The sher is a traditional Eastern European/Ashkenazi Jewish social dance in 2/4 time for four couples, with an accompanying set of tunes. Eastern European Jews who came to the United States brought it with them, and by the early twentieth century, Philadelphia had its own characteristic sher medley, as did New York and other major American cities. The sher was hugely popular at weddings and other social events and quickly became beloved by the Philadelphia Jewish community. Unfortunately, widespread performance of the sher largely died out by the mid-1960s due to the pressures of Israeli music and dance, assimilation and suburbanization.
Fortunately, the Philly sher (as it was circa 1965) is well-documented by sheet music, recordings, cultural memory, and area musicians who remember days when it was more popular. There’s interest within the contemporary Philadelphia Jewish community in bringing the Philly sher back to life.
So, that’s exactly what the Kol Tzedek Simcha Band, of West Philadelphia’s Reconstructionist synagogue of the same name, is trying to do. Working with noted klezmer trumpeter Susan Watts and percussionist Elaine Hoffman Watts, we are learning how to play and dance the Philly sher. By summer 2010, the Philadelphia Sher Project’s goals are to have:
- Published (online and in hard copy) the sher music, recordings, performance notes, video of events at which it was performed, instructional video, and a history and contemporary ethnography of the Philadelphia sher.
- Performed and taught the Philadelphia sher medley at area Jewish events and simchas, along with a short historical presentation.
- Established a foothold for the Philly sher as a meaningful, living, breathing part of Philadelphia Jewish life, and self-sustaining methods for its transmission to future generations of musicians, dancers and partygoers.
Contact: Meredith Aska McBride, lead researcher and Simcha Band member, at meredith.aska.mcbride[at]gmail[dot]com or (414) 254-2728