Tumbalalaika - traditional Yiddish song
This is a traditional Yiddish song about a boy, who wants to get married. He is a smart boy, and he wants to choose a smart girl – so he stays up late at night, inventing riddles to test his bride. He asks: “What can grow without rain? What can burn without being consumed by the fire? And what can cry without tears”?
Lucky him! The girl is smart enough: “A stone can grow without rain; love can burn without being consumed by the fire; and a heart can long and cry without tears”.
Besides the riddles mentioned in the text, I have two more, both about the title. Why is the song called “Tumbalalaika”? The balalaika is a traditional Russian music instrument; it wasn’t common in Jewish bands, which preferred to use violins. So why is this quintessential Jewish song named after a quintessential Russian instrument?
The second riddle is about the prefix “tum”: what does that mean? There is no word “tum” in either Russian or Yiddish. After much research, the only sensible conjecture I found was that “tum” is a sound a balalaika would make, when thrown at the head of a bad singer!
Whatever the title means, the melody is one of the loveliest
in all of Jewish music. In my arrangement, I play different piano variations
for each of the four verses, while imitating the vibrating balalaika sound in
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This story is just a tidbit from Alexander's "Songs of Exiles" concert program. To hear the full story, together with Alexander's virtuoso performance, come see him at his next concert! To buy this track, or the full CD of the music from "Songs of Exiles", follow the link on the left.