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Juergen L. Hemm

When Playing [Viennese] Waltzes ...

January 16, 2012 at 4:16 PM

Saturday was a banner day. Some time ago, I received an invitation for a workshop with Rudi Pietsch who teaches and researches at the Institute for Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology of the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. He is also the front man of a band called die TANZGEIGER (the DANCE FIDDLERS), where he practices what he preaches. Listen to the DANCE FIDDLERS here.

Far from conceited or stuck up, great musicians are usually very easy going and approachable, even for eager amateurs far below their level of musical and instrumental competence, and I found that Rudi was no exception. With the ease and light hearted approach that result from having thoroughly mastered your subject and its delivery, he involved us from the start in an exercise most classically trained musicians fear and hate: learning by ear. While I neither fear nor hate that, I am very weak at this - but with each workshop I get a little better at it. Plus, you will never forget a tune learned that way.

Soon we were jamming along with Rudi, who showed us the tune again and again (visually via fingerings, audibly through his passionate playing). Some of the more experienced participants started improvising an accompaniment - the double basses (we had three) doing the oom, the violas and some fiddles the pah part. During short interrupts in the playing, Rudi showed us how to improve, always using mental pictures, motivational banter and his perceptible passion for the subject to tell his story.

Later, we learned a typical waltz and could learn from a "native speaker" of this musical idiom that feels so effortless when performed by a master like Rudi and is so much hard work (that must always stay unnoticed by the audience) to achieve.

After lunch, we dug into a wedding march and a piece called "Orient Express", plus a Galopp from the Frankonian repertoire. Time flew and all too soon it was time to move over to the neighboring dance hall to put to good use what we had learned during the day. Onstage, I got that special kind of good vibes that you only experience when playing live for actual dancers - and though I dropped a few notes, we acquitted ourselves well. The dancers even requested an encore - the aforementioned wedding march.

The workshop participants were amateur musicians as well as pros (active and retired); I bought all four of the CDs available from the DANCE FIDDLERS and went home tired but satisfied and happy. Hopefully, Rudi will return to dole out some more of his magic musical potion to a delighted and appreciative group of apprentices.

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