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Klezmer originally served primarily as an accompaniment to celebrations (especially weddings), for which many of the tunes had particular roles. Klezmer origintaed from a combination of various Eastern European folk styles, Near Eastern music, and the cantorial-style chanting of the Jewish synagogue. It was further influenced in 19th century Europe by gypsy and military band music, and when brought to the United States by Jewish immigrants was further shaped by jazz and stage music.

The term "klezmer" (from the Hebrew kley-zemir, meaning a musical vessel) originally referred to a musician. As a result of Jewish assimilation during the mid-20th century and a desire to look forward (to the promise of the newly-formed state of Israel) rather than back (to the poverty of peasant life, prejudice, and the holocaust), traditional European Jewish music experienced a severe decline in popularity. With a revival of the music's popularity starting in the 1970s, the term "klezmer" came to refer to the music itself.

The modern klezmer repertoire is typically augmented by Yiddish and Israeli folk music, tunes from early 20th-century American Yiddish theatre productions, Jewish liturgical tunes, and modern compositions in the traditional style. There are also klezmer fusion groups which integrate rock, bluegrass, reggae and hip-hop into the genre.

The titles to most klezmer tunes are in Yiddish, the native language of the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Since transliterion from Yiddish to English is not straightforward, there exists a hodgepodge of spelling for these tunes. Rather than alter the names on historic recordings to fit a consistent modern standard, I have chosen to base the entries on the titles as they were listed on the recordings and on the sheet music sources. In alphabetizing the tunes, I have omitted Yiddish articles such as "Di", "Der", "Ein", etc. (equivalent to "The", "An", etc.), which appear displayed in parenthesis. The same tune may have been released under various titles, and the same title was used at times for differing tunes; I have cross-referenced these to the best of my ability.

The references in KlezmerGuide to recording and sheet music sources are abbreviated; for fuller information, please refer to the Sources page.

Far too many people to name individually contributed to this effort, but I would like to thank the following people for their particular contributions & feedback: Gustavo Bulgach, Ilana Cravitz, Ari Davidow, Tom Deakin, Adrianne Greenbaum, Dena Ressler, Mark Slobin, Alicia Svigals and Helen Winkler.

While KlezmerGuide is fairly comprehensive, it is still a work in progress. It regrettably can never be complete, nor (given the complexity of the subject matter) will it likely ever be completely accurate. I continually update the Guide as I discover additional sources and relationships between tunes and written scores. If you have any additions and/or corrections please feel free to submit them to me at klezmer@lutins.net.