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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. 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.
 

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It started in early primary school when I took lessons in recorder flute for many years. Even today I still play recorders (made by Huber, Switzerland). But then, at a performance, I heard a solo cellist. The sound of this instrument touched and fascinated me so much that I started to play the violoncello and joined the classical orchestra of my school. I also played the 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 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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My discovery of the Norwegian YMCA Ten Sing movement, its introduction 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. Today, I firmly work in our church for the promotion and development of a broad range of popular and traditional music in worship and other church activities. 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. Our church 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. Today, I sporadically play for my own enjoyment and with friends almost everything from Evergreens and Standards via Gospel, Blues, Swing and Be-Bop to Elton John, Robbie Williams and Rainhard Fendrich. A for me new and exciting field was and remains free improvisation, with which I'm still struggling heavily.

 

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Jazz giants and the fascination of Vintage Saxophones
 

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As always with me, 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. - A great musical world!

 

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My re-discovery of Banjo and Old-Time Music
 

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A live encounter with Sean Moyses and his virtuosic playing on a 4-string Plectrum Banjo reminded me some time ago 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, over 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 banjo use 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.
 

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As always, only listening and reading was not enough for me. That's the reason why I, besides playing on several guitar types, also returned to the banjo - among them a Deering Tenbrooks with a Jens Krüger tonering made by Rüetschi in Switzerland. Occupying myself with American Old Time Music, I also 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 intend to further deepen my relationship with this interesting folky music- and instrument-world.

 

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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 is under the name Banjola 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 - ideal for late evening and night hours. 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 the way back to the guitar. After a bicycle accident in 2003, I believed that I would never be able to play a guitar again due to a remaining limitation in my left ellbow. 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 and adding some other tricks, I was able to return to my guitars.

The positive thing is that all these string instruments, from the violoncello to the banjola and the banjo 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, 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. A small ukulele is often accompanying me in vacation or in my backback when hiking in the mountains. I'm a special fan of Herb Ohta jr. and Daniel Ho and their great ukulele music. My favorite ukuleles are made by Kristen and Joe Souza (Kanilea).
 

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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 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 earlier times this way of playing the guitar - brought by Latin vaqueros to the Big Island in the 19th century - was passed down only within the own 'Ohana (extended family), often considered a family secret. In Slack Key you lower (slack) one or several guitar strings compared with standard tuning, and you play in open tunings (e.g. Taro-Patch = open G) or in a big number of other tunings like Wahine or tunings with the name of one of the famous Ki Ho'alu Masters. I'm a fan of Ozzie Kotani, Ray Kane, Keola Beamer and among the younger musicians of Patrick Landeza. I also make use of their teaching material.

 

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Native American Flute (Siyotanka, Hokagapi)
 

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What do you do musically, when you come back from work late in the evening, too tired for a concentration demanding musical instrument or even more 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 E- or D-minor. Such a flute can be played quite easily, but it's so expressive! In my case, they are a great complement to my recorder playing and related to the saxophone.
 

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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 compositons or traditional Native American tunes on it. But this flute really starts to live when you simply improvise, shut down your thinking, express 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.
 

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You can listen to this music also on CD. For example to the solo recordings of Jan Michael Looking Wolf (Kalapuya),  Keith Bear (Mandan-Hidatsa), Robert Tree Cody (Dakota/Maricopa) or of Grammy Award winner Mary Youngblood (Seminole/Aleut). The most prominent Native American flutist is R. Carlos Nakai (Navajo-Ute). Doc Tate Nevaqueya (Comanche), Kevin Locke (Lakota) and Tom Mauchahty-Ware (Kiowa) were and are most important for keeping traditional tunes at life. Artists of a younger generation, trying to explore also new paths, include Jonny Lipford, Mark Thunderwolf and Scott August.

If I let play simple 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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Great creators of such flutes are for example Odell Borg, Dennis Lombard, Ed Hrebec, Geoffrey Ellis and Brent Hayes. Flutes can also be found on the websites of Mark Thunderwolf, Jonny Lipford, John Two-Hawks and many others. I have a great F#m and a Dm-flute made by Charles Littleleaf, living in the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon. The instruments are made from 500 year old Pacific Northwest cedar tree. The picture below shows my one of a kind E-minor cedar flute, made by Ted Calavan (Oregon Flute Shop), Oregon. On these and other websites you can also find easily understandable instructions on how to play this humble, but so soulful instrument.

A very special recorder has been developed by the Swiss musician Alf Jetzer: The "Erdklang-Flöte" ("Earthsound flute"), available at
Huber. It has a personality und minor pentatonic tuning similar to a Native American Flute. Alf Jetzer also expresses my own thoughts with his related philosophy of "Befreites Musizieren" ("liberated making music").

 

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What a great world of music!
 

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Summarizing:
What a most beautiful, constantly new wonders opening world is the world of sounds, music and instruments! - If you dare to follow these paths playing, listening, reading...!
 


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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