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Music

 

Dölf - Doelf - Dolf Weder mit Banjola

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Music belongs to my life

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Ten Sing and Popular Church Music

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My love for the Saxophone started in the middle years of my life

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Jazz giants and the fascination of Vintage Saxophones

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My re-discovery of Banjo, Old-Time- and Folk-Music

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Banjola - a fascinating, recently developed instrument

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Ukulele, Guitar und Hawaii

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Native American Flute (Siyotanka, Hokagapi)

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The new freedom after retirement

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Adventures with the Styrian Harmonic

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What a great world of music!

 

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Music belongs to my life
 

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Music was always an important part of my life, both as a listener and as a person actively playing music instruments - and as a person who also away from musical sounds is very much interested in music traditions and instruments. My interest was and still is very broad regarding music styles and artists. The same is true for the variety of instruments played by myself. The consequence: I never was "good" at any one. But I enjoy music in all its forms, collect and enjoy the sound of interesting instruments, study the history and development of music styles and instruments.
 

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It started in early primary school when I took lessons in recorder flute for many years. At a performance, I then heard a solo cellist. The sound of this instrument touched and fascinated me so much I started to play the violoncello and joined the classical orchestra of my school. I also played guitar and some banjo, accompanying songs in youth groups and camps. At that time we sang a lot (and very loudly): old student songs, chansons, American folk songs, spirituals etc. Lessons in accordion and later in electronic organ, keyboard and piano opened up the world of folk music, swing and dance music. In my own teaching in religious education in schools and with my confirmands, I used Orff instruments and made my students improvise over Psalms and create biblically inspired sound worlds. Two blues harmonicas and often also my good old Höfner guitar regularly accompanied me for romantic evenings on canoe trips and on journeys to other continents.

 

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Ten Sing and Popular Church Music
 

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My discovery of the Norwegian YMCA Ten Sing movement, its introduction in St. Gallen and in Switzerland, and later the support of its development all over Europe brought me in contact with contemporary rock and pop music and the related youth cultures. During my time as a church leader, I firmly worked for the promotion and development of a broad range of popular and traditional music in worship and other church activities, ranging from traditional alpine folk music to jazz, pop and rock. I carried leadership responsibilities for the Popular Music Department of our cantonal church, the Evangelical Church Music School St. Gallen and the Music Academy St. Gallen. The Protestant Church of the Canton of St. Gallen offers today the only State certified professional music education for popular church music in Switzerland.

For the significance of music for myself you may also read my speech: "Musik verbindet Menschen von Seele zu Seele" ("Music connects people from soul to soul"), my text "Musik berührt die Menschen in ihrem Herzen" ("Music touches people in their hearts") and my tribute to the several awards winning Peter Roth "Din Atem trait min Gsang" ("Your Breath Carries My Song“).

 

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My love for the Saxophone started in the middle years of my life
 

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My love for the saxophone started in the middle years of my life. Again, it was an experience with people that awakened the passion in me. On one of my bicyle trips in Southern Europe, I visited in Spain the concert of a young teachers' saxophone quartet. They played tunes from Johann Sebastian Bach via Isaac Albéniz to Dizzy Gillespie and others. And like at my first encounter with the cello, I was thrilled by the deep, resonate sound of the baritone sax. That's what I needed to learn!
 

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I looked for a saxophone teacher, started to play the tenor sax, soon after also the baritone, and added excursions to other sax types, especially the soprano. In a sax quartet I played the bariton sax. We played for our own enjoyment and with friends almost everything from Evergreens and Standards via Gospel, Blues and Swing to Elton John, Robbie Williams and Rainhard Fendrich. A for me new and exciting field was and remains free improvisation, with which I - coming from classical music education - am still struggling heavily.

 

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Jazz giants and the fascination of Vintage Saxophones
 

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As always, with this new theme a whole new world opened up for me. In musical terms the World of the famous jazz giants, their styles and recordings, today on CD easily accessible in fine sound quality. Then the richness of jazz and contemporary harmony. But also the exciting history of the saxophone as an instrument - and the fascination of awesome vintage horns. I for example own a gold plated Martin Handcraft baritone saxophone (deep Bb), born 1925, and a Conn C-Melody from the twenties.

 

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My re-discovery of Banjo, Old-Time- and Folk-Music
 

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A live encounter with Sean Moyses and his virtuosic playing on a 4-string Plectrum Banjo reminded me of the banjo playing attempts in my youth. I started to study the fascinating history of the banjo: From its origins in West Africa and its travel with the slaves to the USA, via the reduction of the 5-string banjo of the 19th century to the 4-string rhythm banjo, played with a plectrum, in the early New Orleans Jazz and in the Dixieland music, the 5-stringers in the American - especially Appalachian - Old Time Music (Frailing, Clawhammer styles), the development of the three-finger Scruggs-style in the developing Bluegrass music of the late 40s, the use of the banjo in the folk revival of the 60s (Pete Seeger), up to modern interpreters like Béla Fleck or the Kruger Brothers (grown up in Switzerland), who very creatively make use of the banjo in all kinds of musical contexts and styles. I own a Deering Tenbrooks Banjo with a Jens Krüger tone ring made by Rüetschi in Switzerland.
 

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Occupying myself with American Old Time Music, I came in contact with George Orthey, a great pioneer of the diatonic Autoharp, a genuine and very special American instrument. I also discovered the world of the closely with the Appalachian region connected Mountain Dulcimer and the Hammered Dulcimer, a relative of our Appenzell Hackbrett. I'm also a fan of old Cowboy Songs as collected and sung for example by Texan Don Edwards.

 

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Banjola - a fascinating, recently developed instrument
 

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Studying the banjo and its history brought me in contact with Edward Dick, a luthier in Colorado. Since the late 90s he under the name Banjola is developing a kind of banjo with a mandolin body, sometimes adding a 6th string. Edward built me a gorgeous 6-string banjola with nylon strings and a spruce top from Bergün in the Swiss mountains (Graubünden). It is a wonderful instrument with a - despite its comparably small body - full, complex sound and a relaxing, even meditative character. You can see me play Banjola here.

 

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Ukulele, Guitar und Hawaii
 

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Thanks to the banjo and the banjola I found my way back to the guitar. After a bicycle accident, I believed that I would never be able to play a guitar again due to a remaining limitation in my left ellbow and hand. But these two instruments, held quite vertically for that reason, proved to be a kind of physiotherapy, and things improved. Changing to a classical guitar posture, I was able to reactivate my guitar playing to a certain extent.

The positive thing is that all these string instruments, from the violoncello to the banjola, the banjo and the guitar (and several others) are related with each other and have similar tunings. Thus, interchanging between them is not that difficult - if one sets the expectations at a realistic level. A critical audience of course cannot be made happy with that kind of music philosophy and level of mastering (i.e. not really mastering) the instruments. But standing ovations are not the goal of my musical explorations. I simply want to enjoy sounds, music and instruments.
 

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Studying various American roots music styles and re-activating my guitars, I discovered the various styles and instruments of traditional Hawaiian music:
 
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There is the small and often underrated Ukulule, a Hawaiian development inspired by the Portuguese Braguinha, brought to the Islands by Portuguese immigrants in the late 19th century. It at present is experiencing a great renaissance (cf. e.g. Iz /Over the Rainbow and its impact). I like the beautiful ukulele music of Herb Ohta jr. and Daniel Ho. 
 

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There are the Hawaiian Steel Guitars (lap steel und pedal steel). They immediately evoke images of Hawaii or of Country and Blues music in probably most of us.
 

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And there is my favorite: The melodious Ki Ho'alu style (Slack Key Guitar). It is played  "nahenahe" (soft and sweet) with a lot of "Aloha" (love and feelings).

In Slack Key you lower (slack) one or several guitar strings compared with standard tuning. You play in open tunings (e.g. Taro-Patch = open G) or in a big number of other tunings. These were often kept secret and passed down only within the own 'Ohana (extended family). 

I'm admire Ozzie Kotani, Ray Kane, Keola Beamer, and among the younger musicians Jeff Peterson. I also make use of their teaching material and financially support the production of videos in order to document the artistry of old slack key masters as long as they still live among us.
 

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At the occasion of my retirement, my church presented me with a wonderful guitarlele, custom made by Kristen and Joe Souza (Kanilea). That's a ukulele with six strings in standard guitar tuning raised by a forth.

 

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Native American Flute (Siyotanka, Hokagapi)
 

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What do you do musically, when you come back late in the evening, too tired for a concentration demanding musical instrument or even the need for sheet music? - But feeling inside yourself a longing for your own, healing and harmonious music?

My answer: Native American Flute, the flute of the native North American peoples, in Lakota called siyotanka (prayer, love flute) or hokagapi (to make a voice). It's an instrument tuned mostly in minor pentatonic scales. But you can also play chromatically on it. Available are these flutes in all kinds of keys, from contrabass to soprano. Made with simple to extremely precious kinds of wood, enhanced by simple ornamentation up to artistical master works. My favorite sound comes from cedar, tuned to middle-low F#-minor or low F- or E-minor. Such a flute can be played quite easily, but it's so expressive!
 

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For me, playing a Native American Flute is something very different from playing other instruments. Of course, you can interpret all kinds of compositions or traditional Native American tunes on it. But this flute really starts to live when you turn off the lights, shut down your thinking and improvise, expressing your feelings. Or when you go out into nature and start to speak with the birds and with mother nature. The Native American flute is more than only a means for producing sounds. Like now other instrument it has a soul of its own. The music of the flute is seeking you, you only need to lend her your breath. Also, her soulfull and healing tones always express something of the beauty, the wisdom and the enormous tragedy of the Indian peoples (read "To Make A Voice" by John Two-Hawks). This experience stimulated me to study anew and in more depth Native Americans' lives, religion and history, deepening the knowledge I had from intensive reading in young years and during my University studies.

If I let play Native American Flute music on CD in my sleeping room for some minutes, I wake up some hours later, and the flute is still playing. Musical magic, and a door opener for spiritual experiences.

 

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The new freedom after retirement
 

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After retirement, it is a great privilege to enjoy the fruits of professional life and the new freedom as a "privatier". In addition to more sporting movement, this means for me ample time for music and for my collection of diverse musical instruments. In doing so, I reconnected with different instrumental phases of my life. Among others with the accordeon, which has been a wallflower daze since my student years. Travelling to the Accordeon-Mekka Castelfidardo, Italy, I discovered the fascination of diatonic instruments and their music: the Italian Organetto and following from this the Styrian Harmonica and the very special Bandoneon. Besides literature and audiovisual material, travel, visits, workshops, seminars and private lessons help me to follow this path of discovery.

 

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Adventures with the Styrian Harmonica
 

bulletAt the moment the Styrian Harmonica gets my full attention. Also in this case, a whole new World opened up to me, both regarding the playing of the instrument as well as getting acquainted with a culture in which this instrument has won growing popularity during the past years: the alpine music culture as it lives in Austria, Bavaria, Slowenia, Slovakia, Czeck Republic and is closely related with Swiss folk culture.
 
bulletFor starting to play this instrument, I chose a didactically and methodically very well made video distant learning course and the related books by Florian Michlbauer. Besides the popular TV-stars of this genre, he with the development of a special notation, a new 5-finger playing system and with the production of a lot of sheet music is greatly promoting this instrument.
 
bulletI also started to attend week long seminars in Austria, e.g. in the Stoanineum in Gasen, Styria. Living together and playing freely in the local restaurants in addition to formal lessons by qualified instructors give a great earning environment. It also leeds to new friendships across country borders.
 
bulletAnd again, getting into contact with and visiting quite a number of smaller harmonica businesses are a wonderful complement to playing this instrument.

 
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What a great world of music!
 

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A drop of sadness remains: the learning of new and the development of existing musical skills becomes more difficult in advanced age. Higher ambitions are out of place. But what always remains is the deep emotional joy of good and beautiful instruments, the wonderful sounds that can be elicitted from them even on modest musical skill levels. Plus of course the great music which the masters of these instruments know to make with them. My aim and self-understanding, therefore, is not being or becoming a great musician, but rather a music and instrument lover with a wide open heart - a "music afficionado".
 

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Summarizing:
What a most beautiful, constantly new wonders opening world is the world of sounds, of music and of instruments! If you simply follow their paths - playing, listening, reading, watching. I'm so grateful for this!
 

 


Native American Flute, Cedar Mallard in Em Pentatonic, made by Ted Calavan, Oregon

One of my Native American Flutes, Cedar Mallard in E-minor, created by Ted Calavan, Oregon

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