A Monday, Sept. 16 visit to Sun Prairie High School by the Edgar Knecht Trio continued a years-long sister county relationship with Kassel, Germany and helped some Sun Prairie High School musicians along the way.
“This has been a very exciting kind of exchange and the county’s doing its best to encourage this kind of relationship,” remarked District 19 Dane County Supervisor Bill Clausius, who was at Sun Prairie High School on Monday with the trio as its members visited with members of the Sun Prairie High School jazz band program.
“You know, in this day and age with all the crazy things that are going on in the world, I think it’s very important that we have this kind of exchange with other countries and learn from them and and vice versa so they can see what our way of life is like too,” Clausius said. “Coming to Sun Prairie High School for them has been very impressive. Their eyes get big when I tell them how many students attend here. And, it’s quite remarkable. They love being here. That’s why they’re back.”
SPHS Band Director Steve Sveum, who also supervises the jazz program, said the trio will benefit the students because of a focus on folk songs.
“The thing this year that we’re focusing on is [the trio’s] music is based on German folk songs. And we’re doing a program in Chicago this year that’s based off of a Percy Granger’s music, which is based off of English folk songs,” Sveum said.
“And so we were kind of hoping to find what [Knecht] finds as essential to source material in folk songs — like what should we be looking at when trying to create our music that he finds in folk songs,” Sveum said. “And I’m kind of trying to see if there’s a universal thing that we can kind of pull on.”
Members of Sun Prairie High School Jazz also performed one of the folk songs that it’s been working on that is based an Old English type of dancing.
“And so I’ll show Edgar that and then we’ll play our version of that dance,” Sveum said. “And then I’m curious if he thinks we’re getting the essence of what we should be getting out of focus on the material. So I’m hoping we’ll pick up on what they’re doing, how he fleshes that out and then maybe what we need to do, too.”
On Friday, Sept. 20 at First Congregational Church in Madison the trio will perform with con vivo! — a Dane County chamber orchestra that in 2015 traveled to Kassel to participate in the Kultursommer NordHessen Arts Festival. The Sept. 20 concert will include chamber music, jazz and a specially commissioned piece for both ensembles. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. with tickets available at the door at the First Congregational Church, 1609 University Ave.
The Edgar Knecht Jazz Trio will conclude its 2019 Dane County tour with a 2 p.m. concert on Saturday Sept. 21 with the Madison College Big Band. That show is scheduled for the Waunakee High School’s Performing Arts Center at 301 Community Dr. with tickets available at the door. The Madison College Big Band has twice performed with the Knecht Trio, first during its visit to Dane County in 2016 and also on a trip to Kassel in 2017.
While in Dane County, the trio will also film a documentary capturing its journey as musicians and as visitors to Wisconsin.
Clausius said he believes the exchange and sister county relationship is beneficial for both Sun Prairie and Dane County. But how does it help to market Sun Prairie?
“Just, I think, some different ways of doing things,” Clausius said. “I mean, like I said, a lot of this has been cultural, but it’s not been on the economic side yet. We’re trying to talk to a Dane County industry that would be willing to make the trip to Germany and have that kind of an exchange.
“That hasn’t quite happened yet, but we’re certainly working on that,” the supervisor added. “There are a lot of innovative things happening in science and technology in Dane County, and certainly we’d like to share that with them as well.”
The Dane-Kassel relationship dates to 2007 when the two counties entered into a formal sister county partnership. The agreement is designed to exchange ideas and build economic partnerships in areas like renewable energy, regional transportation systems, workforce training and continuing education.
Education aside, Sveum has long held the opinion that musicians learn from other musicians — regardless of the language.
“What kids are hearing right now, it’s speaking to them in a way that language is not a barrier at all. They’re just hearing their music and they’ll make comments on what they’re hearing — there’s no language barrier in that music. There’ll be no language barrier in what we play as well, I think,” Sveum said.
He recalled a previous SPHS Jazz Band trip to Germany as another example, and what a retired German teacher observed.
“Frau Weber, when we went to Germany several years ago, she made the comment that kids, because it was a musical exchange between jazz groups of Germany and our group, she made the comment that those kids came closer in two days than her German students usually come in 10 because they’re sharing a language that doesn’t have a language barrier,” Sveum said.
“You know, the kids try to play a Miles Davis solo in Germany are facing the same struggles,” Sveum added. “They hear the same things in Germany that we hear in the United States. And so it’s kind of nice that when people say it’s a universal language, that trip — and hopefully today’s experience — will kind of drive that home. It kind of is the universal language, and speaks to people everywhere in the same way.”