SINGING IN THE SCHWARZWALD:
LIEDERKRANZ — A Wreath of Songs (Satis Shroff)
A burly, baldy waiter shuffled by with a tray full of beer bottles and wine glasses for the delight of the guests at the festival hall in Freiburg-Kappel. Elderly members of the men’s choir called Liederkranz, which in English means a ‘wreath of songs’ and their elegantly dressed spouses were also there, short grey-hair neatly cut, wearing conservative jackets, gold necklaces and smiles, instead of frowns. After all, they were out to have a pleasant time and listen to their spouses singing songs from olde Germany.
We come across many folk songs (Volkslieder) that have been handed down verbally through the generations, and whose original composers are unknown, from the 16th century onwards. Lieder have been mostly written by German poets. The folk songs have undergone a lot of adaptations with the passage of time. A hymn, for instance, is a sacral song used in the church and among the Hindus in India and Nepal the sacral songs have their origin in the vedic scriptures. In Germany we have a rich tradition of the soldier’s song (Soldatenlieder), the marching songs (Marschlieder), student songs (Studentenlieder), drinking songs (Trinklieder), love songs (Liebeslieder) and the wanderer’s song (Wanderlieder) to name a few.
In the German language the word ‘Lied’ also denotes poetry, for instance Schiller’s Lied von der Glocke (Song of the Bell) and a vocalised form for example Gustav Mahler’s Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) which is based on six poems from The Chinese Flute by Hans Bethge.
A kiddy band played ‘Raindrops falling on my Head.’ Music without words. It was interesting to know that a lot of work is being done to motivate the youth in Kappel and get them busy with music and songs lest they become idle and loiter around. What is interesting is that a lot of German Moms and Dads take an active interest in the development of their children and make sure that the home-works are done and that the children have enough to do in their spare time by making them take part in music lessons, riding, soccer, fire-brigade, swimming lessons, karate and other activities. Unlike in Sweden, where the teachers take over the discipline pedagogy and parents don’t have to do or help their children with home-works, in Germany the educators expect the parents to help with the lessons. So if you have a migrant family with parents who are good in Arabic, Turkish or other language but not in German, it is pre-programmed that the child won’t make much headway at school and will end up as a hair-cutter, car-mechanic, doing the laundry of others or cleaning the floors of German hospitals. Extra tuition means investing extra money.
The children’s band played Glenn Miller’s ‘Moonlight serenade’ a wonderful song and melody for a fox-trot. Ah, what associations a melody conjours. You remember the university dances, gliding gracefully with your beautiful partner in tact with the music. When I hear Frank Sinatra’s version of ‘New York, New York’ I’m transported to an evening at the Piazza San Marco where I did a fox-trot with a charming masked lady who spoke German. You can’t help tethering a melody or song to a landscape or a person from your past, can you?
We began the evening with Manfred Bühler’s ‘Jubilate’ a great song to wake up the people, who might be already be lethargic due to a sumptuous dinner. The next song or Lied was ‘Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen’ composed by Michael Praetorius. We’d scrapped ‘Adeste fideles’ in lieu of ‘Adiemus’ composed by Karl Jenkins and sang it for the first time. I like the crescendo in the part ‘Anamana coole rawe…’You can experience this great feeling and notice your blood pressure going up, the released hormones surging in your blood stream. Ah, music knows no bounds. The audience goes with you as you transcend to new heights in the course of the Liederabend.
Our next song was ‘La le lu’ composed by Heino Gaze, which is actually a lullaby for the young and old. It is an evergreen in the German-speaking world of South Tyrol, Switzerland, Austria and Germany, and you hear it quite a few times. By this time we had the smiling and applauding audience on our side. After that we chose to sing a song made popular by Reinhard May ‘Über den Wolken’, which means ‘Above the Clouds.’ The song gives you the Top Gun feeling with the sound of the jet starting, accelerating and taking off. The wind is blowing from the north-east and you’re on your starting tarmac 03, the jet shoots past leaving a thundering sound in your ears, the wet asphalt vibrates, the rain is like a veil, till your jet leaves the airstrip and heads for the skies. This song is a hit among the pilots of the Lufthansa and the Luftwaffe and, of course, among aviation fans.
After Reinhard Mey’s Lied we were unanimous and sang ‘I will follow him’ composed by J.W. Stole. We sang it with gusto in a very Badische German accent. It sounded like: I ‘laff’ him. Whoopie Goldberg would have got a kick out of it with her ‘Sister Act.’
We finished off the evening with a creamy song composed by the popular Austrian Udo Jürgens ‘Aber bitte mit Sahne.’ We had the otherwise conservative Kappeler audience raving with this song. The brass orchestra of the Musikverein Freiburg-Kappel then took over under the conductor of Manfred Preiss, a stiff, balded guy with a good command of his charges and in the initial phase he marched off with a Lied composed by John Williams ‘Concert March from 1941,’ followed by Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia Op.26, №7, then Three Celtic Dances (Reel, Air, Jig) .It was wonderful music with excellent changes in rhythm and texture. The next was slections from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ Jerry Bock’s ‘Anateva’ followed by Sven van Calster’s ‘Via Aurelia.’ In this music you could literally see and hear the sounds of horses cantering along the Italian countryside. The last song was Willy Fransen’s ‘Adios Havana’ with catchy a composition from Cuba that ended with a hot samba rhythm.
It’s always pleasant to fraternise with the locals from Kappel and the surrounding areas of Littenweiler, Buchenback, Stegen and the Dreisam Valley. You get to know a lot of people gradually. The Kappeler are a friendly people o speak the Badische dialect and that’s why they call me ‘Sadisch’ which I find rather symbadisch, which means sympathetic. Kappel has pleasant Black Forest surroundings where the brass-band plays the Heimat music, and the people from the local apothecary, bakery, the green grocery, the butchery, the locals who runs the taverns and inns with names like ‘Schutze’ and ‘the Lion’ and ‘Kreuz’ all come to have a drink or a chat in the Festhalle where events are staged.
The singers of the men’s choir Männergesangverein ‘Liederkranz’ Freiburg-Kappel (MGV) were still sitting erect in their chairs with their comrades or spouses. There were candles flickering on the tables with coloured metallic balls and pine leaves heralding that it was Christmastime. There were people drinking apple or orange juices, sekt, beer, mineral water. Some were relishing their wurst, hot dogs with buns but all eyes were fixed towards the stage. The Männergesangsverein (MGV) bade farewell to its young conductor Felix Rosskopp who has decided to live in Offenburg where he’ll be working as a music teacher, and he received a picture book about lovely Kappel, an envelope with money and a painting of Kappel. He seemed delighted, and I couldn’t help adding that it had been a pleasure to sing under his guidance He’d brought his fiancee with him, a decent brunette who also liked music and aired her views.
Welcome to the Schwarzwald, the fair town of Kappel and the Männergesangsverein (MGV).
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About the Author:
Satis Shroff is a lecturer, poet and writer and the published author of five books: Im Schatten des Himalaya (book of poems in German), Through Nepalese Eyes (travelogue), Katmandu, Katmandu (poetry and prose anthology by Nepalese authors, edited by Satis Shroff), and two language books on the Nepalese language for DSE (Deutsche Stiftung für Entwicklungsdienst) & Horlemannverlag. He has written three feature articles in the Munich-based Nelles Verlag’s ‘Nepal’ on the Himalayan Kingdom’s Gurkhas, sacred mountains and Nepalese symbols and on Hinduism in ‘Nepal: Myths & Realities (Book Faith India) and his poem ‘Mental Molotovs’ was published in epd-Entwicklungsdienst (Frankfurt). His lyrical works have been published in literary poetry sites: Slow Trains, International Zeitschrift, World Poetry Society (WPS), New Writing North, Muses Review, The Megaphone, Pen Himalaya, Interpoetry. Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize.