Zither players from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey convened once again for the 32nd Sterling Zither Seminar. Jane Curtis 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.
The weather gods smiled on the 32nd running of the Sterling Zither Seminars, providing a mild fall weekend for our Halloween playday and hardworking Saturday. An even dozen zither players assembled from Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and the playday got right underway with mostly Austrian and Bavarian country music (Polkas, Boarischer, Waltzes, Landler, Ländler), with a little early music thrown in.
The main event on Saturday began with a real wake-me-up: Anton Karas’s Zither Fox, arranged as a duet. The pace may be slow and lumbering like a rocking Boarischer, but the unbroken sequence of sixteenth-note groups requires close attention to firm and correct striking and thus to fingering—in other words, the perfect warm-up exercise in disguise. Zither Fox was followed by the lyrical Strauss Waltz Nur für Natur, from Der Zigeunerbaron, in my two-voice arrangement. For the most part it is not difficult, but style is everything, and there are some unexpected modulations, sudden key jumps, and little embellishments to distract players from maintaining the easy Schwung of the dance. We managed to iron out some of the tough spots and get into some of the Viennese feel and motion.
Like the playdays, our zither seminars usually include some form of Alpine music, and this time it was the Bayrisch Polka adapted for three zithers from Sepp Hornsteiner’s trio setting for hackbrett, zither, and folk harp. We added a right-hand accompaniment with alternating basses and an occasional bass-chord-chord!-rest pattern to liven up the flow. As in Zither Fox, there are strong accents and groups of sixteenth notes requiring firm and clean – but also fluid – work by the left hand and right thumb. This foot-banger came off with gusto right from the start, sounding even better by the end of the day after some work on fingering and timing.
As promised at the last seminar, when we played the first two dances of Willi Schäffler’s arrangement of Vier kleine Stücke alter Meister, we did the third and fourth this time. As we noted then, these pieces are fine little miniatures and reveal their full charm as the four voices of this excellent arrangement come together. These last two, Gavotte and Courante, are not quite as demanding as the first two but are perhaps a little more spirited, and we enjoyed them very much – not least for their contrast with the more flamboyant polka that preceded them and the Sousa march that followed.
John Phillip Sousa’s The Washington Post March, newly arranged by Jane Curtis for three zithers, proved to be a good workout. The “cavalry tempo” took some getting used to, with its 6/8 pace. Instead of a steady jump bass in four counts (bass-chord-bass-chord), we have an almost bouncing motion: bass-rest-chord, bass-rest-chord, like posting when riding a horse. Getting to feel this motion and then set a left-hand melody against it was a new trick that we had fun learning.
Join us for the Thirty-Third Sterling Zither Seminar which will take place April 3rd and 4th 2009.
SPRINGFIELD VIRGINIA 31 October - 1 November 2008
Front Row Seated ( L to R ) Jane Curtis, Maria Skowronek
Back Row Standing ( L to R ) John Snyder, Kurt Maute, Karl Skowronek, Toni Walter, Donald Tsusaki, David Kyger, William Kolb
Friday 31 October
1430 - 1730 Open Playing. Go out for supper
Saturday 1 November
0900 - 0940 Zither Fox
0940 - 1020 Nur für Natur
1020 - 1100 Bayrisch Polka
1120 - 1200 Vier kleine Stücke alter Meister
1200 - 1240 The Washington Post March
1240 - 1340 Lunch
1340 - 1720 Repeat
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