Fiddler on the Roof

The eleventh medley in the concert is entitled Fiddler on the Roof. It includes six songs from the hugely successful musical of 1964 (and film adaptation of 1971). This arrangement was written by Warren Barker (see below) in 1997.

Fiddler on the Roof , with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, is set in the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia in or around 1905. It is based on Tevye and his Daughters (or Tevye the Dairyman) and other tales by Sholem Aleichem. The story centers on Tevye, a milkman in the village of Anatevka, who attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon his family's lives. He must cope with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters who wish to marry for love; their choices of husbands are successively less palatable for Tevye. An edict of the tsar eventually evicts the Jews from their village.

The original Broadway production of the show, which opened in 1964, had the first musical theatre run in history to surpass 3,000 performances. Fiddler held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease surpassed its run. The production was extraordinarily profitable and highly acclaimed. It won nine Tony Awards, including best musical, score, book, direction and choreography. It spawned five Broadway revivals and a highly successful 1971 film adaptation and has enjoyed enduring international popularity. It has also been a popular choice for school and community productions.

The arranger of the first song in our medley has called it “Fiddler on the Roof”, but it is more commonly titled “Tradition”. It opens the musical, as Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman with five daughters, explains the customs of the Jews in the Russian Jewish enclave of Anatevka in 1905, where their lives are as precarious as the perch of a fiddler on a roof.

The second song in our medley, “Far from the Home I Love”, occurs in the middle of Act Two. The second daughter, Hodel, has fallen in love with a political dissident who has been arrested and is being sent to prison in Siberia. Hodel is determined to join him there. At the railway station, she explains to her father that her home is with her beloved, wherever he may be, although she will always love her family.

“Matchmaker”, the third song in our medley, occurs near the beginning of Act One. Yente, the village matchmaker, arrives to tell Golde, the mother, that Lazar Wolf, a wealthy butcher, a widower older than Tevye, wants to wed Tzeitel, the eldest daughter. The next two daughters, Hodel and Chava, are excited about Yente's visit, but Tzeitel worries about how it could have bad results. A girl from a poor family must take whatever husband Yente brings, but Tzeitel wants to marry her childhood friend, Motel the tailor.

The fourth song in our medley, “If I Were a Rich Man”, occurs next in the musical. Alone in the barn, Tevye dreams of the material comforts that wealth would bring him. He describes the enormous house he would buy and the needless luxuries he would fill it with, including a third staircase “leading nowhere, just for show”, and then the poultry he would buy to fill his yard. In the third verse, Tevye switches his attention to the luxuries in which he would shower on his wife, Golde.

In the bridge, Tevye contemplates the esteem that wealth would bring him, with important men seeking his advice. In the final verse, Tevye considers how wealth would allow him to spend less time working and more time praying and studying the Torah. He ends the song by asking God if it would “spoil some vast eternal plan” if he were wealthy.

A repeated phrase throughout the song, “all day long I’d bidi-bidi-bum”, is often misunderstood to refer to Tevye’s desire not to have to work. However, in an interview with Terry Gross, Sheldon Harnick said he basically made up syllables that he thought would give the effect of Chassidic chanting. The first person to play Tevye, Zero Mostel, then replaced the syllables Harnick had written with ones that Mostel thought would be more authentic.

“Sunrise, Sunset”, the fifth song in our medley, occurs near the end of Act One. It is performed at the wedding of Tzeitel, Tevye and Golde's eldest daughter. The two parents sing about how they can't believe their daughter and her groom have grown up so soon, while Hodel and Perchik sing about whether there may be a wedding in the nearby future for them.

Lyricist Sheldon Harnick said:

“I do remember when we wrote ‘Sunrise Sunset’, the first person we played it for was Jerry Bock’s wife...and when I finished, then I looked at Jerry’s wife Patti and I was startled to see that she was crying. And I thought my goodness; this song must be more effective than we even know. And the same thing happened – I am not a pianist but the music to ‘Sunrise Sunset’ is easy enough so that I could learn the piano part – and I played it for my sister. And when I finished, I looked and she had tears in her eyes. And that was a very unusual experience.”

The last song in our medley, “To Life”, occurs midway through Act One. Tevye meets Lazar for a drink at the village inn, assuming mistakenly that Lazar wants to buy his cow. Once the misunderstanding is cleared up, Tevye agrees to let Lazar marry Tzeitel – with a rich butcher, his daughter will never want for anything. All join in the celebration of Lazar's good fortune; even the Russian youths at the inn join in the celebration and show off their dancing skills.

Arranger Warren Barker (1923 -2006) was born in Oakland, California. He attended the University of California at Los Angeles. At the age of 24, he was appointed chief arranger for the National Broadcasting Company’s prime musical program of the time, The Railroad Hour, a position he held for six years. Barker was also associated with 20th Century Fox, Metro Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Studios as a composer arranger-conductor for motion pictures and television.

Barker composed and conducted music for more that thirty television series including seven years as composer-conductor for the highly rated comedy series, Bewitched. The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences honored him in 1970 for his original music written for the award winning series, My World and Welcome to It, based on the life of James Thurber. He was a member of the arranging staff for the Oscar winning motion picture Hello Dolly. He also served as conductor-arranger and recording artist for Warner Bros. and Capitol Records.

Barker’s compositions and arrangements have been performed and recorded by a variety of musical artists from Frank Sinatra to the Hollywood Bowl and Cincinnati Pops Orchestras. He received writing commissions from many outstanding music organizations including The United States Air Force Band, The Royal Australian Navy Band, the Northshore Concert Band, and the Norwegian Army Staff Band. Barker wrote or arranged more than 300 pieces for concert band, and we frequently perform pieces by him.

The music for Fiddler on the Roof was provided for the band

by Jack Wimpress, in memory of Doris Wimpress.