He again came to Bielefeld to play in the Bunker.
It was said that his concert a few years ago was sold out, so we
arrived well before time - at least 45 minutes early. The place was
rather empty. A few people were drinking beer, or a glass of wine at
the bar. The bunker is a confined space, holding at most one hundred
people. So we sat down near the center section where the musicians
play. Gradually the regulars drifted in. Many older people like us.
This was the local jazz scene. We had time to absorb the atmosphere
and to enjoy some wine. But we noticed various loudspeakers
throughout the bunker. I said that I didn't think that they would be
using amplification, since it is a small room of reinforced
concrete, buried beneath the earth, which reflects the sounds
The place was filling up, and Gilad Atzmon
appeared in a leather jacket, looking a bit heavier than I had
imagined, together with a few other people. One of them seemed to be
his wife, or perhaps girlfriend - also with leather jacket. She was
not a musician, at least for tonight's performance. They started to
play, with amplification. I was enjoying it, although I found the
sound to be rather overwhelmingly loud. He had a small console with
knobs for regulating the volume of sound, and as he got into the
music, he gradually turned it up higher and higher. Without
amplification, it would have been great, but my ears were beginning
to hurt, and so after an hour we left. We seemed to be the only
people in the room, which was quite full, who were unable to enjoy
this volume of sound.
Why is it necessary for modern music to be so
loud? Why does the modern concert-goer expect to have the ears so
overloaded? Would Gilad Atzmon prefer to play at a normal level of
sound, without amplification?
Thinking about it, and looking for a solution to
this general noise problem of modern life, I googled through the
internet and discovered Musicians Earplugs.
Undoubtedly, Gilad Atzmon and the other musicians in his band were
wearing them. Watching a jazz concert on TV recently, I looked
closely at one of the guitar players whose hair was short, and he
was definitely wearing them.
Thus I decided to get a pair for myself. I soon
discovered that there was a hearing-aid shop near here, and I
further discovered that hearing-aid shops have a whole range of
products for protection against overly loud noise. They also had
musicians earplugs. So I had a pair made, and after a week, they
were ready. Looking at them, it was clear why the simple foam rubber
plugs don't work with me. My inner ears are oval-shaped, rather than
Unfortunately, I found that when wearing them,
the inner noises of breathing, or the sound of the tongue when
playing the flute, seemed to be amplified by the earplugs, making
them unpleasant to wear. Singing would have been impossible with the
earplugs. Yet reading further in the website of the Etymotic
Research people (the makers of the filters for these earplugs), I
see that they are also recommended for singers. According to the
fitting instructions on Etymotic's web-page, for the plugs to work
properly, they must go deeply into the ear - past the second bend in
the ear channel.
So I returned to the hearing-aid shop and got
them to make new molds, going more deeply into my ears. The woman at
the shop wasn't particularly helpful, and was unsympathetic to my
dissatisfaction. At least this new fitting would not cost anything
more. A week later, new plugs came, and they were somewhat longer.
The problem of internal noise was less, but it was still
unacceptable. The woman at the shop had told me that she was
standing in for the person who normally runs the shop, but who was
having a holiday just then. So after a week or two I went back again
and found the younger woman who normally runs the shop to be more
friendly and helpful. I explained the situation to her, showing her
the pages I had printed out from Etymotic Research, and she agreed
to take much deeper molds of my ears. This second replacement was
again carried out with no extra charge to me, and now I do have
comfortable earplugs which are properly fitted. There is still a
certain level of internalized sound, but it is not objectionable
when playing the flute.
Despite the slightly quirky name, this group is
absolutely first rate! I don't think I have ever heard anyone play
the harpsichord with the ease, fluency and virtuosity which Markus
Märkl exhibited in this concert. The reviewer in the local
newspaper, in his little piece of criticism, compared the violin
playing of Daniel Deuter to that of Nigel Kennedy. For once, I had
to agree with him. And then of course, Heike Johanna Lindner is a
wonderful cellist and player of the viola da gamba. She often plays
in our Christmas Concerts.
If you click into their Internet site you will
find various pieces from their CDs which can be freely downloaded
and listened to on the computer. And if you like, you can order the
full CDs directly from them.
He has a great voice without the slightest trace
of strain, singing counter tenor in the best tradition of English
music. I had the honor of accompanying him in the first performance
of Johann Freislich's Cantata "Gesellet euch den Hirten zu" in
modern times. A wonderful experience!
Marie-José van den
A few years ago, during a sweltering French
summer, we played some concerts together with the Dutch soprano
Marie-José van den Beuken. I recorded things with a minature
mini-disc recorder, and having just now rediscovered the discs, I
couldn't resist including some excerpts in mp3 format here. The
recording was in the church of the small village of Minot in
Burgundy. The others were Hildegard Moonen, who is also Dutch,
playing the viol, and the cembalist Hans-Martin Knappe, who is the
Cantor of the ancient church at Kirchdornberg here. Listening to
these pieces brings back pleasant memories of wine and music.
baroque chansons, by Anonymous
O let me
weep, from The
Fairy-Queen, together with the song "Here let my life"
from the cantata If ever I more
riches did desire, by Henry Purcell
last movement of Telemann's cantata: Die Zufriedenheit
This was the first time I had heard a master of
the Japanese flute, the shakuhachi, playing in concert. Some forty
years ago, when I was a student at Canberra, another student of
mathematics, a Japanese, played something for us in a private
concert at the house of one of the professors. She then performed a
Japanese tee ceremony. As I remember it, she played recognizable
notes and tunes on her Japanese flute. But what a difference this
concert of Tajima Tadashi was! Looking at the website I have linked
to here, I see that he has also recorded CDs with well-known tunes
and songs. But the concert here was totally different.
It was arranged by the German-Japan Society, and
it was a way for Japan to thank the many donors who had contributed
after the recent tsunami catastrophe. Tajima Tadashi, the Master of
the Sakuhachi, was to play a series of concerts in Germany and
Austria. Here in Bielefeld, he played in the small Süsterkirche
in the middle of town. The simple stone structure seemed appropriate
for this kind of music. We came early, thinking it might be very
full, but only perhaps 70 or so people came. The Master appeared in
his traditional Japanese clothing, a small, older man. He bowed and
then climbed with dignity onto the table which had been set up in
front of the alter and settled into a comfortable kneeling position.
He asked us in halting English to refrain from applause. Then,
closing his eyes, which remained closed throughout the performance,
he began with a deep breath.
What strange sounds emerged! Often loud, breathy.
Mostly without vibrato, sometimes letting a tone fade to nothingness
with wonderful breath control. Then passages with flutter tonguing
and various kinds of trills. This is music which has arisen out of
Zen Buddhism. Sounds for meditation. But also sounds of nature. What
is it like to be a crane? Or what is it like to give birth? Totally
unlike the music we know. Not just a sequence of tones of different
pitch and rhythm. It is hardly something which could be written down
using some system of standard notation. Rather, it seems that this
music has been handed down from one generation to the next.
The three or four different shakuhachis which
Tajima Tadashi played were strange, earthy objects in themselves.
These are bamboo flutes. It is a thick kind of bamboo, cut off right
at the ground so that the bottom of the flute flares out a bit with
the roots. So different from the refined boxwood flutes of the
European baroque era.