Biographical Sketch: Judith R. Cohen


For the past two years Judith has been working on a project called "Toward a Musical Ethnography of Crypto-Jewish Regions of Spain and Portugal", partially funded by a small research grant from York University and supplemented with Judith's own lectures and performances in Spain and Portugal, and recently by a Canada Council Artists Grant which will enable her to work on her traditional style performances of the repertoire while she carries out the academic side of the research. She has carried out extensive fieldwork in villages of Portugal, particularly in the Beiras, Tras-os-Montes and Northern Alentejo, as well as in corresponding areas on the other side of the Portuguese-Spanish border; interviewing both Judeus and non-Jews. She is now working on transcribing and analyzing the hours of audio and video tape recorded on these excursions, as well as learning selected songs from the tapes as a performer. The songs she sings in the Rhode Island programmes will be taken from these field recordings; she will also include, to "honour the ancestors", some cantigas in 12th and 13th century Galaico-Portuguese and some traditional Judeo-Spanish songs. Judith will sing in traditional style and accompany herself on regional string and percussion instruments. Her presentations are informal and include anecdotes, explanations, and invitations to the audience to participate in singing refrains and asking questions - or offering their families' versions of some of the songs. She speaks Spanish and French fluently, and, since beginning the project, passable Portuguese (though some of her colleagues in Portugal have dubbed it "Portunhol".)

For many years, Judith has been working with both Judeo-Spanish Sephardic music, which was the subject of her PhD dissertation, and with related traditions, including Medieval Iberian music (women musicians in medieval Spain's three cultures was the subject of her MA thesis), French Canadian, Balkan, Yiddish and also pan-European balladry, comparing Sephardic ballads with those of other traditions. She has carried out fieldwork and research, and also performed and lectured, in several countries besides Spain and Portugal, including Israel, Morocco, Greece, Turkey, Belgium and France. She often performs together with her daughter Tamar Ilana, now 12, who also works with Judith on fieldwork excursions and studies flamenco dance. Judith is also a founding member of the Montreal Sephardic ensemble "Gerineldo" and the medieval women's ensemble "Na Carenza". She has published several articles and book chapters on Sephardic music, including an annotated discography; and has several recordings, both alone and with "Gerineldo"; the latest one was just released, by Radio Canada, and features Tamar Ilana's singing as well. Judith was born in Montreal (her grandparents were from Vilna) and lives in Toronto, returning to Spain and Portugal whenever possible.