Although Spring had finally arrived after what had been an unusually long and brutal winter, on Thursday, April 24, it was still pitch black outside when the alarm clock sounded. This was not at all unexpected, as the time was three o’clock in the morning! For one brief moment I was confused and wondered what would have possessed me to set the alarm for such an ungodly hour. Then I quickly remembered, I needed to catch the 6 AM flight to Chicago. I was going to the Windy City to play at a concert by the North America Zither Orchestra (NAZO).
After a 45 minute delay in departure and an uneventful flight (the best kind, in my opinion) we arrived in Chicago and picked up our rental car from Avis where the young woman behind the counter was very efficient and gave us excellent directions to the hotel. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the wrong hotel! We found the Springhill Suites without much difficulty and were able to check in to the hotel, even though we were there quite early. We unpacked, got settled in, had a bite to eat at the restaurant next door and then made our way to the Kolping Center, where the NAZO would be rehearsing.
I arrived early and discovered some other members were already there setting up. I met my friend, Tomy Temerson. This extraordinary musician from Hanau, Germany, has directed and rehearsed the NAZO since its inception in 2009, and everyone I spoke with was excited to be working with Tomy again. Tomy also always makes it a point to be available for some one-to-one lessons.
Anyone who has worked with larg groups knows that it is virtually impossible to set dates that will be acceptable to everyone, and so was the case with this concert. Whether because of schedule conflicts, previous commitments, health issues and the state of the economy, there were quite a few NAZO members who were not with us this year, and we missed them. On the positive side, there were a number of new zitherists who joined us for the first time. Long-time members, Lanie Mower and Mike Craven came all the way from California as did two new members also from California, Joseph Maurer and Kenneth Paul Schoenfeld, both of whom were terrific zither players and welcome additions to the Orchestra. Lotte Geib was there as were Janet and Lou Stessl and Richard Krueger, also from Illinois was there as well. John Snyder made the long trip from New Jersey and Winnie Moritz came in from the other direction, all the way from Colorado. From up north in Wisconsin, we met again with Jeff Palenik and Kurt v. Ockroth and Fred Siedow came from Texas. That veritable hot-bed of zithers in America, Davenport, Iowa, was represented expertly by Alice Spencer. Anne Prinz, who again made all the arrangements for us, drove over from her new home in Rock Island. Rumor has it that Anne needed a new home to find space for all of her zither “stuff”!. We totally understand.
A special mention must be made here for Sasha Radicic, who drove over from St. Louis, MO. and accompanied the orchestra on the guitar. Not only is Sasha a wonderful guitarist, he also plays the zither. Sasha repairs and restores string instruments. Beyond that, Sasha makes guitars and zithers. His guitars are renowned for their wonderful sound and playability, and are much prized. At the last NAZO concert, Sasha exhibited one of his zithers and everyone who played and heard it were much impressed. The zither Sasha brought him this time just blew every zither player away by its awesome rich and full sound.
One can sometimes find oneself using superlatives over abundantly. I am not at all exaggerating when I claim that this zither was a true masterpiece. The basses were deep and full, the tones of the midrange strings were light and airy while at the same time carried every nuance of sound. The fingerboard notes were everything one would hope for in listening to a zither and more. The volume produced by this extraordinary instrument was truly impressive indeed.
Sasha used a new, innovative, tuning mechanism for the fretboard. This not only enhanced the look of the zither but, more importantly, makes tuning all the easier. Tomy Temerson gave Sasha one of the greatest compliments by using this zither for one of his solo performances at the concert. Below is a look at this magnificent zither in the final stages of being strung.
A masterpiece instrument played by the hands of a master player was simply a wonderful listening experience.
So, to all zither lovers, when the dates for the next North America Zither Orchestra concert are made known, mark your calendars and set your alarm clocks.
I hope to see you there.