15/06/2017 - Griaß di´ Allgäu

Griaß di´ Allgäu

»The master of instruments«

An alpine instrument that everyone can play instantly - without any prior musical knowledge: that was the vision of Martin Kern when he invented the soundboard. It's a kind of dulcimer plucked with your fingers. Several times a year, it offers interested people the opportunity to build their soundboard in courses themselves. This creates a special relationship to your own instrument.

It is still early in the morning when I park my car in Eschach. The small village belongs to the municipality Buchenberg and is located at about 1000 meters altitude. In good weather you have a fantastic panorama from the Zugspitze to the Säntis. But even though the weather offers me just that look today, after a few minutes I have to end this enjoyment for the eyes and turn to the actual occasion of my visit.
Shortly after, I open the front door of the carpenter Mayr. Inside, it is barely warmer than outside, but I smell the smell of fresh wood in my nose. Even before I can look around in the workshop, a burly man with full beard and glasses rushes towards me. It is Martin Kern, music teacher, composer, social pedagogue and musical visionary from Buchenberg. A strong handshake to welcome, then he points to a large work table, around which the other participants of the course are gathered. After a quick introductory round, it starts.
Before us on the table are some pieces of beech and maple wood, which are already cut to size. Martin Kern carefully picks up the individual pieces, puts them together, then dusts a ready-made brush into a pot of glue and starts brushing the edges with it. While we others watch him with some indecision, joiner Helmut Mayr and Martin Kern's son David begin to help us. Under their expert guidance, we also begin to carefully connect our pieces together. It is still difficult to recognize the later soundboard in the individual pieces of wood.
After all parts are glued, we tighten everything with screw clamps. After a short time, red screwdriver handles protrude everywhere in the workshop. Now it's time to wait. Martin Kern uses the time to play some pieces on the sound board and let us play ourselves. Some people are only now aware of how ingenious the idea of ​​Martin Kern is, because the sound board really everyone can play immediately. The principle is simple. Over the wooden sound body with sound hole 22 strings are tensioned. But unlike the dulcimer, the soundboard is simply plucked with your fingers. The real special feature are the game templates, on which the pieces are noted. These are simply pushed under the strings. Afterwards, the player only has to pluck the strings from left to right, under which the notes are displayed, and the song sounds. It's that easy.
That's exactly what Martin Kern was about. Even as a student of social education, he dreamed of using music as a medium in order to reach out to the people. He made his first steps in this direction in a children's home, where he offered dulcimer lessons. But as much as the kids were initially enthusiastic about music lessons, they were so frustrated that they were fast. Because playing with the mallets required a lot of tact. This observation gave rise to the idea of ​​a soundboard. Today, Martin Kern brings not only children, but also seniors to the instrument. Regardless of whether mobility is limited or some are no longer confident in learning an instrument, this is no problem with the sound board. Today, he uses it for early musical education, special and curative education, music therapy and at work in retirement homes. There are already more than 260 songs for the sound board.
These include alpine folk songs or European folklore as well as Christmas carols and various pop songs. It tempts Martin Kern to exhaust all possibilities of the instrument. So there is even a variant of the soundboard with electrical amplification. This not only allows you to play in front of a larger audience, but also to change the sound with various effects. Recently, Kern says, he even adapted the Afghan national anthem for the soundboard. The reason: He works with unaccompanied minor refugees and they wanted songs from their homeland for the soundboard. So alpine sound merged with oriental melodies.
After less than an hour, the glue has dried and we can begin to apply the sidebars. After all wooden parts are installed, we start to sand all edges around. Then the wire pins are hammered into the sidebars on which the strings are later wound, and screwed the threads. After another three hours, all parts are ready installed and sanded. When stringing up the strings, Martin Kern helps each one of us and tunes the strings the same. Thus, the soundboard is ready and ready for use. Many are amazed by the instrument that their own hands have created. While the sun slowly disappears in the west, the first songs are already sounding in the workshop, creating a special atmosphere of alpine sound and impressive mountain scenery. As soon as I arrived home a little later, my six-year-old son lunges at the instrument. I do not have to explain anything to him. His eyes sparkle as he plays the first song faultlessly - after five minutes.

By Christian Mörken

15.06.2017 Griass di´ Allgäu