30.06.10

On the Sunday I travelled back to Liepzig with the film team where I met the Gewandthaus Choir who were readying themselves to travel to planet Stelzen to perform their Volksmusik program. On the bus I had a long chat with their conductor Gregor, a nice young guy with a tattoo on one shoulder and a small baby nursed in his other arm. He told me about the themes of the songs and why they are still as current as ever: love, separation, nostalgia, and the myriad of colours from the human heart. The Choir had put together a program of Silcher, a composer who had created one of the most important collections of German folk songs. Even if he is lesser known today than he perhaps should be his collection is important. I get to play with them back in the barn as above us the accordions still lazily stretch out from the roof and the manure organ hangs ominously behind us, waiting for the next chance to open it’s wings and croak out it’s wonderful microtones. After the concert and the euphoria of Germany’s 4-1 trouncing of England has subsided, we all gather on a hill and I get to sing some songs with them. I’ll never forget this one:
Morgen muss ich fort von hier, und muss Abschied nehmen…..

The next stop is the heart of the Erzgebirge close to the Czech boarder. It is here I meet the bandoneon player Rudi Vogel- German Soul music with a capital S. His story is a long one and I get to take it over a few days as he shows me the little bandoneon workshop in Klingenthal (sound-valley as I like to call it) where his instruments were made. Rudi is now in his 70’s and only plays the odd wedding, singing songs that were once forbidden under DDR rule. He tells me how he was asked by Honecker and co to accompany their parties until the mid 70’s when he couldn’t take that kind of society any more. He then was forced to stop playing in public and had to wait a good 20 years for the wall to fall before be began anew. He plays me songs that were once forbidden for the most bizarre of reasons. He talks and then he plays- all day long. His accent is so broad it makes the folk from Stelzen seem like English news readers. It takes me a long time to really tune in.

He is a tall man and he is walking breathing music. Without his bandoneon he doesn’t add up to much, he tells me. If he doesn’t play he suffers vicious pain and cannot sleep. His face is a mixture of an old man’s and a 7 year old boy’s. He’s never left these mountains. The songs seem simple at first but when I try to play along they are anything but- tonics become dominants become sub dominants become forbidden again. After a long day of songs and story telling my brain and heart are filled to the brim. It’s something else to meet a soul like this.

This film is supposed to be about German Folk music. Once you move behind the clichees you get into a different zone that for me has nothing to do with German culture itself but more with Ur-emotions– the very roots of human understanding. From a musicians perspective an old guy playing three chords on a bandonoen may seem like a quaint notion but hearing the stories behind the songs and listening closer reveals a whole new layer of meaning. This guy is on his own planet, he is as far away from the music I heard last weekend as a New Zealand Maori is from a Mongolian shepherd- only they happen to speak a similar language here. There seems to be a universe of variation within this German speaking music world and I’m sure it’s similar elsewhere. In general, the music here is more about Melody than Rhythm. There are no dances in the Erzbegirge, only songs. The rhythms are simple but the melodies can be complex and winding, even 3 chords can be combined to make difficult forms. I start to feel more strongly how much the European classical music owes to such folk traditions. With Rudi you also understand how politics tried to smother these songs which simply wouldn’t die. Another of Rudi’s favourite pain-killing schnaps quickly halts such trains of thought.

Tomorrow we go to a Stammtisch, a coffee and cake affair for pensioners which Rudi plays and sings at. It is deep in the forest in a small Gasthaus. I can’t wait to hear their stories.