From playing carols as a child during Christmas, to his studies and his work abroad as an engineer in South Africa, the zither has accompanied Hans Waskoenig on his journey through life every step of the way. Now retired, Hans has found new inspiration through his music, working to better the lives of children in South Africa.
When I was about eight years old, I received a zither for Christmas from my parents. My mother and I had seen and heard this instrument a few weeks before in a restaurant in Bavaria. As we lived far away from the Alps, the music instructor in our little village could not teach me. He did, however, play the piano, violin, accordion, and nearly all wind instruments. So we both investigated the instrument along with the exercise book, and to the delight of my parents, I could perform the carol "Silent Night" the next Yule. Two years later I went to grammar school and my zither lessons ended.
Since I was experienced in the fundamentals of playing, I fetched my zither some weeks before the following Christmas and practiced more carols. Zither playing, piano playing and singing along with my elder brothers and sisters, was part of our family's yearly celebration. "Silent Night" is still my favorite song as this carol brings back memories of many Christmases in my life.
When I started my studies to become a mining engineer, my instrument went with me and I continued to broaden my repertoire with folk and student songs. After the exam, I emigrated with my wife to South Africa. Here TV was not yet installed and the young engineers often met to barbecue and to have little parties to which I often was asked, “Hans, bring your Zither.” With my new friends, I added international folk songs to my repertoire.
Five years later, we returned home and I continued playing. After an especially stressful work day, playing the zither put me at ease. To the joy of our twins, I often played for them. Their musical interest was piqued and they started playing guitar.
Now being a pensioner, I play at festive days (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost) and on birthdays in nearby retirement homes and I am warmly received. Last year I was asked to play Heurigen songs (played in Austrian wine taverns). Up to that time I thought these special Vienna songs would be too difficult to learn although they have a particular beauty when played on the zither. Luckily, I succeeded and recorded these songs on CD which I sell to raise money for charity. With the proceeds, I support a disadvantaged junior school for disabled and orphaned children near Alexandra, an impoverished township of Johannesburg, South Africa.
Hans Waskoenig has performed a great service by recording a number of Christmas and Folk songs on the zither, which he has made available for download. To hear his music and to learn more about his charity work, visit Hans Heinrich's Zither Hausmusik for more information.
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