Kreisler on my mind

When my cousin Dr. Bossuet Afonso requested me to play my violin at the centenary celebration of his father, the great doctor, scientist, artist and musician and distinguished son of the soil Dr. Emidio Afonso, I knew at once that one piece would have to occupy pride of place, even though I would have to play it unaccompanied: Fritz Kreisler’s Schön Rosmarin (Fair Rosemary).

I remember one annual day function of the St. Cecilia Music School at the hall of Mary Immaculate School (where the founder of the St. Cecilia Music School, Fr. Martinho Fernandes also taught) sometime perhaps in the mid- to late 1970s, when Dr. Emidio played this very piece, with his daughter Nelita at the piano and son Sergito, cello playing the bass line. The way I remember it, we the children were already on stage when the Afonso family came up to perform. I felt so proud as I whispered to my colleagues “They’re my relatives!”

Schön Rosmarin was a particular favourite of Dr. Emidio; I have vivid memories of him humming or whistling it as he worked in his laboratory, or walked from one house to another in his Campal compound, a place that is so full of good memories from my childhood.

Schön Rosmarin is one of three pieces (the other two being Liebesfreud or Love’s Joy; and Liebesleid or Love’s Sorrow) for violin and piano published under the title Alt-Wiener Tanzweisen (Old Viennese Melodies) in 1905, written by Fritz Kreisler but that he ‘playfully’ credited to nineteenth-century Austrian dance composer Josef Lanner (1801-1843). This ‘playfulness’ might be difficult for us to understand today, but Kreisler did it with many of his own compositions, passing them off as works by composers before his time, and only owning up to them later in life. He brushed off protests by critics at what they considered fraud, saying they had already considered them of value: “The name changes, the value remains”, he said.

Fritz Kreisler *

For those interested, there is a rare interview with Kreisler on WQXR radio on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 1955, available online on YouTube, where he explains why he ascribed his compositions to others: “[I can explain it] very easily: When I was a young man, I tried to make a position for myself as a violinist, and not as a composer. At that time, the violinists’ repertoire was very scanty, very thin. So consequently, I had to furnish, I had to increase the repertoire. And I couldn’t do it other than doing it myself….And the difficulty arose in putting my own name on my programme, because, being young and unknown and trying to make a position for myself as a violinist , that would have looked too bad. Nobody would have engaged me to hear my own works”. Quite a disingenuous argument. Furthermore, Kreisler admitted he feared critics would judge not only his playing but his compositional skills, and bias in one could affect the other.

I took the run-up to the Emidio Afonso celebration as an opportunity to delve deeper into the intricacies of Schön Rosmarin. A cascade of searches and related links took me to a very insightful video masterclass by violin pedagogue Roy Sonne from his “School of Violin Artistry” series. It is very instructive, and I now use many ideas and tips from it.

Who was Schön Rosmarin, or fair Rosemary? An old flame? An unrequited love? I’ve scoured through books and pored over websites, but there is no clear answer. Perhaps she was just the epitome of Alt Wien (Old Vienna), an era and way of life that would be blown away forever by the First World War, the centenary of which is also being commemorated in these years (2014-2018).

There are so many fantastic recordings of Schön Rosmarin out there, but none in my opinion match that of the violinist-composer himself, for sheer old-world charm and joie de vivre. Listen to his 1936 recording with pianist Franz Rupp. Fair Rosmarin comes to life in the three musical paragraphs (A-B-A, or bread-jam-bread in Suzuki parlance) of the work: a coquettish, flirtatious young woman, whose flutter of her eyelashes (the spiccato quavers) can conquer hearts in less than a heartbeat. Kreisler is a master of rubato, stretching and contracting time at will like an invisible rubber band.

Fritz Kreisler is also on my mind due to the fact that he served in the Austrian army during WWI. I learnt this through the writing of my friend Ariane Todes, musician, journalist and former editor of the prestigious stringed instrument magazine, The Strad. Kreisler’s book “Four Weeks in the Trenches: The War Story of a Violinist” was written while he was on tour, in hotels and railway stations, after being somewhat reluctantly persuaded to do so. It is an insightful first-hand account of WWI in particular (and a rare description of the fighting from the ‘other’ side) and of the futility and pointlessness of warfare in general.

(You can read the whole book online here).

Kreisler’s “musical ear” was actually of value in just one instance: He noted that “every shell describes in its course a parabolic line, with the first half of the curve ascending and the second one descending. Apparently in the first half of its curve, that is, its course while ascending, the shell produced a dull whine accompanied by a falling cadence, which changes to a rising shrill as soon as the acme has been reached and the curve points downward again. The acme for both kinds of shells naturally was exactly the half distance between the Russian and Austrian artillery……When I told [an artillery officer] that I could actually determine by the sound the exact place where a shell coming from the opposing batteries was reaching its acme, he thought that this would be of great value in a case where the position of the opposing battery was hidden and thus could be located.” And the enemy battery’s location was exactly as he had surmised.

What I found more telling was his observation of the humanness of the soldiers on both sides of the fighting: “It was there and then that I made a curious observation.  After the second day we had almost grown to know each other.  The Russians would laughingly call over to us, and the Austrians would answer.  The salient feature of these three days’ fighting was the extraordinary lack of hatred.  In fact, it is astonishing how little actual hatred exists between fighting men.  One fights fiercely and passionately, mass against mass, but as soon as the mass crystallises itself into human individuals whose features one actually can recognise, hatred almost ceases.  Of course, fighting continues, but somehow it loses its fierceness and takes more the form of a sport, each side being eager to get the best of the other.  One still shoots at his opponent, but almost regrets when he sees him drop.”

(An edited version of this article was published on 24 July 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

A farewell salute to Aruna Sunderlal (1939-2016)

Aruna Sunderlal

The music fraternity in Goa, certainly music teachers and young amateur musicians who have played at various times in orchestral projects in Bangalore will be very familiar with the name of Aruna Sunderlal, Founder and Managing Trustee of Bangalore School of Music, and they will be aware too of the huge respect she commanded not only within her city, but from her peers and colleagues from the rest of the country and around the world. The news of her death on 23 June came as a bolt from the blue to me, and is a big blow to the cause of music education in India.

When I visited the Bangalore School of Music sometime in 2010, it was already housed in its current location, a formidable 12,000 sq. feet building in R.T. Nagar, equipped with classrooms, recording studio and auditorium. At the time, the music charity that I had founded in Goa, Child’s Play India Foundation was barely a year old, and although Ms. Sunderlal had not focussed exclusively on our demographic (the underprivileged sector), what she had been able to accomplish was truly impressive and awe-inspiring. She was a living example of how much could be achieved by one person with a singular vision, and the steely resolve to follow that vision through.

Although I did meet Ms. Sunderlal at that visit, I was in the rank and file of the violas of the orchestral project (India National Youth Orchestra), so a convenient opportunity did not present itself for me to talk to her at greater length about Child’s Play. I really connected with her some years later, in 2013, when we were invited as delegates to the first-ever summit conference in India of the AAPRO (the Alliance of Asia-Pacific Region Orchestras) at the National Centre for the Performing Arts NCPA Mumbai. During the four days of the conference, as various facets of the current status and health of music in the region were discussed, I realised that although varying in degree, many issues were common to all our efforts. Everyone across the spectrum, from Child’s Play to the Bangalore School of Music to the NCPA was struggling and working hard to gain funding for their project. Without this, it is impossible to maintain running costs, and just as importantly, to grow and dream bigger for the future. All music education initiatives had to contend with long school hours, tuitions, exams etc eating into the number of waking hours in a child’s day, or the days in a week left over for music instruction or practice. All of us endeavoured to create new audiences for music among the public, and get more media attention to the arts.

In my conversations with Ms. Sunderlal between conference sessions, I learnt how she had begun her school at her home some thirty-odd years ago, and how it continued to function from there, an old colonial bungalow, for 22 years, until the current premises were constructed. She was naturally an old hand at soliciting funding from corporate houses and philanthropists, and only smiled when I told her of my frustration at this. “Be patient, but relentless”, she said to me. “Never give up! Never lose sight of what you wish to achieve. It will come if you persist”. These words of advice were a shot in the arm for me.

In a 2007 interview to The Hindu (the article about the school was aptly titled “Aruna Sunderlal’s Labour of Love”), she had laconically stated “We have done much with very little.” This was a huge understatement, of course. She has achieved more than others have done with far greater financial support.

A comparative study between the Bangalore School of Music and our Kala Academy over the same time span would be quite revealing. The Bangalore School of Music certainly offers instruction in a far wider spectrum of orchestral instruments. It has teachers for all the bowed stringed instruments (violin, viola, cello, double-bass), all the woodwinds (flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon), and most of the brass (trumpet, trombone, tuba, euphonium). This in itself is a huge accomplishment. The Kala Academy, despite being an older institution, with assured annual governmental financial support, and situated in Goa, the ‘Rome of the East’, with the advantage of a longer (by several centuries!) exposure to western music due to its colonial history, still cannot boast of this.

The Kala Academy has an inherent design flaw that has plagued it from its very inception. It is a creative, artistic institution, but administered by bureaucrats and politicians. As if this were not disadvantage enough, political considerations determine who wields the post of Chairman, and conversely, if a political party falls from power, so does the Chairman. Too often (in fact it would be hard to think of an exception), the Chairman while in office also holds other political responsibilities which eclipse the duties of the Chairman from the very outset. I have lost count of the number of times I have tried to meet various Chairmen, only to be told they were tending to the other portfolio which overshadowed all else. Meetings and decisions get postponed indefinitely, and files languish on tables in the meantime. It is an untenable situation. Such an important position, if it has to exist in the hands of a politician, cannot be a part-time consideration.

The story with the post of Member-Secretary is depressingly similar. I know of some dynamic teaching faculty members taking innovative proposals up to the administrative section, only to have them shot down on some pretext or the other. And on the other side of the ‘glass wall’ that divides administration from faculty and the department in general, they claim that teaching staff get complacent due to the security of a government job.

The argument on both sides holds for the other disciplines as well. Faculty from the Indian music, dance, and drama sections have at various times privately expressed their frustration with the system in place.

With the musical chairs (if you will pardon the pun) that is the order of the day with the administrative staff that make crucial decisions about the Kala Academy, it is impossible to have a comprehensive, studied, long-term vision, which is so crucial for the growth of any artistic, creative enterprise, certainly when building a lasting pedagogical tradition.

Aruna Sunderlal not only possessed this vision, but the grit and determination to see it through against all odds, to the end of her days. May her soul rest in everlasting peace.

(An edited version of this article was published on 17 July 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Advantage Music

“The scene is a garden at dusk; a tennis ball has been lost.” The beginning of a play or a novel? This was the opening sentence describing the scenario to the audience of Claude Debussy’s ballet ‘Jeux’ (Game), which is based loosely on the game.

I thought the euphoria of the Wimbledon finals would be a good enough excuse to explore the fascination of musicians with tennis.

Although Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was twelve years younger than Debussy (1862-1918), they struck up a friendship, although not a close one, which would last more than a decade. That friendship extended to the tennis court as well. The relationship soured later for musical as well as personal reasons.

Two other composers that played tennis together were Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) and George Gershwin (1898-1937). They seem unlikely partners, as their compositional styles could not be more different. Gershwin’s lavish Beverly Hills home had a tennis court, which saw the two composers sparring fiercely every week.

Their playing styles were markedly different as well. One observer account describes Gershwin as ‘nonchalant’, ‘chivalrous’, and ‘always playing to an audience’, whereas Schoenberg was ‘overly eager’, ‘choppy’ and had ‘learned to shut his mind against public opinion’. As in music, so in tennis?

Schoenberg’s obsession with notation extended to tennis as well. He devised a unique short-hand notation system for tennis, in which issues like ‘foot fault’ and ‘player rushes to the net’ were dutifully recorded. It never quite caught on.

Although British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) had a “damaged heart” following a severe attack of pneumonia as a baby and was told he would never lead a normal life, he became a keen sportsman, especially for outdoor pursuits like cricket, football and tennis. And when he played, he gave it everything.

Author Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy writes “Ben was intensely, remorselessly competitive in an almost sadistic way…When you were beaten by him at squash or tennis… you literally felt that he’d been ‘beating’ you.”

“My primary occupations are playing tennis and scoring the opera”, wrote Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) in 1916 to his friends while away in Finland working on his opera ‘The Gambler’. He was known to argue heatedly over every point as he played. Possibly the game could encroach upon his work as well, as he writes in another missive: “The famous international tennis star Prokofiev has arrived in Kuokkala and has taken part in a huge tennis competition. ‘The Gambler’ suffered most of all”.

Twenty years later, tennis was still important to him: “Besides working, I’m playing tennis and chess, swimming and reading.” He was a perfectionist on court as well as in music.

Tennis courts (or the courts for the game that preceded it, the Jeu de Paume, or ‘Game of Palms’ as the game initially was played without racquets, which were introduced later) have been used as venues for music events, notably opera. La Salle du Jeu de Paume de la Bouteille does not exist anymore in Paris, but it was the site of the first public performance of the opera ‘Pomone’ by the seventeenth-century French composer Robert Cambert (1628-1677), also the first known opera in French.

Cadmus et Hermione, the first tragédie-en-musique (tragic opera) by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) was staged at the Jeu de Paume du Bel Air in the rue de Vaugirard in 1673.

The Burgtheater Wien (Vienna Burgtheatre) was initially a tennis court, being refurbished as a theatre for operatic performances and plays in 1741.

Should instrumentalists play tennis or should they avoid it for fear of injury? This gets debated at lot on dedicated music forums even today. But the violin greats of the past and present seemed not too worried.

Heifetz tennis

The definitive violin virtuoso of the 20th century, perhaps of all time, Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987) was a keen tennis player. In his autobiography “Early Years in Russia”, he writes in a letter to music critic and friend Viktor Valter: Heifetz: “Not far from us is a tennis court. I often play and have already learned to play pretty well, although I don’t have time to play every day”. And he was not alone, by his account. Other students like him, of the great violin pedagogue Leopold Auer, would come to play as well.

Another great violinist Isaac Stern (1920-2001) seemed to love the game even more. In his autobiography “My First 79 Years”, he writes: “[Tennis] may seem a strange attraction for a violinist, who should be more cautious than most when it comes to hands, but I had never paid much attention to my hands and had discovered early in life that if I didn’t worry about them, they’d take care of themselves.”

Stern further related how he once sprained his wrist while playing tennis, before an important concert where he was scheduled to perform the Brahms Violin Concerto. His doctor placed his right wrist in a cast for several weeks, removing it just days before the performance. But his mind-over-body concentration ensured that he played the concerto right through without feeling any pain or discomfort. In his words “That’s one of the things the body (or brain?) can do sometimes in moments of great need.”

He continued playing tennis even after this experience: “I didn’t start worrying about my hands, and I didn’t stop playing tennis. Artistic control of one’s medium should never be achieved at the cost of draining the joy from life. “

Stern even uses tennis analogies when dispensing pedagogical advice, comparing bow strokes to wielding the racquet, and the follow-through needed in both.

Present-day violinist Joshua Bell plays tennis “pretty well”, and in his childhood was Indiana State Junior Champion (age category 9 to 10), apparently without having had a single tennis lesson.

When Pinchas Zukerman got bored of “just being a soloist” in his youth, he seriously contemplated becoming a professional tennis player! He would pack a tennis racquet along with his violin when on tour, rush straight from the airport to the nearest court, and back to it again after rehearsal. Fortunately for us, he stuck to music.

Closer to home, Khushroo Suntook , chairman of the NCPA Mumbai and founder of the Symphony Orchestra of India, was a national-level tennis player in his youth.

The occupational hazard of tennis players, called tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) can afflict violinists and other musicians too, regardless whether they wield a racquet. Zubin Mehta actually needed surgical treatment for it in 1984.

Conversely, do tennis players have a musical connection? Rafael Nadal’s grandfather (also called Rafael Nadal) was a conductor, directing the local band in their hometown Manacor, Majorca.

And Roger Federer took up the violin in 2013! Just for a commercial to mark 75 years of the Lucerne Festival. Do watch the video:

For one heart-stopping moment, he grips the violin like a racquet. To use your own words, Rog, please “stick to tennis”.

(An edited version of this article was published on 10 July 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Discrimination, Persecution, Caste and Music: The story of János Bihari

 

Many of you will be familiar with the song by Cher, “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” that hit the pop charts in the 1970s. The title refers to the stereotyping of an entire group of itinerant people, constantly on the move, and therefore viewed with suspicion and exploited wherever their wagon rolls to a halt. We use the term ‘gypsy’ generically for anyone who travels a lot. The Maruti SUV was presumably named ‘Gypsy’ presumably because of its implied ability to go anywhere, even into the most inhospitable terrain.

I’ve just finished an excellent novel “Hungarian Dances” by my friend, England-based music journalist and author Jessica Duchen. In it, Duchen interweaves the past and the present, fiction and music history so skilfully that they all come to vibrant life. The main protagonist is British-born violinist Karina Veres, of Hungarian Gypsy descent, and in unlocking the secrets of her own family history, she is able to see her own life, her career and future so much more clearly. I won’t give away more than this, because it is a book I highly recommend, an un-putdown-able page-turner that had me under its spell from start to finish.

In the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, Duchen credits a long list of musicians, scholars, books and websites that helped her research. Among the books was “And the Violins stopped Playing: A story of the Gypsy Holocaust” by Alexander Ramati. It was a book I had read many years ago, after I had watched the film of the same name on British television. It is Ramati’s “biographical novel about an actual group of Gypsy, or Romani people and their flight from persecution by the Nazi regime at the height of the Porajmos (Romani Holocaust; the word literally means “the devouring”) during World War II.”

The book is a heart-wrenching read for its vivid description of the humiliation and persecution of an entire people for no reason other than their “otherness”. Upto 1.3 million Romanis perished in the Porajmos.

What surprised me, however, was the fact that I was able to get the gist of much of the conversations in the Romani language between characters in the book, drawing solely from my own rudimentary knowledge of Hindi. The numerals sound very similar to ours, and other words, for nose, eye, foot, skin, dust, water, knife, work, village etc are also strikingly similar.

In fact, it is this very linguistic clue that points, among other things, back to India in determining the origin of the Gypsies, also known as the Romani people, or simply the Roma. The term Gypsy in English (French ‘gitan’, Spanish ‘gitano’, Turkish ‘kipti’) is believed to refer to their supposed Egyptian origin, now thought to be incorrect. But another sound-alike word, Frech ‘tzigane’ (German ‘zigeuner’, Hungarian ‘cigány’) is more telling, derived as it is from the Greek ‘athínganos’, meaning ‘untouchable’.

The Roma are thought to have originated from the northern Indian subcontinent, present-day Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab. Genome data from 2012 seem to suggest that “the ancestors of present scheduled tribes and scheduled caste populations of northern India, traditionally referred to collectively as the Ḍoma, are the likely ancestral populations of modern European Roma.”

An article on the subject in OPEN magazine the following year stated: “Because of the country’s caste system, which keeps DNA locked within communities, India is fertile ground for such [genetic study] research.”

Professor Ian (Yanko) Hancock, himself a Romani, and Director of the Program of Romani studies at the University of Texas in Austin in his book “Danger! Educated Gypsy: Selected Essays” lambasts many ‘Gypsy experts’ and linguists for their racist bias and ignorance and reinforcing stereotypes about the Romani people through flawed research and conclusions arising from it. He produces linguistic evidence to support the hypothesis that the migration from India westward into the Byzantine empire (Byzantium was also known as ‘Rum’, from where the term Roma could have derived) began in the 10th century AD, as the foot-soldiers of armies defeated by Mahmud of Ghazni, and their camp retinue colleagues and families, fled from his wrath. There is oral tradition among the Banjara community to support this as well.

It was through a passing mention in Duchen’s “Hungarian Dances” that I stumbled upon the story of Hungarian Romani violinist János Bihari (1764-1827), founder of the verbunkos, the Hungarian dance and music genre. It is tempting to speculate on the provenance of his surname, but I am not sure that the region of present-day Bihar would have been known by this name all those centuries ago, and most Romani literature doesn’t indicate the region as their source of origin.

The surname is more likely linked to the Bihar county of the Kingdom of Hungary, today the Bihor county in present-day Romania.

Janos Bihari

In his heyday, János Bihari and his family ensemble of strings and cimbalom were famed and much in demand throughout the Austro-Hungarian empire and beyond.

He was nicknamed the “Hungarian Orpheus”, “The King”, and Franz Liszt was deeply impressed with his playing: “The tones sung by his magic violin flow on our enchanted ears like the tears.” The finale of Pablo de Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) borrows a theme from János Bihari; Liszt used the same melody is his Hungarian Rhapsody number 13. Even Beethoven fell under his spell, using his themes in his commemorative work “König Stephan”. Jenö Hubay’s ‘Hejre Kati’ also takes Bihari’s melody for its finale. Quite a legacy for someone from the fringes of society who could not notate his own music.

Tragedy struck twice, first with the loss of his son to bowel cancer, and then the injury to his left hand in an accident. High society seems to have abandoned him once he was unable to play his magic violin. He died in abject poverty, a dramatic downturn from his earlier life of lavish luxury. His funeral was attended just by his Roma community, according to historical records.

Fortunately for us, contemporary violinist Roby Lakatos (who is also acknowledged at the beginning of Duchen’s book) is a direct descendant of János Bihari. Bihari’s spirit certainly lives on through him. I have been fortunate to hear him twice in London, and his feats on his violin, performed with effortless ease, beggar belief.

Apart from Beethoven, Sarasate, Hubay and Liszt, other composers have also had Gypsy references or inspiration in their music: just a few prominent examples include Giacomo Puccini’s opera ‘La Bohème’; Johann Strauss II’s operetta ‘Der Zigeunerbaron’ (The Gypsy Baron); Maurice Ravel’s rhapsody for violin and piano (played incidentally with much verve by Joris Decolvenaer in the city recently), later adapted for violin and orchestra.

But for all society’s fascination with and glamourisation of the idea of the Roma and their culture, they have been persecuted through history and continue to face discrimination at every turn, with racist stereotypes flogged even harder by a militant far-right wave sweeping across Europe.

(An edited version of this article was published on 3 July 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Medicine and Music: Sutures and Strings

Life is full of the oddest coincidences sometimes. For instance, catgut entered my consciousness simultaneously in the worlds of medicine and music, sometime in the late 1980s.

In medicine, of course, in any field involving surgery, one learns about catgut as a suture material. But around my medical student and internship years, I was also exposed (via audio cassettes from VP Sinari) to the music of Concentus Musicus Wien conducted by its founder Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who passed away just months ago (1929-2016).

Concentus Music Wien is a period instrument ensemble begun by Harnoncourt in the 1950s. It was my first introduction to HIP music. ‘Historically Informed Performance’ or HIP is an approach to the performance of Western music and theatre. As far as music is concerned, it essentially means performing music with special attention to the technology and performance conventions that were present when a piece of music was composed.

The stimulus for this concept is believed to have been Johann Sebastian Bach’s second death centenary in 1950, around which time the composer Paul Hindemith wrote: “We can be sure that Bach was thoroughly content with the means of expression at hand in voices and instruments, and if we want to perform his music according to his intentions we ought to restore the conditions of performance of that time.” The concept was even older, but the Bach milestone brought it into focus in the music world.

This idea profoundly influenced Harnoncourt, and with his Concentus Musicus Wien was soon at the vanguard of this movement. So the Magnasound label cassettes I bought (at forty rupees each then!), featuring him directing the Concentus Musicus Wien in performances of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos and violin concertos for instance were ear-openers. I was familiar with the works, but I had never heard them played them anything like that.

It compelled me to think of how music would have sounded in the time it was written. But is impossible to be absolutely certain, even using the most faithfully reproduced, ‘authentic’ period instruments. The contemporary tendency to revere the score as a ‘perfect’, ‘faithful’ representative of the music has turned music itself into a text-based art form rather than a more spontaneous, creative performance-based one.

What has this to do with catgut, you may well ask? Well, the stringed instruments of Bach’s time for example were strung with catgut. When I first learned of this, it excited me greatly; that a mundane workaday surgical material used in the profession I was studying and beginning to practice, was once (and still is, by players of period-instruments and HIP music) pressed into service to produce some of the most sublime music in the world.

In fact, the clue lies in the very term. Catgut has nothing to do with the guts of cats. Catgut, whether used for purposes surgical or musical, is made from guts (or intestines) alright, but of sheep, goat or cattle. So catgut is believed to be a shortened form of ‘cattle gut’. But an alternative explanation attributes the name to a corruption of ‘kit’gut, ‘kit’ being a folk term for a fiddle or violin. There existed a kit violin used by dance masters in royal and noble courts and by street musicians alike, small enough to fit into a pocket, hence also called a pochette (French for pocket). So ‘kit’ is thought to be a reduction of ‘pocket’, or even a corruption of ‘cittern’, the Renaissance stringed instrument.

catgut

Surgical catgut of course would need a preparation and sterilisation process very different from the manufacture of strings. In my medical student years, I managed to procure a sufficient length of surgical catgut (I can’t remember whether plain or chromic ie treated with chromic acid salts, but it was a thick diameter) and strung it up on my violin. Both my violin and the suture protested at the indignity of the experiment. The suture seemed to be saying “I was made to thread the eye of a surgical needle, not a lowly violin peg! I’m a life-saver, not an entertainer!” But it did produce a sound under tension when the bow was applied to it. It was more of a rasp than a pleasing tone, and the bow didn’t grip it easily at first. I didn’t try ratcheting up the tension and therefore the pitch further as I feared the suture would break under the strain, and my violin bridge along with it.

In my England years, I was able through my musician colleagues and at luthier ateliers to try out actual period-instrument baroque violins fitted with catgut strings. They produce a warm, rich tone with overtones quite different to the sound created by ‘modern’ strings. But they tend to slip and slacken more easily, and one has to keep re-tuning the instrument.

The thinner, higher-pitched catgut strings are made from plain gut, whereas the thicker, lower-pitched strings have a gut core wrapped in sterling silver wire to improve their tone.

The more I thought about catgut ‘binding’ my profession and my passion, I began to realise that other suture materials have at various points been used as strings on musical instruments as well. Take non-absorbable suture materials like silk, or nylon, polyester or even stainless steel. Ethnic Chinese instruments used silk, and so many instruments use nylon and metal strings.

Perhaps this should not be so surprising as all that. In both cases, we are looking at a sufficient length of “string”, of a certain tensile strength; in surgery, we want knots to maintain their tautness, in music strings need to be resilient enough to be stretched to the required pitch. In both cases, they should not have the ‘wick effect’: in surgery this is to prevent infection and also not to compromise the integrity of the suture, and on a musical instrument, a hygroscopic effect would also compromise the life of the string, perhaps jeopardise the instrument itself (being made of wood) and play havoc with pitch.

And the ultimate requirement for music is the ability to produce a sweet, pleasant tone when plucked or bowed. The mellow sound produced by a catgut E string is unforgettable if you have been used all your life to the metallic shrillness of a ‘regular’ E string. I’m not a convert yet, but I have a healthy respect for catgut, quite apart from all its uses in surgery.

(An edited version of this article was published on 26 June 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Muhammad Ali (1942-2016): Heavyweight Humanitarian

My father was not particularly fond of sport; far from it in fact. But one sportsman whose career he avidly followed was that of Muhammad Ali. It could not have been from actually watching footage of the footwork of the balletic boxer (unless he had watched some fights on German television in the 1960s before we relocated to Goa). By the time we had television here in Goa in 1982, Ali was two years away from being diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome. And my father really never took a shine to television. So his fascination with Ali must have stemmed from coverage in the national press, Time magazine and the radio.

He would follow the fights (I clearly remember the fights versus Joe Frazier and Leon Spinks) on the radio as if his own life depended on the outcome.

And my own fascination with this giant Ali began too, listening to the news bulletins and reading about his trademark bravado and taunts.

What really ingrained the “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” catchphrase in our young minds was the song “Black Superman” by Derrick Morgan. I am not sure how the 45 rpm record came into the house or even what was on Side B, but the song became a fast favourite. It was the first song I had heard of that was about a sportsman, and a living legend at that.

A friend of ours had just got a proper drum set, which found residence in our house as well. He got a huge picture of an eagle painted on the bass drum, so of course we were The Eagles. That a bunch of guys halfway across the globe also went by that name did not matter one jot to us in Post Office Square. A motley group of six or seven of us would take turns playing drums, violin, bulbul tarang (the Indian “banjo”) and tambourine, belting out the hit songs of the time with gusto.

The cacophony and decibel level could often provoke the ire of my father. When we heard a crescendo of ominous footsteps approaching, one good way to defuse the situation would be segue seamlessly into the “Black Superman” refrain. By the time he had entered the room, the song would be well underway and his scowl would melt into a smile, and he would even join in for the punchline: “He calls to the other guy “I’m A-A-li! Catch me if you can!””

Muhammad Ali gradually disappeared from the sports news headlines in the 1980s, especially after his illness with Parkinson’s syndrome. It was only later that I read about his historic stance on the Vietnam War, and his refusal to be drafted into the US armed forces in 1966, even though his career suffered immensely on account of it.

He made his reasons abundantly clear, much perhaps to the embarrassment of White America: “My conscience won’t let me shoot my brother or some darker people. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger.”

When confronted by a belligerent student at a college campus, he elaborated even further: “I ain’t draft dodging. I ain’t burning no flag. I ain’t running to Canada. I’m staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I’ve been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for my right here at home.”

He had cocked a snook at the white establishment in America a few years earlier, in 1964 as well, in changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and embracing Islam: “Cassius Clay is a slave name. I didn’t choose it and I don’t want it. I am Muhammad Ali, a free name – it means beloved of God, and I insist people use it when people speak to me.”

This was no publicity stunt. He had done an extended study of religions before being convinced that Islam was the best way to bring about lasting peace, the “truth and the light”.

“A rooster crows only when it sees the light,” he said. “Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. I have seen the light and I’m crowing.”

And contrary to the current hysteria about Islam in the press worldwide, it was the tenets of this same religion that prevented him from going to war in 1966.

“The real name is Islam. That means peace. Yet people brand us a hate group. They say we want to take over the country……That is not true.”

With the spectre of Donald Trump looming large over the US, and Islamophobia and fascism being peddled by an increasingly right-leaning world leadership, Ali’s words are more relevant than ever.

Ali’s anti-war stance flew in the face of the notion of what one was supposed to do for one’s country. It took courage to follow the direction of his own moral, ethical compass even if it seemed “unpatriotic”, “anti-national” to do so.

In the words of New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden in his 2013 article: “Why should a black man, whose ancestors had been raped and beaten, deprived of human rights in the name of building a democracy, take up arms to fight an immoral war?”

muhammad ali

One might ask the same question of oppressed peoples in other countries. Why should they don a uniform and shed their blood in the service of a nation that did not treat them with dignity and equality in their own land?

Ali’s actions changed Rhoden’s notion of “what constituted an athlete’s greatness. Possessing a killer jump shot or the ability to stop on a dime was no longer enough. What were you doing for the liberation of your people? What were you doing to help your country live up to the covenant of its founding principles?”

For throwing these questions into public debate, quite apart from his remarkable achievements in the boxing ring, Muhammad Ali deserves to be called “The Greatest”.

(An edited version of this article was published on 19 June 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Lessons from the Ladies of Lee

ladies of lee

Had it not been for a poster at the door of the Pedro Fernandes music shop down the road, I might have missed the Ladies of Lee concert at the Goa State Museum, and what a shame that would have been. The choir sang with so much feeling and sincerity, of course, but also with such precision and intonation. It was so impressive that I went to their concert at the Se Cathedral Old Goa as well.

It reminded me in some ways of the Yale Whiffenpoofs concert. In many ways, they were poles apart, of course: the Ladies of Lee obviously all-female, while the Whiffenpoofs were a male choir. One a gospel choir devoted to praise and worship, the other exuberantly barbershop, glee club. But both were American and celebrated that fact.

While the Whiffenpoofs gave us Cole Porter, Manhattan Transfer and Paul Simon, the Ladies of Lee sang the bewitching works of Rosephanye Powell (“Still I Rise”) and Stacey V. Gibbs (“Ride the Chariot”), both of whom happen to be African-American. This is worth mentioning because both “Still I Rise” and “Ride the Chariot”, while they can be seen as spirituals, are so much more as well. If one visits the website of Rosephanye Powell, we are informed that although the lyrics are hers, “Still I Rise” was inspired by the eponymous poem by poet laureate Maya Angelou: “It is a women’s anthem, saluting the strength of women to persevere”, the website tells us. But Angelou’s lines in my opinion are so much more powerful, so it is not clear why Powell took Angelou’s title, but not the poem itself. The original poem makes clear references to slavery: “Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise”; “I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide….Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise”; “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.”

“Ride the Chariot” can also be seen in two ways. The chariot can be seen as a means of spiritual ascent, common in Judeo-Christian imagery, and indeed in ancient Greece and India as well. But the Chariot is also a symbol of deliverance, of the “freedom train”, the Underground Railroad, the chain or network of secret routes and safe houses used by enslaved people of African descent in the United States to escape to freedom, often to Canada, the “Promised Land”.

Both choirs have the unmistakable stamp of American choral training. The emphasis not only on intonation, which is a given, but also vowels and diphthongs, enunciation, embouchure, clear entries, and making musical and literal sense of the lyrics, all these were common to both.

In both the Ladies of Lee concerts I attended, at the Goa State Museum Patto and at the Se, they sounded best in my view when they sang “unplugged” and let the performance space do its resonant magic. Even the Patto venue, not the most flattering acoustic venue, came to life when the singers spread themselves in a circle around the auditorium. And at the Se, when they did this in the central space encircling some of the audience, the effect was truly celestial.

In this particular respect, one was also reminded of the Chor Universität Wien (the Vienna University Choir) led by Vijay Upadhyaya when they performed at Taleigão church some years ago. The Viennese choir was “unplugged” throughout of course, but they too at the end assembled along the sides of the church and let the whole shrine resound with their voices. And Upadhyaya deliberately positioned the singers such that the voice groups (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) were scattered randomly across the “circle”. This ensured that the harmonies were heard democratically by everyone when they did this, but it also meant that each singer knew his or her part so absolutely well that s/he did not need the “safety-in-numbers” approach that lesser choirs are known to resort to, clinging like worker bees around one “queen” who is more confident of the part.

And what binds all the aforesaid (the Ladies of Lee, the Yale Whiffenpoofs and the Chor Universität Wien) together? It is glaringly self-evident: they are all university choirs in the truest sense of the term, culled respectively from the ranks of current students of Lee University Cleveland Tennessee, Yale University New Haven Connecticut, and Vienna University. In a sense they encompass a whole range of possibilities: all-female, all-male, and mixed-voice choirs. But every single member of all of them is an incumbent student of their university; which is as it should be. It is their youthfulness that gives a university choir its vitality, its pulsing energy and sound. Anything else would be a travesty of the term “university choir”. Furthermore, a university-funded ensemble that did not have its own students solidly in its ranks, with fresh students entering each year to replace those who had completed their university education, would be a squandering of its finances. It would also imply that suitable voices could not be found among the hundreds of students in its rolls, which makes no statistical sense.

I was fortunate to tour South India with the Chor Universität Wien after the Goa concert, and got up close with the singers. They were students of disparate academic streams: architecture, art, history, political science, theoretical physics, with just a sprinkling of music majors, and even fewer with any prior musical background. A similar potpourri of backgrounds was evident among the Yale Whiffenpoofs and the Ladies of Lee. The testimonies of the Lee Ladies revealed not only this, but diverse socio-economic and geographical origins, all unified through the making of music as an ensemble, a tightly-knit team.

And my experience on tour with the Chor Universität Wien is that they became a family as well, forging friendships and really getting to know each other as individuals through their university years, even though they quite possibly might never have been aware of each others’ existence on such a huge campus were it not for the choir and the intense regular rehearsal schedules that brought them together. These friendships have persisted even after leaving the university and therefore the university choir.

Dr. Jonathan Rodgers, conductor of the Ladies of Lee and Vijay Upadhyaya work with their respective choirs closely, intensely and regularly round the year. No conductor is parachuted in from outside for just a short period to stage a hoopla of concerts before everyone disbands again. A choir, like any ensemble, is more than the mere sum of its parts. The whole organic unit becomes the instrument, and this is not possible to achieve without very regular and intense work through the year. A group of people breathing in synchrony becomes one much larger living breathing being. The warm-up exercises, the almost yoga-like centering of one’s voice to mesh with everyone else’s, the laser-point focus upon the collective sound, these make a truly great choir.

The Yale Whiffenpoofs go one further, with each outgoing batch choosing their successors, including their leader from the junior batches of university students.

The Whiffenpoofs are 14 in number, the Ladies of Lee 26 by my count, the Chor Universität Wien employ much larger forces. But all these university choirs drink deep from the fountain of youth, and this is their distinctive USP as well as their raison d’être.

(An edited version of this article was published on 12 June 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Sairat

I feel a little out of my depth writing about a Marathi film, simply because I have not seen many others before ‘Sairat’. The only other Marathi film I remember having bought a ticket and gone to see, is ‘Fandry’, also written and directed by Nagraj Manjule.

But I knew none of this when I set out to see ‘Sairat’, after reading about it in my friend Amita Kanekar’s column. Once I have decided to see a film, I prefer not to read up any more about it, so it does not distort my own opinion and expectation of it.

Sairat

In retrospect, one could say it is surprising a film like ‘Sairat’ was not made sooner, given the wide prevalence of casteism in our society so long after Independence, despite a Constitution and a judicial system that outlaw it so vehemently. The hacking to death of 22- year old engineering student V. Shankar in broad daylight in Udumalpet Tirupur in Tamil Nadu just a few weeks ago by sickle-wielding goons seemed a chilling re-enactment of the finale in the film. Like Parshya in ‘Sairat’, Shankar had fallen in love with an upper-caste girl following a classroom romance. Young love would seem the most natural thing in the world, but evidently not in India, not when a grotesque, perverse social order is challenged. And that murder, and even the killing of one’s own offspring should be preferred to the imagined stain upon a family ‘name’ or ‘honour’ brought about by an inter-caste union shows how deeply this absurd prejudice is ingrained in our collective psyche, and only underscores how much work still needs to be done to uproot it.

The fact that the goons who murdered Shankar are still at large despite CCTV footage and eye-witnesses, several of who recorded the murder on their mobile phones, is indicative of the permissive malaise in the system that allows the caste system to impudently stay in place.

Will ‘Sairat’ accomplish anything in changing the current status quo? Time will tell. But there should be more films like ‘Sairat’ and ‘Fandry’ rather than the current diet of escapism from mainstream cinema.

I must confess I was so caught up in the story, the fleshing out of the characters, and the ribald comedy unfolding on the screen that the background music remained in the background at first. But the song ‘Yad Lagla’ caught my attention. It sounded, well, different. Then about 40 seconds into the film, the gradual swell of the horns made me realise this was not ‘synthesised sound’, but the real stuff. You could hear a real, and really good, disciplined brass section! And creating a beautifully homogenous sound.

When the singer begins to sing ‘Yad Lagla’, each eight-beat phrase is punctuated by seemingly off-beat rhythms (on the second and seventh beats), but which fit the Marathi lyrics so well. Not only did the composer (or composers as I would learn later) give a lot of thought to this, but increasingly, as the song unfolded, it was clear that the orchestral forces were pretty large, and did not seem to be from here.

Although I have never myself played in Mumbai’s film circuit, the music grapevine keeps me just maybe three or four degrees of separation from what is making news in the Indian film music industry. If so many musicians had been flown into India just for this film score, the grapevine would have been abuzz.

In any case, I wait until the very end at most films to read the closing credits. The music credits show up almost at the end, so it can be a long wait. I made a mental note to read the music credits to ‘Sairat’ carefully, and got back to watching the film.

The musical interlude in ‘Yad Lagla’ (where Akash Thosar’s Parshya runs in slow motion through the path between the plantations) is so well-conceived. There are cross-rhythms, the beautiful hemiola (the intoxicating situation in music where you are shifting between duple and triple meter, somehow having dual citizenship to both!), and then triplets, and then a jugalbandi between first a solo violin and the rest of the strings, gradually joined by woodwinds to bring us right at the doorstep of the next verse. It is reminiscent of really good Baroque writing, with clear melodic lines, and lovely tone colours. What is a Baroque concerto, if not a jugalbandi between solo and ripieno?

The triplets return in the next interlude (the scene at the well), but this time given over to the oboe, while the answer in the flute seems to belong to Rinku Rajguru’s Archana/Archie, a tender love duet between the two woodwinds. The climax, where the singer’s voice swells and soars like the flocks of birds swooping ecstatically in formation as they silhouette themselves against the dusky village sky marries sight and sound so wonderfully.

‘Sairat Zala Ji’ employs the love duet device of flute and oboe, and the hemiola which is so intrinsic to our folk music. Two groups of three beats, or three groups of two? It is an aural illusion, and delightfully so.

Who can resist the upbeat mood of ‘Aatach Baya ka Baavarala’ and even more so, of the turbo-charged ‘Zingat’? The conventional orchestral musicians might take a back seat here, but you can tell everyone’s having a blast as they record the score.

The credits went up too quickly for me to take in details, but I did learn that the music was recorded in Los Angeles, and looking it up on the internet later, that it involved a 66-piece orchestra, with 45 strings, 6 woodwinds, a 13-piece brass section and a harp. The composer credit said simply ‘Ajay-Atul’.

It is to the credit of the brothers Ajay and Atul Gogavale, that they saw the merit in hiring a professional Hollywood orchestra and a famous studio (Sony Pictures, formerly MGM studio, which has recorded Ben Hur, Gone With the Wind, E.T and Schindler’s List), and in so doing, apparently created Indian film history.

Newspaper interviews quote the brothers referring to the inspiration of Tamil films and Ilayaraja. It is new territory for me to explore. But the Baroque references in ‘Yad Lagla’ are unmistakeable, and it works so well in an Indian context.

The brothers Gogavale freely admit at every interview that they are self-made and self-taught, but here’s the irony: had they been conservatoire-trained, they might have produced a score that would have been very different, and perhaps not as pure and innocent as this one.

This is not to discount the advantage of a conservatory education. But they are quite right when they speak of the symphonic sound, which they wanted, and which they amply got from the Hollywood Scoring Orchestra. One can only hope that we take music pedagogy and ensemble playing to such heights that scores like these can be recorded right here, to the same level, and soon.

(An edited version of this article was published on 5 June 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Music and Disability

I first read about the great violinist Itzhak Perlman before actually hearing a note from his instrument. It was the 1970s, and we had old issues of the German magazine Stern lying in the house. In one of them, there was an article intriguingly titled “Meine Hände sind nicht Krank” (“My hands are not ill”). Splashed across the page was this black-and-white picture of this exuberant young man in his twenties or so, with an Afro and sideburns, eyes closed dream-like, enigmatic smile on his face, lost in the music of his violin.

The article described his affliction with poliomyelitis at age four, and how he had nevertheless become one of the most promising violinists of his generation. Since then, he has become a violin legend, as soloist, chamber musician, and as conductor and pedagogue. History will remember him as one of the all-time greats of the violin, up there with Elman, Milstein, Heifetz and the rest of the violin pantheon.

Like most of the world, I have heard him, on recordings and in the cinema (notably “Schindler’s List” and “Cinema Paradiso”) and I have also been fortunate to hear him perform live, first in Mumbai in the 1990s and on several occasions when he toured London in my England years. I met him backstage after the Mumbai concert, and had a first dose of his impish sense of humour, with a great love of puns, which he delights in sharing with (inflicting upon?) his audience. The more toe-curling the puns, the better he seems to like them. For instance, he plays the 1714 ‘Soil’ Stradivarius, and he loves to tell people how he has to take pains to clean his ‘soil’ed violin.

Perlman is also an ardent champion of polio eradication and disability rights. In an interview in 2011, he reminisced how polio changed his life: “One afternoon I was on the bed, and I was standing up on my bed in Tel Aviv, and I felt a little weak, and I had to sit down, ‘cause you know I was four years old – I was wild riding bikes and stuff like that… And all of a sudden, I felt like I couldn’t do it, and that was it.”

itzhak-perlman

Perlman was born in 1945, a decade before the Salk inactivated vaccine against polio came into use (1955), and sixteen years before the oral polio vaccine developed by Albert Sabin (1961). Even a few decades later, studying medicine in the 1980s, and having to learn about these vaccines in paediatrics and preventive and social medicine, I did not quite imagine we would see a polio-free India (the World Health Organisation declared India polio-free on 27 March 2014, with no cases of wild polio reported for three years), and a polio-free world tantalisingly close, with only two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan still polio-endemic. And one has to be constantly vigilant that countries where polio has been eradicated remain polio-free, through vigorous vaccination drives, and well as public sanitation measures. Polio can still make a comeback until these reach the most remote corners of the world.

Perlman feels very strongly about this. At the “Concert to End Polio” in December 2009, he stated “There is no reason anybody in the world should have polio… it’s just ridiculous.”

“If people know that I am a polio survivor, that I’ve had my career despite that, for me, that’s not really an important fact.  The important fact is why go through that if you have a vaccine.”

“We’ve been jabbing at this thing,” Perlman added, “and the knockout punch is very close.”

He shrugs off the attention on his illness, and his having gotten to where he is despite it. In an interview to Wall Street Journal in 2014, he said “A lot of people say to me that it’s amazing that I persevered despite the polio….That’s baloney! Because you do what you are supposed to do. If I did not have some sort of talent in music, I wouldn’t have done it.”

He was a regular guest on Sesame Street, the educational television for preschoolers. In 1981, a poignant episode shows a little girl bounding up the couple of stairs to a platform, while Perlman climbs up using crutches, behind her. As he settles into a seat beside her, he says “You know, some things that are really easy for you, are real hard for me.” He then proceeds to play his violin effortlessly, up and down across its register, causing the girl to reply ”Yes, but some things that are easy for you are hard for me”, and plays her instrument at an elementary level (J. S. Bach’s Gavotte in G minor, which is a Suzuki Book 3 piece).

That short clip of about little over a minute long inspired countless children of that generation not only to take up the violin, many of who are professional musicians today but also taught an important lesson at a young age that people with disability need have no limitations in what they are able to achieve. It is inspiring to watch even today, and many teachers, of music and in general, use this video in their classes for this reason.

(An edited version of this article was published on 29 May 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

“We are really impressed with India’s history and monuments”

 

Steinhaus Orchester Besigheim will perform a benefit concert in aid of Child’s Play India Foundation on 26 May 2016 6.30 pm at Menezes Braganza hall Panjim. Their conductor Roland Haug spoke to me in an exclusive interview.

steinhaus orchester besigheim

1. Tell us a little about Steinhaus Orchester Besigheim.

Steinhaus Orchester Besigheim was formed in 2005. The local music school had hosted a youth symphony orchestra from South Africa, and our organisation team decided to visit them and play several concerts in South Africa.

2. What are the essential features of a wind orchestra? A visit from a wind orchestra of thirty musicians is certainly a highlight for us in Goa.

A wind orchestra doesn’t have any strings, only woodwinds, brass and percussion and drums. For the India tour, the Steinhaus Orchester Besigheim has in its ranks two flutes, seven clarinets, one bass clarinet, five saxophones, two bugles, four trumpets, two euphoniums, one baritone, one trombone, two tubas, and drum set and percussion.
You have a lot of possibilities with this combination. You can play original music which was composed especially for wind orchestra, and a lot of transcriptions of all kinds of music.

Roland Haug D

3. How long have you been associated with the Steinhaus Orchester Besigheim?

I have been with the orchestra since its inception; I’ve been its conductor since the first concert tour.

4. Tell us a little about your musical career outside of this orchestra.

I am also trumpet teacher and the leader of the Music School of the town Besigheim with about 760 pupils, and I am conductor and Music Director of several other wind orchestras, and have toured the world with them as well. I recently celebrated my 30th anniversary as conductor.

I have also undertaken several big projects such as “Brass music and choir” and the performance of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Joseph and the amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” with a cast of over 190 actors and musicians, “Annie Get your Gun”, a companionship concert with the motto “Brass meets strings” and gala concerts with the Kreisjugend-Orchester Ludwigsburg.

4. The Steinhaus Orchester tours a lot, having done tours of other countries. Does this create a special bond between them, special memories, shared experiences?

The members are aged between 18 and 80. Some of them have participated in every tour, while others are touring for the first time with the orchestra. It’s wonderful to make music with people who love to do this together and love to travel to foreign countries. It is remarkable how young and old have fun together and help each other.

5. How has the Indian experience been so far?
We are already touring and performing in North India, and are really impressed with India’s history, its monuments, the sight- seeing and we have made many friends along the way.

6. What sort of concert programme will we hear in Goa?
We are playing an entertaining programme. You will listen to the Polka “Leichtes Blut” by Johann Strauß, the waltz “Die Schlittschuhläufer” (Skaters’ Waltz) by Emil Waldteufel, the Frank Sinatra standard “My Way” and also some surprising pieces of music like “In a gentle rain” and a body percussion.
A special highlight is our famous musical singer Kaatje Dierks. She will perform “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and songs from Vicky Leandros with the orchestra. She is a famous singer, and has performed in leading musicals such as Cats, Grease, Hair, Buddy, Footloose, West Side Story, Evita, We Will Rock You, Les Miserables, and Mamma Mia, to name just some of them.

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 25 May 2016)

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