Friday, September 30, 2011

Fiddler on the Roof: Tradition & Overture

Lyrics by: Sheldon Harnick
Music by: Jerry Bock
Music Adaptation by: John Williams
Productions: Broadway (1964); West End (1967); Film (1971);
and many others, including productions in Hebrew and in Yiddish.

This video clip is from the 1971 film, Fiddler on the Roof  with “Tradition” and the “Overture” of Isaac Stern playing the cadenza, representing the proverbial fiddler on the roof. The film, directed by Norman Jewison, is based on the stage musical (1964) which itself is based on the stories (Tevye and Tevye and his Daughters) published by Yiddish-writer, Sholom Aleichem in 1894. Aleichem has been called the Russian Mark Twain for his use of irony and humour.

Although the film is set in pre-revolutionary czarist Russia of 1905, its significance is universal. Fiddler on the Roof touches upon all the universal values and virtues that are important for all humanity, including the fight for freedom, equality, individual dignity and imagination. Such ideas become particularly poignant when under the yoke of oppression of a powerful and immoral State that fails to protect all of its inhabitants.

And, yet, like the fiddler playing on the roof, life marches forward with joy and tradition, despite the very precariousness of it. Tradition in many ways strongly binds the Jewish people, its ancient ways often (notably today) might seem imposing and restrictive, yet such is its strength. In times of national stress, people look to tradition as a guide, a marker, a rock of survival. Tradition remains faithful, ever-present. It defines the story of the Jewish People throughout the ages, and even the most secular and progressive apprehend and respond to that reality, albeit with some reluctance.

By Sheldon Harnick & Jerry Bock

Tradition, tradition! Tradition!
Tradition, tradition! Tradition!

Who, day and night, must scramble for a living,
Feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers?
And who has the right, as master of the house,
To have the final word at home?

The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.
The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.

Who must know the way to make a proper home,
A quiet home, a kosher home?
Who must raise the family and run the home,
So Papa's free to read the holy books?

The Mama, the Mama! Tradition!
The Mama, the Mama! Tradition!

At three, I started Hebrew school. At ten, I learned a trade.
I hear they've picked a bride for me. I hope she's pretty.

The son, the son! Tradition!
The son, the son! Tradition!

And who does Mama teach to mend and tend and fix,
Preparing her to marry whoever Papa picks?

The daughter, the daughter! Tradition!
The daughter, the daughter! Tradition!