How shared music connects people and places.
Last spring was wet, cold, and extremely forbidding for us — two South Carolinians living in Germany. Most days did not get above 50 degrees, and the sun barely showed itself for three months. By all accounts it was an unusual spring, but as I sat shivering on the back porch at the end of April, watching a few vagrant flurries of snow drift threateningly from the sky, I was resigning myself to a life of chill misery during the next three years of my husband’s tour of duty in this cold land.
Even so, I did have one bright spot to look forward to, that kept that day hopeful: that evening my husband and I were going to attend one of the concerts held monthly in our village’s old school house. Our village may not have a grocery store, a stoplight, or a roundabout, but it has hosted musicians from the U.S., Ireland, Britain, Australia, and even the flautist who played for the Lord of the Rings soundtrack.
The concerts take place in the Alte Schulhaus (old school house) in the village. Frans Somers and his wife, a couple from the village, bought the building a few years ago and renovated it, turning it into a gallery for Frans’ magnificent artwork and a music hall (complete with a bar, of course) below, and a small local museum upstairs. I’m still not quite sure how Frans does it, but he has managed to bring musicians to our villages that some in larger cities would not have the chance to hear.
That evening we left the house well before the concert started — we had heard the hall was always crowded — and walked down to the Alte Schulhaus, bundled up against the cold and wet of the April night. As we entered the old building, we were welcomed by cheerful voices and the warm glow of a wood fire. We found seats near to the warm blaze, and as my husband went to get us some drinks from the bar in the side room, I had a chance to look around. The people were of all ages — I saw an elderly gentleman in the corner who I found out later was well past ninety, and had been a boxing champion in his day. Nearly every band or musician that played in the hall dedicated a song to this dignified gentleman.
Our landlords, who had walked down with us, introduced us to other villagers — Frans and his wife, who couldn’t stay long, their hostly duties keeping them busy, as well as some other friends and neighbors. Soon a tall man with a grey beard came up, and introduced himself as Kevin. Hailing from Scotland, he had married a German woman and settled in the village. I told Kevin about my own Scottish heritage, and before five minutes had passed we were happily quoting Robert Burns’ poetry back and forth, and discussing the merits of the kilt versus the trews.
My husband returned with drinks, then band tuned up, and the magic began. The band was called “Barrule” and was made up of a trio of excellent artists from the Isle of Man off the coast of England. They began to play after a short introduction by Frans, and we all held our breath as the ethereal music filled the hall.
I love Celtic music. It is my heritage from Scotland, and like my ancestors, it came across the Atlantic and settled into the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. There it became Bluegrass, and later Country music. I love it in all of its forms. Hearing it so far from home brought a comfort and peace that only beloved music can truly create.
The hands of Jamie Smith, the accordion player, seemed to fairly fly over the keys as he pumped out deep bass notes or trilled high flights of soft music that seemed to float down from above our heads out of fairyland. The whole night was like that really – just sheer magic. The soft glow of the fireplace, the painted landscapes of the Irish coast hanging on the walls, the rich songs sung in the beautiful Gaelic language… the night sped by in an almost dream-like state of beauty that had nothing to do with the good German riesling we were sipping.
The music ended around 11 pm, and most of the audience left soon after. Frans told us we were welcome to stay as long as we liked, and so we chatted with the band for quite some time about the similarities between Celtic and Bluegrass music, the band’s history, their native land, etc. Soon Frans ushered us back to the fire where he had drawn up about twenty chairs. Ute and Rüdiger were there, as were Kevin and his wife, and several others. Aaron and I sat between Kevin and Jamie, and when we weren’t being plied with neat Scottish whisky by the one, we were talking with the other about Tolkien and his works — Jamie the accordion player is a big fan of the Inklings.
It was well past midnight before we finally broke away, making our excuses and heading out into the frosty night air. I walked home down the quiet streets of the village that shimmered in the moonlight. It somehow felt more home-like than before. Perhaps it was the haunting Manx music that floated through my mind, connecting the old and the new in a seamless melody.
Photo: Top of Snaefell Mountain, Isle of Man in Scotland. Wikimedia Commons.