On the Way to Elysium
According to Wikipedia „guitarded“ (adjective) describes the situation of a person, who is completely absorbed in playing the guitar and aligns his or her scheme of life with the guitar and playing the same. Very often it also means that this person invests a major part of his or her fortune in guitars and associated parts in the hope to gain luck, satisfaction and salvation out of it. As a consequence the network of social contacts decreases or completely fades.
No, there is none of this entry in Wikipedia, it is completely faked. This term was created by the wife of our canadian workshop participant. This one-liner perfectly describes this squad of guitarists, which met at the Schloss Hotel Korb at Bolzano/South Tyrol for the first time. The participants of the workshop proofed to be in the above mentioned habit.
This gang of guitar maniacs met up there, accompanied by a group of female singers, to indulge their passion of playing guitar, respectivley singing, at this enclave.
On their way to Elysium those searchers for the meaning of life were guided by guitar masters Howard Alden from New York/U.S.A., and his congenial partner Helmut Nieberle from Regensburg/Germany. Jeanne Gies, Howard Alden‘s fabulos frequent duo partner, was engaged to be the vocal trainer.
A short history
The regular spring workshop held by Sonntag Guitars in Augsburg/Germany used to run with Helmut Nieberle as a tutor. Dietmar Liehr, my „webman“, brought up the idea of trying out something new. Why not enhance the course by extending duration, pimping up the content and choosing a different site? In consequence of that he turned into the co-organizer.
We extended the duration to four days. The content was upgraded by a second guitar teacher plus a vocal teacher. The search for a venue turned out to be not so easy, since there are not soo many hotels available who could suit such a group. But finally the site was chosen: It was the Schloss Hotel Korb, which is marvelously situated high above Bolzano.
It was not difficult to get the three tutors there. Helmut Nieberle was booked for the spring workshop anyway. And since being a foodie he could easyly be allured to go there by announcing him gourmet cusine. And after he learned that one of his favourite duo partners Howard Alden was on board as well he immediately committed to come.The vocal class was also promptly equipped with a teacher, since Howard Alden regularly has been working with singer Jeanne Gies, who proofed to be a highly skilled teacher at my workshop in South of France 2011.
Around the world, I've searched for you …
The workshop could have easily been announced as „international“. Apart from guys of the German speaking area, national and abroad, two attendees travelled even from North America to South Tyrol: The above mentioned Canadian and one participant from Indiana. Such a commitment, ignoring the hardship of a stressful travel like that, highly pleased us!
The four days of the course rapidly spinned away. They say that man experiences time passing by much faster when one gets older. If this is true, the inspiring and relaxed lessons, the luxurious ambiance and the culinary delicacies of the hotel made us feel like being in a time warp like in the film Rocky Horror Picture Show (only with Jazz music for a soundtrack).
Let's Do The Time Warp Again!
Just like in this movie we were accommodated in an ancient castle of the 13th century. Like an aerie it is enthroned highly over the Etsch valley. The panorama view from there is awsome: Starting left at Merano spreading over Bolzano almost down to Trento on the right it appears like a huge tv screen in 3D. Stunning!
For good luck the owners Ruth and Fri!z Dellago are anything but a Frank N‘Furter. We could not wish for more cordial and sympathetical hosts as them and their staff.
In the run-up to the workshop I grew a bit nervous, since I was unsure if they were aware whom they invited to their hotel. Would the musicians get on the nerves of the other hotel guests by permanently pursuing their enthusiasm since they tend to settle all over the hotel for holding sessions all day long? Quite the contrary! Ruth and Fritz Dellago where more than fond of our music. Every evening when the sessions where on, the other guests happyly joined us to listen and even the waiters where swinging along. At this point a big „Thank You“ to the staff of the hotel. They always kept up a smooth running, friendly service and still being highly professional!
Feeling good at Schloss Hotel Korb
The old castle and the younger outbuildings are furnished with love and great sense for details. Beautiful antiques are unobtrusively arranged in the rooms and made you feel the centuries-old history of the building. The guest rooms disper real good comfortableness and the owners spared no efforts to furnish each of them individually. The public areas like lobby or restaurant appear genuine and gemuetlich by the elegant furnitures. After entering the house for the first time you immediately get the clue that you are very welcome and will feel good here.
Speaking of the restaurant: The cuisine is nothing but smashing! They pile up regional victuals for the protruding breakfast buffet. All dishes are excellent and, to serve the eye, lovingly draped. The same for the dinner. It consisted of five courses, each one a real treat. The quality meets gourmet standard. The buffet of appetizers is very viewy. I just want to mention a carpaccio of octopus and the choice of South Tyrolian ham and bacon. You rarely could avoid helping yourself from the buffet a second time not to miss any of those goodies.
It's Show Time!
Every evening we started sessions right away after dinner was finished. Without hesitation we brought the instruments into the dining room and counted off. Since pros and semi pros were among the attendees music was performed on a very high level. But the amateurs did not splash out too and started off their tunes. It was an ear catcher when the tutors grabbed the guitars, respectively the singers sounded their voices.
Howard Alden and Helmut Nieberle are like twins when they mount the bandstand. When trading the solos you can not hear any disruption, they play like all of a piece. They play ping pong with musical balls and you wonder, where the hell are they fed from with so many ideas and funny gags. You may suspect by hearing their playing with relish, that they might sit much more uncomfortable without a guitar than with one.
Jeanne Gies contributed well done interpretations of standards. Her singing – and also that of the other singers – gave our ears a welcome variety. Those songs reminded us of what Jazz standards were in the beginning: Songs, mostly from broadway shows, originally composed for entertainment before the jazz musicians laid their hands on them.
A very charming moment came up when one of the beginning singers picked up the courage to sing a song for us. She was obviously excited but she dared to expose herself in front of the audience. When seeing this I think to myself: Mission accomplished! Even the not so experienced attendees play music and perform it in front of people.
As a guitar maker I want take the chance and say that I am very greatful to Howard and Helmut for nourishing the acoustic play during the sessions. Unamplified, just trusting in the natural sound of a well built Archtop. Playing that way the sound qualities of those guitars are emphasized in the most beautiful way. To my ears, this is the most convenient way of listening to music.
Serious fun – then serious work!
Eventually it is about time to report on the core of the workshop, the lessons. The issue was playing in a duo format, respectively accompanying a soloist. In our case – since a group of singers was with us – accompanying singers. All three tutors are experienced duo players. They have been doing this for years and therefore they are best suited to teach this way of performing. Howard Alden regularly performs duo gigs, among others with Jeanne Gies and you can also hear Helmut Nieberle playing in a duo/trio setting pretty often.
Primarily we planned to split up the group into two guitar and one vocal class which were to be combined again later for practicing duos. But for a start it turned out that the singers started their group but the guitarists did not split. Which was good in the beginning since Helmut and Howard could trade ideas and one thing let to another, so that the participants immediatly got two views on one issue.
However later it appeared that the playing of the guitarists quite differed. So it made sense to split up the group. Helmut took care of the less experienced guys and taught them some basics like intros and outros and had them play a lot.
Howard picked the advanced group who were joined by the singers in the second half of the lessons. In this formation they practiced playing together as a duo. Not only songs were developed but they also talked about what to do and what to avoid when a guitarist accompanies a singer. Like following the motto: The duo partner, the unknown creature. For instance: It is important for the singer to know her key and to tell it betimes to the accompanyist. On the other side the guitarist should care for a way to lead the singer into the song, for example by giving the first note of the melody at the end of an intro.
All in all the participants were offered plenty of ideas which are sufficiant for months to be taken in.
We are the Champions!
All of the party were higly pleased by the suggestions and hints given in the lessons of the tutors. And on the last day of the workshop they got the chance to demonstrate their improvements in the public closing concert. The hotel provides a very convenient seminar room which was just the right size for the event.
The evening was opened with the guitarist‘s tutti version of Charlie Chrstian‘s „Airmail Special“. This was followed by small duos or trios in which the singers had their chance to perform their outcome of the workshop. The evening grew to a joyful event during which various musical stiles were performed. From classic Jazz like „Whisper Not“ and „Just One Of Those Things“ to Brasilian Chorinho to Country and from Leonard Cohen back to Swing and Jazz like „Satin Doll“, „Lullaby Of Birdland“ and „Undecided“. For all who took part, in front and on stage, it was a wonderful and pleasurable evening.
Bye Bye Blues!
Thanks to these successful days we agreed with Ruth and Fritz Dellago on the spot to hold the workshop again in their gorgeous hotel next year. The party managed to present itself to the best advantage so that the Dellagos want to welcome us again with open arms.
On bidding farewell Ruth Dellago wished we should stay all summer to swing the castle (much appreciated, Mrs. Dellago, we wouldn‘t mind...). Hopefully next time we can gather much more atendees to fill up some more cosy rooms of the castle. Also gladly with some Italians, whom we missed. But maybe we can tempt them with this review.
And maybe somebody will write some lines in Wikipedia some day …
Fotos: Dietmar Liehr, Katinka Molde, Stefan Sonntag,
Schloß Hotel Korb, Dorothea Schwarzhaupt