February 17, 2014

Alumni Spotlight Bob Freedman

Bob FreedmanAlthough former Of Counsel Bob Freedman retired from the firm on May 16, 2008, he has yet to stop working.  At the age of 84, Bob still goes to the office daily and works five to six hours a day.  His office is no longer located at the firm but at the Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Music Sound Archive at the University of Pennsylvania which he co-founded with his wife Molly.  Instead of practicing law, he spends his days listening to and cataloguing Jewish musical recordings, song books, programs and other music-related items.  Drinker Biddle is honored to have Bob as a member of the Drinker Biddle family and our alumni community.   He joined the firm’s Real Estate practice group in 1995 and retired from the firm in 2008.  Along with his wife Molly, Bob is a curator and founder of the Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Music Sound Archive.

What began as a hobby and small collection of Yiddish reference works and sound recordings that Bob and his wife Molly gathered and maintained in their Rittenhouse Square apartment has grown into one of the largest libraries of recorded Jewish music in the world.  The university maintains an easily searchable website available to the global public.  It is an international resource not only for scholars and musicians, but also for clergy, film makers, performers, historians, folklorists, linguists and interested lay persons from all walks of life.  The university believes the website receives over 1000 “hits” a day and Bob is constantly receiving requests for information and assistance with research.  Access the website here .

The musical research library that bears Bob and Molly’s name currently houses over 5,300 Judaic sound recordings in various formats (78, 45 and 33rpm, reel to reel and cassette tapes, compact discs, videos and DVDs) and has over 35,000 entries in its searchable trilingual database, which Bob himself initially created and developed. 

We recently caught up with Bob at the Archive.  As we listened to some of the Yiddish folk songs, klezmer music and comedy, it became clear that Bob doesn’t consider spending these days at his office as ‘work’.  For Bob and his wife, the Archive’s recordings serve as reminders of a period in history and an invaluable link to childhood memories, festive occasions and family.

When and how did you come to join Drinker Biddle?

It’s actually a somewhat funny story. I joined Cohen and Cohen in 1956 when it was only four lawyers. The firm later became Cohen, Shapiro, Polisher, Shiekman & Cohen and I was there when it disbanded in 1995.

I had done business with Drinker Biddle over the years. The firm mostly represented banks and I represented the borrowers. I had worked with Cliff Swain and developed a great relationship with him. I had also been on the opposite sides of several deals from David Maxey. David knew more about mortgage lending than I could ever learn.  He would think of issues I had never even heard of.  He knew about my music and I knew he was a historian and an expert in Pennsylvania architecture. I happened to see a book called Pennsylvania Architecture at a used bookstore for $2.00 so I bought it and sent it to David. For the next 10 years David would always talk about the book.

When I went in for my interview with Drinker Biddle, there were five men in the room and one of them was Cliff Swain. The first thing Cliff asked was why Dave Maxey couldn’t wait for me and that he wanted me to have the office next to his. And that was it. That was basically the whole interview.  I worked in the Real Estate group from 1995 through 2008 when I retired.   David and I have stayed in touch and become very close friends.

It turned out I also had a connection to Harry Cherken. I met him about 15 or so years before I joined Drinker Biddle when he was first looking for a job in private practice. He came to the Cohen firm but we just didn’t have any room at that time. He then told me that he received offers from Drinker Biddle and Wolf Block and asked me where I thought he should go. I told him I didn’t know much about Drinker Biddle but I did know he wouldn’t be comfortable at Wolf Block. He took the job with Drinker Biddle and I’m pretty sure he credits me for joining the firm.

Did you have any mentors at Drinker Biddle?

David Maxey quickly became my mentor and confidant at the firm. If I needed to know something about the policies, procedures or any firm politics, I would go to him. He’s a very special man.

What does being a part of the Drinker Biddle community mean to you?

I think it’s one of the greatest law firms around. I think the world of the lawyers and the firm

When did you your passion for Jewish music begin? 

From our earliest days living in Philadelphia, Molly and I were surrounded by Hebrew and Yiddish song.  We were both raised in immigrant homes where Yiddish was coequal with English.  We attended afternoon secular schools in West Philadelphia where Yiddish was the language spoken and music was a large part of the curriculum.  We also went to Yiddish-oriented summer camps.  Molly’s mother had a beautiful voice and an extensive repertoire of hundreds of songs, Yiddish and Russian. 

Before I met Molly, I was working, enjoying the single life and a most eligible bachelor.  That changed after I met Molly at a party where there was a Yiddish sing-a-long.  We had an unusual courtship.  We would hang out in Atlantic City.  Our friends and contemporaries would spend the evenings dancing at one of the fashionable hotels.  We spent our evenings on a quiet bench on the Ventnor boardwalk, and sing Yiddish songs.  These really were our love songs. 

Tell us about how and when you started the collection. 

It first began as a casual hobby over 50 years ago with a suggestion from Molly that we buy a few records.  We were living in the suburbs at the time and I had grown busy working while Molly was home raising our children.  Molly recognized that we both really missed the Yiddish music that had been such a large part of our upbringing.  After hearing a lecture by Ruth Rubin, a Yiddish musicologist and author, we made the conscious decision to become genuine collectors and decided from that point on we would buy Judaic recordings wherever we traveled, whether for business or leisure. 

Our collection soon grew to include song books, reference works, concert programs and other music-related items.  Word of the collection grew fast and by the mid-to late 1970’s, researchers and scholars were coming to our home to view it.  A friend who was also a professor in the folklore department at Penn asked us to bring some of our music to her class.  Eventually it was easier for the class to come to us and it became an annual tradition.

We soon realized that the collection was outgrowing our Rittenhouse Square apartment and so we bought an additional small apartment in our building to house the collection.  This was very expensive storage space!  At that time, it was the beginning of the so called “klezmer revival” and news of the existence of the collection spread even faster, and all by word of mouth.  We received visits from people interested in researching the material.  As a result, we installed a bed in the apartment for these people and we also provided them with meals.  We were really running a private foundation.

We decided that the collection should be housed and maintained at an institution.  In 1997, we donated our collection and moved it to the University of Pennsylvania where it became known as the Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Sound Archive at the University of Pennsylvania.  We are located on the fourth floor of the Van Pelt Library.

Were you cataloguing the recordings before the collection moved to its current location?

Yes.  At the beginning I was literally doing everything by hand.  I’d listen to the songs, translate them and write out cards.  It was similar to the card catalog system used at public libraries.

In 1981, I met a computer salesman and explained to him what I was doing and what ideally I would want the machine to do including entering material in Yiddish and Hebrew.  Oddly enough he tried to dissuade me, telling me that many people had projects which they eventually abandoned.  Nevertheless, I insisted. 

A few years later, my salesman friend contacted me about a company in Oregon that marketed a program that would enable the user to make custom fonts.  That company sent me their font making program without charge and eventually after working out the problems (there were many), it became what it is today.  There’s still a lot of manual work I have to do but it’s much different than what it was.  Today, when I get a recording, I still have to manually type it in English and then translate it to Yiddish and Hebrew.  I put it in all three languages but the computer indexes it and recognizes duplicates.  

When did you find the time to manually catalogue and grow the collection while working as a full-time lawyer?

I spent most of my nights and weekends listening to the music and cataloguing.  When the sun came up, I would go into the office for my day job!  

As noted on the Archive’s website, in addition to continuing to collect recordings, Bob and Molly fulfill the roles of lecturers, curators, catalogers, researchers and public librarians in support of the Jewish Studies Program at Penn. They provide a worldwide music reference service via the internet and for many years have given and continue to give classes upon request of various professors using material from the Archive and are cited in countless scholarly books, articles and papers. They have also given presentations at academic institutions and community groups all over the United States and at the Jewish Music Institute at the School of Oriental Studies at the University of London, England.

To learn more about the Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Sound Archive, click here

You contact Bob here.

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