Skrip, klezmerl, skripe
Fiddle, Klezmer, Scrape Away
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Skrip, klezmerl, skripe (Fiddle, Klezmer, Scrape Away), with lyrics by Chaim Tauber, is a brief reflection on parental devotion, followed by a frenzied exhortation to the band (the klezmorim) to bring accelerated joy to a wedding celebration. It was introduced in Sholom Secunda’s musical show A freylekhe mishpokhe (A Happy Family), with a book by William Siegel. The production, characterized in the press as “a mixture of operetta, â€¨comedy, melodrama, farce, and even some burlesque,” was the opening musical attraction of the 1934–35 season at the Public Theater in New York. With a star-studded cast that included Aaron Lebedeff, Lucy Levin, Vera Lubov, Menachem Rubin, Yetta Zwerling, and Itzik [Yitzkhok/Isadore] Feld—who sang this song in the production—A freylekhe mishpokhe enjoyed both considerable public success and, unusual for Yiddish musicals of that era, a measure of respectable critical acceptance for its realistic character portrayals and plausible plot situations. As his first full-length show for an actual Second Avenue area house, it also marked a personal triumph and milestone in Secunda’s career.
The show was conceived and produced primarily as entertainment—with a variety of ethnic music and dance elements (including a Spanish carioca dance tune that Secunda borrowed from the 1933 Fred Astaire–Ginger Rogers film Flying Down to Rio for a comic Yiddish duet), in addition to an abundance of music with perceived “Jewish flavor” and even some English lyrics. Still, underlying and threaded through its action is the question of whether parenthood is properly defined by biological ancestry on its own merits, or by rearing, nurture, and love—a pervasive theme that also informs the opening lyrics of this song. The show was also saluted in the press for its absence of vulgarity and avoidance of off-color humor, which reminds us of that general reputation among Second Avenue Yiddish comedies.
Lily, who was abandoned in infancy by her father and then adopted and reared by an uncle, Kopel Kieve, becomes engaged to a young lawyer, Sidney, who—clandestinely beguiled by Eva, an unsavory and ambitious woman with no love or fidelity to him—avoids the actual marriage. Meanwhile, Lily’s biological father surfaces in the person of Misha, a past “victim” of Eva’s, who is now an alcoholic derelict. Kopel persuades him, for her sake, never to reveal his identity, and through a clever, stage-worthy trick in which Sidney, with Misha as a silent ally, is made to witness Eva’s perfidious falseness, Sidney realizes Lily’s worth as a bride, and the wedding takes place.
It is likely that Skrip, klezmerl, skripe was sung more or less in its present form by Kopel in connection with the wedding. It appears to be a composite of songs or parts of songs from earlier numbers within the play, but from the content of the lyrics, from the nature of the tune, and from what we know of established theatrical conventions that attended such Yiddish musicals, it is logical to place the song in its entirety at the wedding scene—as a sort of reprise. Indeed, in keeping with the pattern of conventions attached by then to Second Avenue, one can also imagine that the chorus might have enjoyed yet another reprise during the curtain calls. It is also possible, however, that Secunda fashioned the present composite expressly for its subsequent publication.