document vital chapters in the history of a remarkable people. It is a treasure house of major historiographic accomplishment and artistry.

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