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50% of this German accordion orchestra is under 18 and they're beyond amazing

Durga M Sengupta @the_bongrel | First published: 28 October 2016, 21:45 IST
Concert-by-Accordion-State-Orchestra
Photo courtesy IIC

Picture thirty-odd people seated on a stage, each armed with a shiny accordion, belting out music ranging from the Hungarian Rhapsody and Dance of the Comedians to Aaja Sanam Madhur Chandni and Dragon Fight.

This was how India International Centre's Festival of the Arts closed.

Young musicians from the Accordion State Youth Orchestra, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, aged between 16 and 26, played some of the most soulful and yet entertaining music we heard at the festival.

Their conductor and managing director, Silke D'Inka, enthusiastically guided them through the 2-hour-long set. Each time they'd finish a piece, she'd turn, smile at the audience and bow quietly.

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Catch met Silke backstage after the performance and she talked to us about the orchestra, how they're trained young and what makes the accordion so special.

Concert-by-Accordion-State-Orchestra
Photo courtesy IIC
Accordion State Youth Orchestra, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany (Silke in white)

DS: You used two Bollywood songs (Taal Se Taal & Aaja Sanam Madhur Chandni) in your set. Do you play these around the world or is it something you decided to play in India?

SD: Yeah, it's just for this tour. They don't exist normally for accordion orchestra so we switched some notes and so [we incorporated it] in the orchestra as well.

I think for us [the sounds are] the same. I know it sounds different from actual Indian music but we're Germans, we tried out best. (laughs nervously)

DS: I noticed that the only accompaniment you had to such a large number of accordions were the drums. And that too minimal. Do you think the accordion can cover a diverse range of sounds?

SD: Yeah I think so. Perhaps you noticed that the accordions have different clicks? We also have electronic accordions - keyboards but in accordion form. We also have accordions with amplifiers. There's the first accordion, second accordion, third accordion and fourth accordion, like in symphony orchestra...

DS: Is it a challenge though to find music that can be played on the accordion?

SD: Yeah, sure. The accordion has a problem. It's not an old instrument like say, the piano. So we don't have that much literature. We often have to search what works for the accordion.

You can't play everything [on it] but I think if you arrange it [right] you can nearly play everything.

DS: I believe the Accordion State Youth Orchestra gets in new people every year? And they're mostly very young, often minors. How do you train them so young year after year?

SD: We always have about 30 people. Every year, a minimum of 10 [shift] and mostly the new ones are young. They're usually well trained from their teachers and have won prizes, so they are very good. Not everyone can play with us.

It works out because they learn from the older [members]. It's never a problem. They can be as young as 15-16, sometimes even 14.

DS: How many minors played tonight?

SD: Half of them here are under 18.

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DS: There were different kinds of music that you played today. Is there a binding theme that we may have missed?

SD: I think it all comes together with... our hearts. (smiles)

I always try to mix the programme so that we have [pieces that are] original, and also from classical music. And everything just comes together.

DS: Your orchestra was founded in 1985. So it's been over 30 years. So, tell us, what do you think has remained consistent? Also, what has changed over the years?

SD: Well the quality in the beginning was high but it went higher and higher. So now I think the quality of the orchestra is higher than [it was] at the beginning. Then, they took the players [they got] and now we have to say no and tell people we can't take no more. We also have better trained players now.

The tours, I think are the same. The money is not the same.

We are sponsored by Goethe-Institut. Unfortunately, they have to pay a lot for every tour. I don't know how it is in India, but in Germany 10 years ago you got more money but now it's not that much.

DS: Is that because you don't enjoy the same popularity? Or is it that this isn't the kind of music being consumed?

SD: No, no, it's just that Germany's economy has [gone down]. It's hard but it works. We do tours like these over two years, and in between we do smaller tours like France, Spain.

DS: Do you also feel the pressure of modern music? Like you picked Bollywood today. Do you feel the need to do that most places you go?

SD: Yeah I think so. That's why I said we try and get pieces from every sort of music. Also, for the players, there are some who likes this song, some who like that piece much more.

If there's more [popular] music, people do like it more. Yeah.

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DS: Lastly, what does the accordion mean to you?

SD: Well, for me and for every accordion player it's very special because it's an instrument you [hold] close to your body. With these appendages that [go around] you. You need to put it on like your clothes. It's like a vest.

No other instrument has that. Sure the saxophone and guitar have strings, but not like this.

The player hears the sound of the accordion [like no other instrument]. You feel the music much more, I think. I've played some other instruments, and for me, that's the big difference.

First published: 28 October 2016, 21:45 IST
 
Durga M Sengupta @the_bongrel

Feminist and culturally displaced, Durga tries her best to live up to her overpowering name. She speaks four languages, by default, and has an unhealthy love for cheesy foods. Assistant Editor at Catch, Durga hopes to bring in a focus on gender po...

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