The Goiserer calls for singing

Salzburger Nachrichten 14th November 2016 | Text: Hedwig Kainberger

Pupils unable to count - unheard of!
But the idea that they barely sing any more appals at least Hubert von Goisern.

"I see with regret that we are missing a communal reserve of songs in order to be able to sing together", Hubert von Goisern observes. This withering of the general capacity to sing comes from the lack of music and singing lessons in the schools. "Most people know that", says Hubert von Goisern. But anyone who asks who might finally change something in curricula or teacher training, just gets a shrug in response. The result; "I don't think we could come up with ten songs that every child in Austria could sing!"

What does singing achieve? "People tuning into each other", the singer explains - whether in pairs or at concerts, where 2000 people are singing. And: "When singing people have to open up", says Hubert von Goisern - he lifts his head, straightens his body, spreads his arms and concludes: "That's why it's such a shame that there's no communal literature with which that can be put into practice."

It's been a subject of annoyance for the rebellious singer-songwriter from the Salzkammergut for a long time. In the mid nineties he asked his son - then at secondary school: "What do you do in music?" The boy said: "Writing." Father: "And singing?" Answer: "Not singing." There was no music teacher, just a maths teacher and because he could play guitar, he taught music too. The father took the allegation to the teacher: "My son says they don't sing!" The teacher: "They don't want to sing." So the father asked what happens if they say they don't want to do calculations? "That's different", the teacher responded. Hubert was so appalled that he taught music himself for a year. "Since then I've had great respect for those put themselves in front of the children."

Hubert von Goisern was describing this at the end of last week at the closing of the Salzburger Folk Song Society's symposium in Werfen, at which a special frenzy between deep love and hermetic aversion was palpable: between traditional folk music and a popular version of the kind that the Goiserer had devised.

He talked about his beginnings: during his childhood in Goisern "folk music was omnipresent". But he soon found "that the people who played and ran it have something exclusive about them - being against everything that wasn't like them. That turned me off." He thought: "If I start yodelling and playing folk music, I'll be like them. And I don't want to be like that."

Ergo: "As a young man I didn't want to play music from people I didn't like." So "as a child of the 60s I grew up with pop music". Though: "It wasn't until I was abroad that I realised what was missing."

He still feels this "exclusiveness" or "exclusion": he asked an ORF editor for information and the answer came: "I'm certainly not saying anything to you." A folk music ensemble from the Salzkammergut, of whom he says "when I listen to them, I could weep - it's so beautiful", replied to his request to make a CD with him with: "We don't want anything to do with you."

There are other ensembles that make him swoon: when he heard yodelling on TV shows, "it made my toenails curl - so embarrassing!" But "the Pongauer Viergesang's yodelling was never embarrassing to me - so measured and intertwined."

For many years the Folk Song Society has focused on song culture: with free "open singing", the collection of song literature, sheet music available for download and "song filling stations" for teachers.

After the panel discussion it became clear that the Goiserer had many admirers among the officials. One man thanked him: "Hubert von Goisern has "brought songs back to the people"; with CDs such as Trad and Trad II he reached more people "than decades of folk song curation". A woman told of the joy in singing that Koa Hiatamadl once brought out in children "who had grown up almost without songs". Nonetheless: without adequate music lessons in schools, singing ability and knowledge of songs with disappear. What is to be done? Someone asked whether Hubert von Goisern would get involved with a platform to support singing in schools. He didn't beat around the bush and said: "Yes."