Zither players from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey convened once again for the 31st Sterling Zither Seminar. Jane Curtis, whose report follows, served as host for the event and led the zither enthusiasts through a well-structured seminar program, which spanned two days. The seminar was held at the Greenspring retirement community in Springfield, VA.
April rolled around again, bringing, amongst the spring blossoms, our thirty-first semiannual Sterling Zither Seminar. Pennsylvanians Kurt Maute, Toni Walter, and Tom Groeber were on hand, as well as Virginians Dave Kyger, Elisabeth Lloyd, Jane Curtis, Karl Skowronek, and Tom Leoni; Marylanders Jim Vorosmarti, Maria Skowronek, Steve Dippel, and Don Tsusaki; and New Jerseyite Bill Kolb. At the playday on Friday 11 April we played mostly folk and Alpine-type music.
Saturday morning found everyone all set up and ready to go. First on the program was the easiest of our five pieces (participants don’t always agree with me on what’s easiest) An Müller Sepperl seina, a nice little Boarischer by Sepp Müller, set for three zithers. It’s a good exercise in position playing, and being easier, it enabled us to pay more attention to dynamics and accenting, instead of just working to pound out the notes. The classical selection of the day came from Willi Schäffler’s four-voice arrangement Viere kleine Stücke alter Meister: the Sarabande and the Menuet. These are charming little pieces when all four voices come together and players hear their independent voices combine into a lovely tapestry of sound. After some work getting the voices together, we were able later in the day to add expression and smooth out the attacca from the Sarabande to the Menuet.
The hardest selection of the day was my two-zither arrangement of Hernando’s Hideaway, a great tango by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The first voice, also good as a solo, requires definite accenting, very sharp damping of accented notes, very clean rests, smoothness on the connected groups of eighth notes, and a feel for the rhythm and spasmodic nature of the dance. The second voice requires familiarity with the contrabasses, striking them cleanly and loudly, and (as with Zither 1) clean rests, smoothness, and a feel for the rhythm. This piece developed a long way from a very ragged start in the morning to a surprisingly snappy version toward the end of the day.
Promoroaca, a strongly-accented Rumanian folk dance, had some different requirements. Each of the voices in this trio arrangement adds its own special spice to the mixture, as the mode goes in and out between major and minor. Zither 1 throws in a mordent here and there and a strong grace note sliding onto some repeated high notes. Zither 2 has strong off-beat tones in part two and a background pattern of arpeggiated chords in section three. Zither 3 maintains a smooth continuum and adds fill-in runs at appropriate points. Once again, there was a great difference between the first playthroughs in the morning and the final much more spirited repeats later on.
Franz Schwab’s delightful Postboten Boarischer in Uwe Schmidt’s equally delightful three-voice arrangement does not have many technical difficulties, but it needs to be played cleanly, with spirit, and with attention to the transitions between repeats and the transitions from movement to movement. The biggest danger here is being carried away by the sheer Schwung of the piece: getting away from the solid one-two beat of the Boarischer and going faster and faster till the inevitable trainwreck. Our final playthrough managed to keep the Schwung but not run away with it, a good signoff to another lively day of zither work and play.
Come play with us at Sterling Zither Seminar №32 in early November 2008.
Front Row Seated ( L to R ) Jane Curtis, Elisabeth Lloyd, Maria Skowronek
Back Row Standing ( L to R ) William Kolb, Karl Skowronek, David Kyger,
Toni Walter, Jim Vorosmarti, Tom Leoni, Kurt Maute,
Stephen Dippel, Tom Groeber, Donald Tsusaki