The Bee Gees were 3 brothers – Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb. In 1978 they wrote the song “Words” after getting in a few arguments and realizing the power of words – how they can make you happy or sad. Some time ago I happened upon a YouTube video of Bavarian zitherist Thomas Achatz playing this song. I liked his interpretation so much that I wrote to him and told him how much I liked it. This led to correspondence that has continued for some time and led to us meeting.
On my journey several weeks ago from Austria to Markneukirchen, I made a stop in the heart of the Bavarian Forest (Bayrischer Wald) and had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with Thomas Achatz. We had arranged to meet on a Tuesday evening because he was performing at the Romantik Hotel Gut Schmelmerhof in St. Englmar, Bavaria.
Romantik Hotel Gut Schmelmerhof
Thomas Achatz began playing the zither at the age of 8 and continued taking lessons for the next 7 years! At 15, Thomas began his apprenticeship as a producer of resin molds. After successfully passing his qualifying exams he held several positions and as he notes in his biography, he then returned to his roots and happened to be in the right place at the right time. He met the director of one of Bavaria’s private music schools who told him that he was looking for a zither teacher. Of course, one needs to have a state license to teach and at 28 Thomas was not sure he could begin working on his license. The director was so impressed with his musical ability, however, that he suggested Thomas obtain a place at the Berufsfachschule für Musik in Plattling, where he completed the intensive three-year course and obtained his state license to teach zither, while also receiving the highest grade possible on the performance examination.
Since then Thomas Achatz has made a name as Teacher, Solo Entertainer, and Composer. He can often be found at one of the many great hotels and resorts throughout the Bavarian Forest and beyond. In addition, he has performed on TV at the broadcast “Unter unserm Himmel” together with the Stoiber Buam; in Arnbruck at the performance of “Zum weißen Rössl” together with the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra; he has appeared on countless radio broadcasts, for example “Heut Abend in der Stub´m” and many others. He has even performed in Andorra with the Regener Blasorchester.
It was extremely interesting for me to learn that Thomas’ zithering philosophy is so similar to my own. We both have dedicated ourselves to making the zither known to as many people as we can, we love working with others who also want to learn how to play the zither and we both do as much as we can to show the tremendous musical range of this wonderful instrument. We both enjoy and like to play traditional Folk Music but in addition, just as I do, Thomas also enjoys demonstrating that the zither is so much more than only Folkmusic. We both incorporate songs from multiple generations, showing just how versatile this instrument can be. And we both are absolutely thrilled when people remark that they never knew the zither could do so much!
Thomas Achatz and Bill Kolb
Thomas Achatz with Rosemarie and Bill Kolb
For more information about Thomas Achatz, visit his website at www.zitherman.de.
For those of you who like traditional Bavarian Volksmusik, listen to the live broadcasts from the Bavarian Forest at www.bayerwaldradio.de.