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Gilad Atzmon

    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 anyway.
    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 being circular.
    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.

Alex Potter

    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 Beuken

    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.
Four short 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
The last movement of Telemann's cantata: Die Zufriedenheit

Tajima Tadashi

    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.