Why I started to perform

One of the questions dealing with the zither that I am asked most often is why I take my zither everywhere I go*. The answer to that is simple, because I like to play the zither every day. The other commonly-asked question is more difficult to answer. That question is “Why have you started performing?”

It started when my uncle, (my mother’s brother) turned 75. Before that time, I only played at home for myself and my family. At my uncle’s birthday, though, I was asked to bring my zither and play for a sing-a-long of German folksongs he knew in his youth. Knowing the size of the audience and the room, I knew that my Wünsche zither was going to need some electronic boosting power if everyone was going to be able to hear me.

I went to Sam Ash to purchase an amplifier and a microphone for my zither. The first time I foolishly went sans zither. Despite the multi-year musical experience of the staff, they had absolutely no idea what I was talking about when I said I wanted a microphone for my zither. The second time I went with zither in hand. You should know that Sam Ash provides everything a young musician could ever need from instruments, sheet music, amplifiers, loud speakers, keyboards, tuners, mixers, etc. The operative phrase here is “young musician”. The store was full of young musicians, mostly men, mostly sporting shoulder-length or longer hair, multiple tattoos and enough earrings to open a jewelry store.

When I set the zither up, I received a few appreciative, although quizzical nods, followed by a few “Wow, what is that? I’ve never seen anything like that before!” When I started to play, though, all of those ‘appreciative, although quizzical’ looks were replaced with ‘appreciative and amazed’ looks. Some quickly left the room to get their friends who were in other parts of the store to come over and hear this great sounding music. The music I was playing was not something they will ever play in their lives, but they did like the sound of the instrument. Although we were very different in respect to age and appearance, we did share a common language of music and they thanked me for sharing an instrument with them that would not otherwise have been part of their influence.

Now, I understand full well that it was not my playing ability that impressed these young musicians. It was the wonderful sound of the zither. In fact, every time, and I mean that literally – every time I have played in public I have had people tell me how beautiful the sound of the music is. I think those who have never heard the zither before are amazed by the sound and those who have heard it before are perhaps even more appreciative, knowing how rare it is to hear the zither played live in the US.

Anyone who has tried to learn to lay the zither knows what a difficult instrument it is to learn. Some claim that it may be the most difficult instrument to learn. They may be correct, because your right hand has to learn to do three or four things simultaneously completely independent of each other. Certainly, I remember the hour after hour, day after week after month, trying to get my fingers to do what I wanted them to do. Most of the time in those beginning months my fingers acted like a bunch of very willful children doing what they wanted to do, in spite of being told to do something else.

We come finally to the answer to that question of why I perform. It is because of the reaction of amazement and appreciativeness on the part of the listeners. Besides playing at a local German restaurant (a natural possibility), there are other possibilities to let the zither be heard. Often, the nursing/retirement home in your neighborhood to let the zither be heard. Often, the nursing/retirement home in your neighborhood may be looking for entertainment, or you can show your talent at the local high school or middle school German Class or music class, local college German Club, German/Austrian cultural society, the educational evening at the local public library. The opportunities are many, one just needs to look creatively.I urge all my fellow zitherists to please share your hard earned ability with others. I can guarantee that the smiles and enjoyment you will bring to others will be returned to you multifold in their appreciation of your efforts.

Echoing the voices of countless mothers everywhere I urge you, “Get out and play!”
mit zitherischen Grüßen/ with zithering greetings
Bill Kolb
“Doctor Zither”

PS *If my zither were granted airline miles, it would have earned enough miles to go around the earth at the equator more than 200 times