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Here you can read exciting articles about some of the protagonists of the jaw harp and ethnic music world.
  • “Playing the Fujara is like Archery”: Interview with the Fujara player Marco Trochelmann

    In real life, Marco Trochelmann is a high school teacher for music and German. Originally, he is a piano player and drummer, but he discovered the Slovakian bass flute Fujara already during his university studies. The instrument put such a spell on him; he could not take it out of his hands. Until today, he has been producing several Fujara CDs and compositions for the instrument. Marco Trochelmann also conducts workshops on a regular basis and he operates a comprehensive website called tonfinder.de, dedicated to this extraordinary instrument. In an interview with Helen from DAN MOI he talks about his experiences as a cross-boarder musician in Slovakia and provides with an understanding of playing techniques and sound parameters of the Fujara. He says, “I have been living with the Fujara for over 20 years now and for me the instrument has still a lot to do with freedom, namely the freedom to explore and to research.”

     

    How did you discover the Fujara?

    Marco Trochelmann (MT): In 1997, I moved to Berlin to study music and German studies with the aim to become a teacher. My main instrument was the piano and besides that I practiced drumming and singing. I encountered the Fujara in a Berlin student digs. I intended to record some music with a fellow student. But he had a Fujara standing around, which a German instrument maker had stored at his place. The whole evening I tried out the instrument. There are still recordings with the Fujara and a dissected grand piano around from that evening. I was permitted to borrow the instrument. Finally, I had it for 10 years until the instrument maker wanted to have it back.

    When it comes to playing techniques, what must one observe to play the Fujara well?

    MT: You need to listen carefully. The instrument “tells” you, whether something is good or not. You need to practice in a focused and self-critical manner, play a lot and experiment, but more than anything else it is important to give yourself into the instrument, so that listening becomes eavesdropping.

    The fingerings have different “meanings”. The air pressure is decisive for what overtone is being addressed. Over the years, I realized playing the Fujara is like archery. It is pretty easy to shoot an arrow, but to hit what you’d like to hit is much more difficult. The same is true with the Fujara. You can play nice tones rather quickly as you don’t need a specific “approach” if compared to other instruments, but to play the tone that you aim to play is the real challenge. The higher the tone the more difficult it gets. “Easy to play, hard to master” hits the nail on the head for the Fujara.

    How are classical shepherd’s tunes characterized?

    MT: The classical Slovakian shepherd’s song form begins with an initial blow (rozfuk) that has often a personal touch. The connoisseurs of the art are able to distinguish who is actually playing. After a deep “murmur” this flourish changes into a melody. The melody is merely hinted at and is almost played in a jazz-like manner. Listeners that are familiar with the song may already recognize what will be played. Then, the singing part without any instrumental accompaniment follows. In the interludes the Fujara sounds again and at the end the melody is played one more time with the so-called prefuk, also known as woosh. The tonality is usually mixolydian. On the diatonic flute the basis of the most melodies is also a scale that starts at the quint tone of the basic tone, for instance basic tone G – tonality of the melody: D mixolydian (D major with c instead of c sharp).

    What experiences have you gathered at the Fujara festivals in Slovakia?

    MT: At the times of the festivals a lot of stuff happened for me in my little Fujara world. In this respect, 2004, 2008, and 2013 were particularly important years for me. I got to know Pavol Smutny, Winfried Skrobek, Winne Clement, Dusan Holik, Milan Koristek, and many more. Fujara players, makers, friends – people I have communicated through the internet with in the preceding years, people that I may have met on Facebook or Youtube materialized right in front of me and there was a surprising and uncommon atmosphere of familiarity. Exchange, inspiration, motivation, and a sense that things were starting to happen. We played concerts in Detva and Zvolen and performed together on the big stage in Detva during the folklore festival in 2008.

     

    I received quite some praise and acknowledgement for my extraordinary Fujara sound. Many were interested, but there were also critical voices as my play was very far away from the traditional Fujara music.

    Then out of the blue Dusan Holik, the founder and main organizer of the international Fujara festival, passed away after a heart attack in 2017 and currently nobody knows when and where a next international Fujara festival is gonna happen in Slovakia.

     

    What role does the Fujara play in the national culture of Slovakia?

    MT: Today, the Fujara is known in the whole of the country, but it will be mainly played in the Podpol’anie region around Detva. There, the Fujara tradition is still alive. In my point of view, the fact that Slovakians re-discovered the instrument is connected to the UNESCO declaring the Fujara (and its traditional melodies) to the world culture heritage in 2005. That attracted international attention and produced a kind of feedback effect. Many makers realized that the Fujara was acknowledged in other countries and that is why young Slovakians also started to gain interest in the instrument. National groups began to use the Fujara as a status symbol and meanwhile it is also a symbol of Slovakian national pride.

    Is there a scene for the Fujara on an international stage and has there been an upswing of the instrument in recent years?

    MT: I believe, the first international Fujara wave happened at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. Back then, the instrument was quite popular with the world music scene in Switzerland. Gérard Widmer started quite early to combine it together with the didgeridoo player Willi Grimm.

    Around the millennium the internet and finally the acknowledgement as UNESCO World Heritage in 2005 were 2 factors that extremely helped. I appear to belong to a group of musicians that have been riding on the second wave.

    Who comes to you to learn the instrument?

    MT: People who encountered the Fujara and who are deeply moved by it and its sound, and now look for a teacher. The stories how the people found their way to the instrument are totally different. Frankly, it is not quite normal to encounter the Fujara and then wanting to play it (except for people in Slovakia perhaps). At my workshops or my private lessons completely different people from diverse parts of the society find their way to me, but I experience all of them as curious people on a quest. Among them, of course we also have the professional musician who feels like getting to know the Fujara and who wants to save some time by getting clear guidance. The people are great and I like it a lot. The Fujara as a reason to meet seems to be a good reason.

  • Mouth Harp Graffiti: An interview with Kian Wind

    German Mouth Harper Kian Wind from Leipzig discovered the Jaw Harp only a few years ago. He got deeply involved with the instrument. Today he is performing his own music on jaw harp and loop machine. Helen from DAN MOI was talking to him about his newly released album "Miluju Tě" and about his participation at the Marranzano World Festival in Catania. We are talking about good mouth harps, take a look into Kians collection of Jaw harps and try to find out more about the magical influence a mouth harp can have on someones live. Further Kian talks about his song „Street Indigenous“, that was written in memory of the graffiti culture and its heroes. In the interview you also hear songs from the album "Miluju Tě". The interview was recorded in German language.

    Part 1: "Minnelied" from the album "Miluju Tě"

    Part 2: "Street Indigenous" from the album "Miluju Tě"

    To listen to Part 3 – 5 please visit our German blog post.

  • The acoustics of the jaw harp: Robert Vandré and the fascination of jaw harp physics

    Where is the connection between playing the jaw harp and speaking? Robert Vandré says one learns a lot about the jaw harp when dealing with the physiological and psychological speaking processes. There are similar patterns at work that generate the sound while speaking or playing the jaw harp, e.g. the movement of the tongue or the various resonant spaces in the area of the head. Robert Vandré is a hobby musician and for over 20 years a jaw harp acoustics specialist. Vandré is author of a jaw harp school and an authority for meticulous jaw harp acousticians as he examined and measured the instrument very thoroughly. Currently, there are only a few studies about acoustic parameters of the jaw harp. His website rvandre.de that is online since 2002 is one of the few sources that comprehensively analyse the sound properties of the jaw harp based on substantiated figures. That is why it is a treasure for instrument researchers and acousticians, but at the same time for jaw harp players that are seeking a better understanding about the functionality of the instrument. Helen from DAN MOI met Robert in 2017 at the Ancient Trance Festival in Taucha, near Leipzig.

    Quote: http://rvandre.de/toene.html

    The mouth harp as natural scientific object

    I’ve been always very interested in the acoustic conditions of the mouth harp. I am a natural scientist, ecologist and am working as a soil scientist and a botanist. Music is my hobby. So I have a completely different approach to those instruments, if compared to other jaw harp players. Of course I am alsointerested in the feel and how jaw harp music is influencing the soul, butI alsolook closely at the different factors and want to know how the instruments work on a physical level. I am rather a technician who says: that is rhythm, that melody, that happens via the diaphragm, those are the fingers, that comes from breathing, that is articulation.

    Robert Vandré acoustically examined and measured the jaw harp and evaluated the data. He recorded the tones of a jaw harp and by support of a computer software he measured the frequency range of those tones. The range displays the overtones that resonate in a jaw harp tone (photo frequency). Since the year 2002 Robert Vandré is having a website called rvandre.de, where he documents and provides public access to this research. The graphs show what overtones are present in a sound to what degree, which helps to understand how a sound is physically built. The outcome of the research was astonishing, says Robert Vandré, “I was very surprised how regularly the pattern of the sound the tongue generates is”. Due to his measurements one can comprehend how the jaw harp works: each jaw harp has a basic tone and all other tones of the mouth harp are overtones of the basic tone that can be generated by specific movements of the mouth and throat area.

    "I discovered the jaw harp many years ago at a festival. There were jaw harps from Schwarz, Austria. So I bought one and played a little on it. At first I was thinking of Snoopy from the Peanuts. He is playing the jaw harp, for instance in the bus. So I tried around a bit and came to the point, where I could play melodies that others in my surroundings were able to guess. Then the instrument was lying around for years and I forgot about it until I went to the music fair in Frankfurt. That also was many years ago. There was a booth with Hungarian jaw harps from Szilágyi. I bought one and on the train ride back home it totally got me: It was really cool to play a good jaw harp and to try out things on it. And that really triggered my curiosity: how does a jaw harp work, what is the physical background? I started to try around, to think about it and read things, for example from linguistic scientists who describe how a tone is generated and formed in the vocal tract."

    Play the Jew's Harp Like a Virtuoso by Robert Vandré

     

    How choose your jaw harp

    The acoustic curiosity is not limited to a theoretical level. Robert Vandré developed his own technique on how he improves mouth harps that do not sound as well. “I love to play the jaw harps of Josef Jofen who unfortunately does not make any more as he retired. I also like to play on Schlütter’s and Szilágyi’s jaw harps as they both are very good. If one does not sound so well I take pincers and shorten the end of the tongue that one strikes with the fingers. The tone pitch isn’t right anymore, but I don’t care. These are my best jaw harps today.

    To find a good instrument is for beginners already very important. But how does one find a good beginner’s instrument? “If there is the opportunity at a jaw harp booth it is a definitely a good idea to try out a couple of them.”, Robert suggests. “It is important to choose an instrument with a soft tongue, so that the tongue of the instrument does not vibrate with too much energy at the teeth. The jaw harp still should have a good sound.” For Robert the secret of a well-sounding and well-playable jaw harp lies in the length of the bended part of the tongue. As described above, it should be short, so the counteracting vibration is not too strong. Then the instrument can produce a beautiful sound.

    Quote: http://rvandre.de/spieltechnik.html

    To play with body control

    Like most jaw harp players, Robert is an autodidact, but eventually he has passed on his knowledge to others. To give beginners a better start he compiled his knowledge in a course that is also published as a book. Every now and then, Robert Vandré also conducts workshops for jaw harp beginners and advanced players.

    What keeps me going with the jaw harp is that the sound reaches the inside and it really gives pleasure. It’s just so nice to play. I also enjoy playing the jaw harp in body control, i.e. controlling my breath as Aron Szilágyi demonstrates in a beautiful manner. Controlled rhythms, controlled pieces, chorales, folk songs, so really playing music on the jaw harp and not only sounds. That is what I am interested in. I’d like to make some proper music with it. As I discovered the jaw harp for myself it was virtually non-present in public space as far as I remember. Merely the sound of the coil spring as a sound effect showed up here and there.

    Apart from that there was the jingle of the German kid’s programme “Sesamstraße”, but there the jaw harp plays only 2 tones in the rhythm. The jaw harp as a melodic instrument did not seem to be present at all. As far as I see it, there is almost no living jaw harp tradition in Germany, apart perhaps towards the Alpine area, around Molln in Austria. There, playing the jaw harp was completely re-invented. Here in Germany, the world music scene has brought the jaw harp back to life, more precisely the people dealing with spirituality, who gain access to the jaw harp via the feeling.

    In 2007 he has seen really good jaw harp players for the first time at the Ancient Trance Festival that back then was hosted in Leipzig, says Robert Vandré. “To watch the good players live was my motivation to keep on dealing with jaw harps.

    Robert Vandré playing "Abendspaziergang":

     

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