Upper Styrian Big Band Folk:

Exploring Local Identity and Authenticity in Jazz

Michael Kahr 

The research was funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF): AR 86-G21

1. Compare: Dietrich Heinz Kraner and Klaus Schulz, Jazz in Austria: Historische Entwicklung und Diskographie des Jazz in Österreich, Beiträge zur Jazzforschung 2 (Graz: Universal Edition, 1972) p. 25.

2. Compare: Elisabeth Kolleritsch, Jazz in Graz, Beiträge zur Jazzforschung 10 (Graz: Adeva, 1995)

3. http://www.highstyriabigband.at (accessed 15 October 2012)

4. http://www.jazzandthecity.org (accessed 15 October 2012)

5. This hermeneutic reading by the author, who is also the composer of the music, involves self-reflection and potentially self-indulgence in terms of both the artistic collaboration and the thoughts that occurred during the compositional process. However, the interpretation, which evolved several months after the completion of the project, takes into account the perspective of the community members; the interpretative analysis was informed by participant observation and informal conversations with community members to a considerable degree as well as by contextual and aesthetical discussion.

6. Seth J. Schwartz, Koen Luyckx and Vivian L. Vignoles, Handbook of Identity Theory and Research (New York: Springer, 2011) p. 1.

7. Ibid., p. 2.

8. Ibid., pp. 2-3.

9. Stuart Nicholson, Is Jazz Dead? (Or Has It Moved To A New Address) (New York: Routledge, 2005)

10. Eurojazzland: Jazz and European Sources, Dynamics and Contexts, ed. by Luca Cerchiari, Laurent Cugny and Franz Kerschbaumer (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2012)

11. Rather than providing a list of relevant literature, I would like to refer to the Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, which maintains a comprehensive review section of publications on jazz in various European regions on its website: http://www.jazzinstitut.de (accessed 15 October 2012)

12. http://www.rhythmchanges.net (accessed 15 October 2012)

13. Schwartz, Handbook of Identity Theory, p. 3.

14. This repertoire particularly comprises the music of the Count Basie Big Band, arrangements by the German bandleader Peter Herbolzheimer and music American publications for college bands.

15. The appearances of Bill Holman at the jazz institute in Graz resulted in the collaborative CD recording MHS Big Band, Reihe Klangdebüts Vol 3. (University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz, 1996). Bob Brookmeyer conducted several workshops at the institute and was an 'artist in residence' at the institute for four weeks in 2009.

16. The Austrian umbrella organization is Österreichischer Blasmusikverband http://www.blasmusik.at (accessed 15 October 2012). The regional organization is Steirischer Blasmusikverband http://www.blasmusik-verband.at (accessed 15 October 2012)

17. While the term 'Hausmusik' evokes an array of references such as 19th century salon music and, in a wider context, chamber music, its meaning is defined in the context of the folk music tradition of the Austrian district of Styria in this study. Regarding the changing definition of the German term compare: Carl Ferdinand Becker, Hausmusik in Deutschland (Leipzig: Fest'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1840); and Walter Salmen, Haus- und Kammermusik: Privates Musizieren im gesellschaftlichen Wandel zwischen 1600 und 1900, Musikgeschichte in Bildern 4: Musik der Neuzeit, 3rd ed. (Leipzig, 1969). Regarding the recent usage of the term in English speaking studies refer to: John H. Baron, Chamber Music: A Research and Information Guide, 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2010).

18. Barre Toelken, 'Considerations for Further Research on the Alpine Yodel: A Fieldwork Report', in Jahrbuch für Volksliedforschung, 27/28 (1982/1983) pp. 186-204.

19. Ibid., p. 202.

20. Achim Saupe, Authentizität, Version: 1.0, in: Docupedia-Zeitgeschichte, 11.02.2010, http://docupedia.de/zg/Authentizität (accessed 15 October 2012). For a study of authenticity in the context of folk music, compare: Regina Bendix, In Search of Authenticity: The Formation of Folklore Studies (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997).

21. Eckhard John, 'Die Entdeckung des sozialkritischen Liedes: Wolfgang Steinitz als Wegbereiter eines neuen “Volkslied”-Verständnisses', in: Die Entdeckung des sozialkritischen Liedes: Zum 100. Geburtstag von Wolfgang Seinitz, ed. by Eckhard John, Volksliedstudien 7 (Münster: Waxmann, 2006), p. 24.

22. Wolfgang Suppan and Eva Bornemann, 'Research on Folk Music in Austria since 1800', Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council 8 (1976) p. 119.

23. Ingo Schneider, 'Erste Ansätze: Zur Frühgeschichte der österreichischen Volkskunde vom 15. bis zur Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts', in: Volkskunde in Österreich: Bausteine zur Geschichte, Methoden und Themenfelder einer Ethnologica Austriaca, ed. by Olaf Bockhorn, Helmut Eberhart und Dorothea Jo. Peter (Innsbruck, 2011) p. 26.

24. Hans Haid, 'Volkskunde / Volkskultur zwischen Pflege und Kulturarbeit' in: Volkskunde in Österreich: Bausteine zur Geschichte, Methoden und Themenfelder einer Ethnologica Austriaca, ed. by Olaf Bockhorn, Helmut Eberhart und Dorothea Jo. Peter (Innsbruck, 2011) p. 519.

25. Informal information given by the Pfeilstöcker family during a rehearsal for the project.

26. Allen Moore, 'Authenticity as Authentication' Popular Music, 21/2 (2002) p. 214.

27. Ibid., p. 215.

28. Theodor Adorno, Jargon of Authenticity, trans. by Knut Tarnowski and Frederic Will (Northwestern University Press: Evanston, 1973) p. 9.

29. Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 1991) p. 96.

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid., p. 16.

32. Ibid., p. 15.




Over more than a hundred years, since its beginnings in America, jazz music has evolved into a global phenomenon. In Austria, among other European places, jazz has developed into a vibrant musical art form amidst its site-specific social, cultural and political conditions. While few Austrian musicians and ensembles, such as pianist Joe Zawinul, saxophonist Hans Koller, guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, the Vienna Art Orchestra and, more recently, the Jazz Big Band Graz have achieved international recognition, the local jazz scene has become an integral part of Austria's traditionally rich musical life.1 The academic institute for jazz at the University of Music in Graz has played a major role in the internationalization and professionalization of Austria's jazz musicians and in the development of an educated local jazz audience.2 Since the inception of the institute as one of Europe's first academic jazz institutions in 1965, various community outreach programs were initiated in this regard. However, these activities served pedagogical purposes rather than collaborative artistic endeavors in rural communities.

In order to fill this gap and to engage musicians of such a rural community in a meaningful artistic activity, the arts-based research project Upper Styrian Big Band Folk3 (USBBF) was designed as part of the larger arts-based research initiative Jazz & the City: Identity of a Capital of Jazz,4 which was funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and conducted at the institutes of jazz and jazz research at the University of Music in Graz. The artistic experiment USBBF was collectively negotiated among the members of the jazz scene of a small, rural community in the Austrian Alps, who will be referred to as the project participants throughout this text. After a preliminary discussion process the project participants mutually agreed on the definition of its main goal: USBBF aims for a collaboratively derived musical expression in the form of a series of contemporary jazz compositions, which are authentic and meaningful towards the community's identity and rich cultural traditions. In other words, a new concert program for a combination of both, the community's large jazz orchestra 'High Styria Big Band' and the traditional folk group 'Die Pfeilstöcker' should be created with the potential to express the community's identity and its musical traditions authentically and at the highest possible artistic level with the main artistic decisions to be based on extensive collaborative discussions. This aim entailed some complexity and raised several questions, not only for me as the project's main researcher and commissioned composer of the music, but also for the other members of the community. What do the notions of identity and authenticity mean to this particular social group? How can I translate these meanings within the compositions and which specific compositional decisions regarding musical style, format and technical scope should be made in this regard? Moreover, which meanings may be conveyed in the context of this community-based project?

USBBF has addressed these questions through a series of activities, which started with a collective discussion process among the community's members on various aspects of identity and authenticity. Then I translated the issues raised in these discussions according to my own perception by creating twelve compositions for the local 'High Styria Big Band' and the folk group 'Die Pfeilstöcker'. Technically, this work involved a development of the traditional melodic, harmonic and rhythmic material and a translation of the emotions conveyed either through the lyrics or the melodic and harmonic content of the folk tunes. The subsequent collective realization of the work through concerts and production of a professional CD incited another round of discussions, which also fed into this study.

Exposition structure and research methodology

This exposition presents the art-based research of USBBF in three parts which cover the following main aspects:


1. Discussion of context, identity and authenticity

2. Analyses of musical compositions

3. Summary and concluding remarks


Part I involves the project participants’ collective exploration of the notions of identity and authenticity. This is based on their own perceptions regarding these notions as articulated in various group discussions rather than on a rigorous theoretical discussion of these terms. Hence the content of this text is to be understood as written from within the community, which involves my analytical insider information, and not solely from the outside perspective of an academically informed analyst. The text is not about developing theoretical concepts of philosophy or the social sciences in a community project in jazz and surely not about discussing the seminal conceptions of the notions of identity and authenticity found in the scholarly literature. Since most project participants do not possess the academic background or did not choose to mediate a scholarly discussion, their conversations – which inform the reflections throughout this exposition – took place in an informal and spontaneous manner. As a result, certain contradictions, inconsistencies and possibilities for alternative definitions and conclusions may appear to the reader who expects a conventional academic approach. Imposing scholarly rigidity onto this project would have meant to exclude the majority of the group members from participating in the process of exploring the contextual background and artistic possibilities. Having said this, certain theoretical academic concepts have proved to be helpful in clarifying the terminology for the discussion of contextual issues in the artistic process: In my multiple roles as a genuine member of the community, composer and academic researcher, I had the opportunity to instigate specific definitions by means of circulated email letters and formal project descriptions for funding applications. I introduced some definitions which, in my perception, contributed to the clarification of thoughts raised by the community. Additionally, the writing process of this exposition allowed the formulation of analytical remarks which are embedded in a scholarly context throughout this text.

In summary, the exploration of the project participants’ identity and musical authenticity evolved from the very structure of the community and its cultural background; an informal discussion around what the terms identity and authenticity meant for us as a group; and a process towards formalizing these ideas in musical terms, which included questions of method and conceptual matters regarding this work of arts-based research.

All of the issues raised fed into the compositions, presented and analyzed in Part II (middle column). This section represents my musical interpretation of the contextual background as presented in the previous part. It offers information regarding the distinct artistic approach to the compositional process by analyzing the recordings of two representative pieces. These two pieces involve most of the artistic concepts, albeit in different forms, utilized for the ten other compositions. The analyses present both, a macro and micro level investigation of the music. On a macro level, a video/audio presentation of both compositions allows the reader to follow the full score according to the music that is played simultaneously. This setting aims to create a holistic experience for the reader with a musical background by conveying general artistic decisions regarding form, arrangement and orchestration as illustrated in the score and realized in the audio recording. The video/audio presentations are located at the beginning, respectively the end of the text body in the left column. On a micro level, Part II also contains detailed information regarding the specific musical decisions by offering a close hermeneutic reading of the music according to the contextual background and aesthetic matters discussed in Part I. The analysis reveals the various musical choices made in order to translate the collectively theorized aspects of identity and authenticity in a meaningful way.5 Finally, Part III (in the right column) comprises a brief summary and a concluding analysis of meaningful aspects conveyed through the project.

Part I


The discussion of identity for this project has imposed some difficulties on the project participants due to the wide array of perspectives and definitions. The popular usage of the term as well as approaches in the scholarly discourse indicate references to concepts such as the self, society, nation, gender and other group memberships. The editors of the recently published comprehensive Handbook of Identity Theory and Research confirm that 'identity is one of the most studied constructs in the social sciences', by noting a steadily increasing number of publications over the past few decades.6 According to the authors, even the most fundamental question related with identity studies – 'who are you?' – 'masks a considerable amount of complexity'.7 As they observe, existing research on identity involves contents and processes, characteristics of the self and social recognition, self-reflection and intergroup discussion, interpersonal and intergroup interactions, biological characteristics, psychological dispositions, socio-demographic positions and interpretations infused with personal and social meaning, all of which result in the basic categorization of the three levels 'individual', 'relational' and 'collective'.8 A similar complexity regarding categorization and analytic terminology translates into studies on jazz identities, which - at least in relation to European jazz identities - have also experienced a growing interest in recent years. Examples therefore include Stuart Nicholson's controversial book Is Jazz Dead? (Or Has It Moved To A New Address),9 the recently published collection of essays Eurojazzland: Jazz and European Sources, Dynamics and Contexts10 and several studies of national jazz scenes in Europe.11 National jazz identities are also explored in the large, transnational research project Rhythm Changes, which is conducted as part of the Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) theme ‘Cultural Dynamics: Inheritance and Identity’, a joint research program funded by thirteen national funding agencies.12 Rhythm Changes explores national jazz identities, representations and stereotypes using international comparison. The formation of a distinct local jazz identity in the Austrian city of Graz is the subject of interrogation in the research project Jazz & the City: Identity of a Capital of Jazz. It involves research into using the creative processes employed within jazz music as the basis for the creation of new knowledge on the concept of identity.

USBBF is embedded within these European-wide initiatives regarding identity in jazz as a specific local case-study and it is particularly connected to Jazz & the City in its exploration of a musical expression of the local identity of a distinct community, which is situated close to the city of Graz. In order to address the fundamental, and yet, complex question of – who are you? – in the present investigation I shall commence by providing a considerable amount of information on the community and the socio-cultural background of the project participants, who can be divided into various sub-groups. Based on this knowledge I will arrive at a characterization of their collective identity, discussed later in the text. Diversity as well as shared aspects regarding their interactions and socio-cultural background will be emphasized here.

All project participants represent distinct personalities, shaped through their individual family backgrounds, educational paths and professional activities. Some have spent their entire lives in the area, while others have lived several years abroad. Some have only recently moved in from abroad to become new members of the local community. At the time of the conduction of the project, all participants were based in or around the area of the district capital Bruck an der Mur, a mid-sized town with a population of roughly 13 000 in the region of Upper Styria in Austria, situated approximately fifty kilometers north of the province's capital Graz. Bruck an der Mur is characterized by its alpine location as well as by its historic significance as a trading centre. While most people in the city work in trade or services, the surrounding rural areas are still home to small and mid-size farms. The local music culture is based on: the strong presence of traditional ensembles including brass bands; small folk music groups and church choirs; classical music activities, in particular through the work of the public music school; and the vital youth music scene, comprising ensembles of jazz and various forms of popular music.

The project participants can be divided into several groups. The first group comprises the twenty-three members of the ‘High Styria Big Band’, which focuses on the interpretation of big band jazz, as well as the members of the traditional folk group ‘Die Pfeilstöcker’. The big band is a semi-professional ensemble consisting of recent university graduates, some of them engaged as local music teachers, and a few talented amateur musicians. The family-based group 'Die Pfeilstöcker' has had a career spanning more than fifty years of performing folk songs of the local area in a traditional way. The ensemble is well known in the region, but has also reached a wider popularity through appearances on national television and radio. The second group comprises the core audience of these two ensembles and consists of members of various social classes. A third group contains artists and service providers who are in close interaction with the ensembles, such as the technical staff and visual artists who were approached to design the CD booklet, posters and the website appearance. The fourth group consists of the ensemble leader Michael Pfeilstöcker, the manager Christian Theny and me as the designated composer of the work. The ensemble leader is related to the members of the vocal group ‘Die Pfeilstöcker’ and has been an active member of various local music ensembles as a trumpet player. The manager of the band was a member of the first successful jazz bands in the region and is well connected among the local society leaders. The last group comprises the saxophonist Herwig Gradischnig and the bassist Ewald Oberleitner, two of the best known jazz soloists born and raised in the area. The piece which features Gradischnig's performance is discussed in detail as part of this exposition, while Oberleitner's performance can be accessed on the CD recording only. Besides my role as the commissioned composer and author of the current exposition, I am also a genuine member of this community. I grew up in the region and was an active member of various local music ensembles before moving away to undertake formal music studies and professional work. After living abroad for several years I returned to take up an appointment at the institutes for jazz and jazz research at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz. After becoming reacquainted with my former colleagues in Bruck an der Mur, I became involved in the process of planning and finally conducting the project USBBF.

My own background and those of other individual project participants as well as the attributes of the various sub-groups add to an apparent diversity. However, there are shared attributes, which constitute larger sub-groups within the community and characterize the project participants as a large unified group. This refers to the social dimension of the question 'who are you?' and plays a formative role regarding the community's 'collective identity'. The authors of the Handbook of Identity summarize the wealth of scholarly ideas in the literature on the notion of collective identity as referring to 'people's identification with groups and social categories to which they belong, the meanings that they give to these social groups and categories, and the feelings, beliefs, and attitudes that result from identifying with them'.13 This definition opens up a wide array of directions for reflection regarding identity in the context of this project. In the following text, I will discuss some of the attributes in relation to the 'High Styria Big Band' and 'Die Pfeilstöcker', which stand out as the two main sub-groups of the community in the context of this study. I will particularly emphasize the musical practices of these two ensembles and will explore how the identification with either of these two ensembles and the musical practice they represent projects beyond these sub-groups into the wider community of the region.

The 'High Styria Big Band' comprises a broad selection of the local community, represented by music teachers at local schools and universities, local musicians both classical and jazz, and semi-professional music lovers with an understanding of the music practices in jazz and popular music. All of the band members share a passion for jazz, expressed in the various musical projects of the 'High Styria Big Band' and other local big bands. These projects, including USBBF, have initiated and intensified the participants' musical passion over a period of about thirty years. These larger ensembles and in particular the 'High Styria Big Band' have facilitated the personal and collective musical development through explorations of the core repertoire of the big band tradition. These activities have participated in the formation of close social bonds among band members. An important formative aspect in this regard was the pedagogical outreach activities of the institute of jazz. Various faculty ensembles presented jazz in the form of concerts in Bruck an der Mur since the 1980s, and selected faculty members were invited to perform and conduct clinics with the regional big bands. For me and my musical peers, then young aspiring jazz musicians, becoming part of the clinic band meant extra-curricular work, but also the recognition of being 'cool' as opposed to those musical peers who just did their classical training as required by the local music teachers. As a result of these clinics, several ensembles were formed in the region to pursue big band jazz on a regular basis, with the main focus on the seminal repertoire of the big band tradition.14 Some of the community members began formal studies in jazz at the institute of jazz in Graz. Through their training and their continuing activities in the rural community, an intensified form of identification with the big band tradition took place. Their studies, which involved analyses and performances of the music of seminal jazz composers such as Bill Holman, Bob Brookmeyer and Maria Schneider, contributed to the absorption of various aspects of these advanced musical approaches. The guest appearances by Bill Holman and Bob Brookmeyer at the jazz institute are still remembered as particularly formative experiences in this regard.15 For me as a composer, for instance, the passion for the music of these seminal jazz artists has translated into the music composed for USBBF. The contrapuntal setting in the introduction of the piece 'Steirerbua', which is discussed in Part II reflects my personal identification with a characteristic aspect of Bill Holman's music. The subtle harmonic colors and the long spans of musical tension, which are characteristic of Maria Schneider's music, had an impact on my composition 'Gebirge', which is also analyzed in Part II.

Throughout the about thirty years since the first big band clinics, jazz and its related forms of popular music have become an integral part of the music culture of the region. For instance, the continuing integration of jazz and popular music in this area is notable in the changing repertoire of brass bands. These bands play a substantial role in the musical education in rural areas and constitute one of the most visible traditional musical formats in Austria through a well-structured umbrella organization for brass music.16 Most of the brass players in the 'High Styria Big Band' were or still are members of these brass ensembles. Their engagement in the big band activities distinguishes them from the regular amateur 'Blasmusiker' [brass band member], which constitutes their identification with the social category of the 'cool' jazzer. Besides the attribute of being 'cool', the serious engagement in jazz and music has also offered other forms of identification for several of the community members who pursued formal music studies and earned academic degrees in either classical music or jazz. These forms involve references to the intellectual discourse on music among music students as well as to the public responsibility of local music teachers. The community's university graduates, who have become music teachers, have disseminated an awareness of the cultivated accomplishment in European classical music, American jazz and popular music among an even younger generation of music students in the region. This has contributed to the education of the current local society as an audience with an increasingly broad consciousness of classical music, jazz and popular music and an increased identification with these music forms as opposed to the majority of older community members.

Besides jazz and related popular music forms, traditional folk music has played a significant part in the early musical education of all community members and still plays an important role in the community's rituals in various forms, such as secular and religious festive events. Some of these traditional rituals involve the collective singing of traditional songs in the private setting of the region's families. This music practice is referred to in the German language as 'Hausmusik' [domestic music].17 While this practice was one of the rare forms of regular entertainment in the past, it still plays a role today. Barre Toelken's detailed field report on the musical practice of the Kössner family provides more insight in this regard.18 Almost all project participants have been exposed to this tradition and have gained a more than rudimentary understanding of its musical approach and song repertoire. 'Die Pfeilstöcker', as a notable sub-group within the project's community, has pursued 'Hausmusik' as a group of passionate amateurs and significant representatives of the folk tradition of the region. 'Die Pfeilstöcker' contribute not only to the formation of a specific collective identity in the course of their intimate performances, but also to the representation of this specific identity beyond their closer community. And yet, despite the wider success the Pfeilstöcker family has achieved in their career of more than 50 years, the group has remained situated within their regional community, both personally and culturally. All members live in close interaction with the community and have continued to perform at local events. Their performances usually take place in other people's homes for private festive events as well as on public stages at regional music festivals. In the very sense of 'Hausmusik', all their public appearances seek to convey the same intimacy as performing in their own house. Their song repertoire is well known among the local audiences. As shown in the analysis in Part II, the lyrics often refer to various aspects of life in the mountains, although the specific form of 'Jodler' [yodel-songs] does not involve any notable lyrics but melodic utterances on certain syllables. In my own perception, experiencing the performances of 'Die Pfeilstöcker' evokes nostalgic memories of my upbringing within the folk tradition. Most members of the community grew up with more or less exposure to the same tradition. Although many of us, including myself, have not learned to sing these songs, many of our close relatives such as my grandparents engaged in 'Hausmusik'. After dinner, somebody would start singing, often without announcing that he or she intended to perform. Others would follow, improvising a second and a third voice and a bass part to the melody and somebody would start accompanying on a guitar, for instance. The musical sensations of 'Hausmusik' constitutes a collective and highly emotional experience and creates a form of collective identity for those involved as performers and listeners, which refers to what Toekken describes as 'a sense of belonging, of knowing, of performing together'.19

This emotionally informed form of knowledge and collective identification is approached in the project USBBF by integrating both, musical aspects of the well-known traditional folk song repertoire, as well as the actual performance by 'Die Pfeilstöcker', which can be observed in the audio/video representations of the recorded performances of the music in Part II. The opening phrase of the folk song 'Wir kommen vom Gebirg' [We come from the Mountains], for instance, is developed throughout my composition 'Gebirge' [Mountains], as shown in Part II. The traditional song 'I bin a Steirerbua' [I am a boy from Styria] involves the two layers of a naïve reflection of life in the mountains in the lyrics and an underlying melancholy in the shape of its melody, which is represented by my juxtaposition of harsh sounding instrumental tutti passages and the folk group's original performance of the song within the big band composition.


The group's discussion of the notion of authenticity was centered on the project's aim to create new compositions as an 'authentic expression of the community's cultural traditions'. These cultural traditions were exemplified in the previous section as 'Hausmusik', but what does the notion of authenticity involve in this regard? The project participants have again faced some difficulties in negotiating the meaning of the term. Similar to the concept of identity, the notion of authenticity refers to a wide range of definitions and attributes and has become a widely used 'catchphrase' in the popular discourse in the second half of the twentieth century.20 I will discuss some of the project participants’ thoughts and feelings, which were expressed in group discussions, in the following paragraphs.

In the group’s perception, there is a clear distinction between 'volkstümliche Musik' [music based on folk] and 'echte' [real] folk music. According to the German musicologist Eckhard John, this dualistic view of folk music in the German speaking countries originated in the nineteenth century and has prevailed in the popular discourse.21 The Austrian musicologist Wolfgang Suppan mapped the term authenticity and folk music in relation to the historic beginnings of Styrian folklore studies, initiated by early research on folk-oriented life and culture by the Austrian archduke Johann in the early nineteenth century.22 The archduke's legacy regarding 'romantic folklore studies' by advancing the collection of folkloristic art and by romanticizing rural life, as observed by Ingo Schneider,23 still remains intact in today's folk culture of the region.24 In this sense, the term authentic is connected to folk music based on those preserved traditions, which come to life in the music practices of 'echte Volksmusik'. The community undoubtedly regards the music of 'Die Pfeilstöcker' as 'echte' or authentic folk music in its adherence to the oral tradition regarding performance practice and repertoire, as opposed to 'volkstümliche Musik', which is perceived as a superficial and commercial fusion of pop music with folkloristic elements. In a self-reflection of the members of 'Die Pfeilstöcker', their own performances appear authentic as they are regarded as re-interpretations of the traditional repertoire and music practice passed on from previous generations.25 Invitations of 'Die Pfeilstöcker' to participate in festivals, television and radio shows advertised as promoting 'real' folk music have supported their self-image through the appraisal of their audience. This indicates what Allen Moore describes as ‘first person authenticity’, which ‘arises when an originator (composer, performer) succeeds in conveying the impression that his/her utterance is one of integrity, that it represents an attempt to communicate in an unmediated form with an audience’.26 Hence, the success of 'Die Pfeilstöcker' in mediating their authentic expression is not only dependent on the folk groups musical conception and performance, but also on other people's agreement and rapport. The audience of 'Die Pfeilstöcker' participates in the definition of 'first person authenticity' through their acknowledgment of the folk group's performance according to a shared value system regarding integrity and traditional identity. Indeed, as described earlier, the community members share similar experiences regarding the musical practice of 'Hausmusik' and tend to assess the performance of 'Die Pfeilstöcker' accordingly. This collective definition of authenticity through the folk group and their audience evokes the attributes of 'social authenticity', described by Johan Fornäs and developed by Moore: ‘“Social authenticity” is ensured in an act of judgement legitimate within a particular community’.27 Moore's statement summarizes what has been said before: The authentic self-perception of 'Die Pfeilstöcker' is assessed by an audience based on similar value criteria, which, in turn, supports the folk groups self-image. Thus, the definition of authenticity regarding the performance of 'Die Pfeilstöcker' appears to be based on a continuous cycle of affirmations among the community members according to a shared appreciation of the traditions upon which the musical practice is based.

In relation to the 'High Styria Big Band', the notion of authenticity appears under different circumstances. Although it also refers to a tradition of performance practice – the big band tradition – this obviously does not involve the same historical scope in the community in comparison to 'Hausmusik'. Big band jazz emerged in the United States and has become a component of the region's musical history for no more than one or two generations. Big band jazz constitutes a factor in the formation of the community's identity, and yet to claim authenticity on the performance of the 'High Styria Big Band' in the same regard as observed in the performances of 'Die Pfeilstöcker' would be deceptive. It would resemble Theodor Adorno's critical definition of authenticity as an illusionary concept in the form of a 'jargon' used by the members of the 'High Styria Big Band' to claim 'something higher than what they mean'.28 The community, however, has indeed meant to create something 'higher' with regards to a rigorous advancement of their previous artistic potential. We were striving towards an artistic ideal. We had a vague idea in our minds, without exactly knowing the shape it would take. The project's goal was defined according to this vague, idealized idea of advancing the musical expression of the big band to the 'highest possible artistic level'. This search for authenticity in the envisioned new compositions broadly reflects the concept of the contemporary philosopher Charles Taylor regarding the process of seeking authenticity as a 'struggle'.29 Although Taylor refers to the broad context of modern capitalist societies, this conception expresses very much, how this process was perceived by the project participants. We knew that it will take a lot of effort to realize our preliminary idea and we were aware of the demands of our high aspirations. We were struggling to realize our goals. A further differentiation between 'higher and lower ways' of seeking authenticity is also proposed by Taylor.30 Since USBBF was defined to fulfil a 'higher', idealized artistic vision based on an collective experience and not to serve any other lower level purposes such as commercial interests or the mere self-promotion, for instance, the community feels represented by Taylor's definition of a higher way of seeking authenticity towards what he calls the 'moral ideal'.31

Saxophonist Gradischnig's improvised solo cadenza as part of the composition 'Steirerbua' serves the 'moral ideal' in this sense. Before the recording, Gradischnig was told to remember his personal upbringing within the folk tradition of the community. No further musical instructions were given. Although Gradischnig has developed a highly idiosyncratic approach throughout his career, he was able to abstain from falling back on his own clichés, which would have meant a simple way to promote his musical style. Instead, Gradischnig's improvisation, which can be observed on the audio/video recording in Part II of this exposition, transcends his personal approach by developing melodic elements found in the traditional folk music of the region in an original way. By doing so, Gradischnig morally adhered to the ideal of reflecting on the community's traditions in a meaningful way. Similarly, I felt obligated to approach the 'moral ideal' in my own conception of the compositional process in Taylor's sense of referring to 'self-fulfilment' and 'being true to oneself'.32 I felt a moral obligation to develop the music according to our goals and I derived self-fulfilment, which I usually find independently in the creation of my very own musical ideas, as a result from our collective approach.

USBBF reflects Taylor's moral ideal as a collective form of self-fulfilment, which becomes experienced as being true to 'ourselves' in the sense of Moore's 'collective authenticity' on more than one level. It involves USBBF's artistic decisions on a general level as well as details in the compositional process. For instance, the fundamental choice of jazz styles, such as swing, Bossa-Nova, Salsa and Jazz-Rock was based on a collective decision according to the musical preferences of the band members. Consequently, I purposely developed details of my harmonic and melodic ideas in relation to the core repertoire of the big band. For instance, the piece 'Turlhofer' (to be heard on the CD only) derives its harmonic structure from Kurt Weill's well-known song 'Mack the Knife', which has been one the band's favorite pieces in the band book. The melodic structure in 'Turlhofer' refers to a development of a traditional folk melody in an orchestration for flugelhorn and tenor saxophone, which is intended to evoke associations of Sammy Nestico's big band arrangement of his composition 'Hay Burner', another band favorite. On an emotional level, the harmonic structure of the opening section in my composition 'Gebirge' aims for the purport of solitude and a form of spirituality, which I have experienced in unaccompanied mountain hikes, as well as by listening to the Jodler performances of 'Die Pfeilstöcker'.

'Steirerbua' for large jazz orchestra and traditional Folk ensemble, composed and arranged by Michael Kahr

based on the Austrian traditional song 'I bin a Steirerbua'

featured Soloist: Herwig Gradischnig (tenor saxophone)

score and sound recording

video may be enlarged for better readability of the score

Go to Part II

'Gebirge' for large jazz orchestra, composed and arranged by Michael Kahr

based on the Austrian traditional song 'Wir kommen vom Gebirg'

score and sound recording

video may be enlarged for better readability of the score

Example 3: Section C


After this section, the introductory vamp recurs, supported now by a fuller orchestration in the saxophone section (Example 4). Again, the guitar has the freedom to provide improvisatory comments, just as a happy hiker whistles a song while walking in the sunshine. This time the characteristic melody is played by the trombones with harmonic alterations, echoed by the folkloristic, but rhythmically prolonged trumpet motive. Finally the orchestra winds up towards the second high-point, which may be seen as another plateau but, as opposed to the earlier apex point, the trail does not now continue smoothly. A contrasting, chromatic passage takes the music to a sudden break, framed by a tonic ostinato figure. It recalls the G pedal of the opening section, but this time it occurs in the high register played by the piano. The break represents the rapidly changing weather in the mountains, which can be a life-threatening feature of mid-summer hikes. The chromaticism of the line supports feelings of uncertainty and fear, while the ostinato provides stability and an optimistic outlook within this troublesome situation.

Example 2: Characteristic melodic line and echo


In section C this simple harmonic device is further developed in a contrasting tutti passage with a bright brassy sound (Example 3). This section marks a first highpoint in the composition and reflects certain emotions in relation to hiking in the mountains: the feeling of success in reaching the first plateau above the tree line that presents itself in bright sunlight after the tedious, never-ending walk through the dark and wet forest.

Example 8: The ostinato returns


Not quite unexpectedly, the happy ending occurs and resolves the tension into a gospel-flavored vamp that features a trombone solo joined by other instruments. The G ostinato functions as a harmonic anchor throughout this section. This tutti is the final highpoint and signifies the celebration of triumph over the mountain and its dangers. Just before the celebration becomes too crazy, the ostinato calls for law and order and reminds the hiker to seek the way back. Via an encore of the opening section and a recall of the first highpoint, the piece comes to an abrupt ending on the tonic ostinato played by the piano alone. This lonely finale leaves room for interpretation: on the way back, the hiker might have fallen and come to a sudden end, or perhaps the ending merely marks the hiker’s return to daily routine upon leaving the dream world up in the mountains. In any case, the conclusion may be seen as a reminder of all the unexpected dangers in the beautiful alpine environment.


Steirerbua [Styrian Boy]


The composition ‘Steirerbua’ was written as a feature piece for the tenor saxophonist Herwig Gradischnig. He was a long-time member of the Vienna Art Ensemble and is known for his energetic improvisatory approach. Although Gradischnig lives the life of a touring jazz artist, he still feels attached to his birthplace and he returns home on a regular basis. He has previously collaborated with the jazz orchestra of the area. The composition is influenced by certain aspects of the well-known folk song ‘I bin a Steirerbua’ [I am a Styrian Boy] (Examples 9 and 10).


I am a Styrian boy

naturally born with an inner strength

for sure I will not be a disappointment to my homeland

because in Styria all people are tall and strong like a fir tree


Example 9: Literal translation of the first verse of the folk song


The lyrics reflect a stereotypical picture of an independent, strong, optimistic and healthy boy who constantly expresses his strong attachment to his homeland (Example 9). He does not seem to care about not having much money, knowing that he can find safety within his community. Despite the somewhat naïve lyrics, their combination with the simplistic shape of the melody conveys a certain melancholy, which can also be experienced in the interpretation of the ‘Die Pfeilstöcker’ (Example 10). This ambiguity led to the decision to use juxtaposition as the main feature of the new composition. Taking into consideration the sometimes harsh living conditions in the industrialized areas of Upper Styria, the description of the ‘Steirerbua’ gains contemporary depth. Over the past century, many farmers have had to abandon their country homes in order to make a living as workers in the large metal-producing companies in the area. But the country life as such also put burdens on the inhabitants. Some of the work of the area’s best-known poet Peter Rossegger shows that this life was difficult and at times provided little more than a basic contribution of food. 33

Example 14: Last part of the contrapuntal section and beginning of the tenor solo

The solo lingers around the rhythmic vamp for a little while and continues to build in intensity over a minor blues form. Some of the rhythmic elements of the vamps are re-used to provide a solo background played by the orchestra. The solo setting of a vamp and minor blues form is intended to feature Gradischnig’s experience in traditional jazz styles and to provide enough open space together with familiar solo form for a personal expression. Later in the piece the soloist needs to improvise over a more complex harmonic progression, which shows his technical skills and ability to deal with more difficult musical situations. The differing solo parts also reflect the complex nature of the modern life of a ‘Styrian boy’. The first solo ends with a free improvised cadenza. Here the soloist was given the instruction to think of his cultural background as a native of the rural area. Gradischnig expressed these thoughts spontaneously by employing connotations of folkloristic melodic ideas, without neglecting his jazz background. After the last note of the cadenza, the folk group starts to perform the ‘Jodler’, which is an integral part of the original tune. The bass trombone joins in and, since this section lasts longer than the previous two folkloristic parts, the listener might think that the composition has ended. However, the orchestra now takes over with a recapitulation of the introduction. The piece continues with another contrasting section in a 4/4 fast swing tempo. Example 15 shows the transition from the original 3/4 time into the faster 4/4 tempo.

Example 4: Chromatic line and ostinato


An intriguing rhythmic development eventually brings the horn section back in, accompanied by the lament of a rising motive D – G played by the trumpets (Example 5). The situation has dramatically increased in tension here due to an improvised, energetic accompaniment by the drums, which in terms of the mountain hike scenario signify the sound of a thunderstorm building up in a sky that had been clear and blue only a few moments ago.

Example 5: Chromatic line, ostinato and ascending trumpet call D – G


Another unexpected break eases the tension, but leads the music to a distant place by imposing a complex chord progression in an uneven set of five-bar phrases (Example 6). The progression serves as the background for a soprano saxophone solo. The accompanying melodic lines consist of fragments of the characteristic melodic line, which echoes the peaceful beginning of the march, while the underlying harmonic and rhythmic situation has become far more unstable and restless. The chord progression involves the move from G major towards its relative minor key (E minor), as well as chromatic mediant chords and variations thereof. These chromatic chords contribute to an instability in the hitherto strong tonal centre.

Example 11: First part of the introduction


The introduction sets the conceptual standards for the remainder of the piece. Two musical lines, equally strong and energetic, melodically and rhythmically related but different in shape occur simultaneously, creating a disturbing and perhaps even chaotic effect. The music reaches a first highpoint in the B section after only twenty-five bars (Example 12). This part involves several extreme musical aspects, such as fast, chromatic runs and use of high register for some instruments. The drums introduce a heavy rock-like rhythm and, after a collective break, the folk group starts to perform the first verse of the tune ‘I bin a Steirerbua’.

Example 12: Section B

This unexpected performance lasts for only a few bars, being disturbed by a chromatic trill in the trumpets. Another energetic contrasting passage then begins just before the folk group can bring the first verse to an end. As before, this interlude ends with a break which is used by the folk group to introduce the second verse. While the folk group performs their part, the jazz orchestra participates by providing support and disturbance at the same time. The trombones play a harmonic anchor in the form of the dominant pedal D while the saxophones and trumpets add chromatically harmonized fills in the form of trills and rhythmic displaced hits. Example 13 shows a reduction of this section (E).

Example 13: Reduction of sections E and F


The subsequent section (F) introduces a new ostinato figure in the trombone section, which suggests the sudden move towards the relative minor tonality (E minor). This ostinato becomes the main feature of a longer middle section of the piece and turns the preliminary naïve and yet ambiguous setting of the folk material into the dark world of modal jazz. A section with various contrapuntal lines follows, before the saxophonist Gradischnig is introduced to solo over the rhythmic vamp. Example 14 shows the culmination of the contrapuntal section and the beginning of the solo section.

Part II




The interpretation offered in Part II of this exposition draws from two different angles on the same source: the associations of the composer/author while creating the work and while reflecting upon the finished piece of music. The reflection is conceptualized by the examination shown in Part I. The compositional work took place in an apartment in Vienna. All associations with the rural region and the community described in Part I are based upon the personal experience of growing up in the rural district of upper Styria. Part II will provide insight into the interrelation of the musical structure and the conceptual framework as discussed in Part I. The analysis involves a detailed reading of the pieces ‘Gebirge’ and ‘Steierbua’, which reflect much of the approach used for the complete cycle ‘Upper Styrian Big Band Folk’. Both pieces can be listened to in full by clicking on the videos at the left. In these videos, the score pages are shown according to the music. Interpretative readings of the two pieces can be found below, including musical examples.


Gebirge [Mountain] 


This piece was designed to serve as the opening tune at live performances of the composition cycle. It shows off various musical aspects of a modern large jazz orchestra. The piece starts with a rhythmic vamp in ¾ in the key of G major in a reflective, but positive mood (Example 1). Solo space is kept for the guitar in order to establish a smooth opening. From bar 10, the trombone section adds a lush background that resembles the ascent and subsequent descent of several cyclic aspects of nature, such as sunrise and sunset; the periods between summer and winter solstices; or the seasonal movement of cattle up the mountains in spring and back home in the fall. As the title suggests, the traditional song describes life in the regional mountains. However, there is a noticeable subtext referring to the modest character and the spirituality of alpine people. This is expressed in the opening passage of the composition, through the long harmonic rhythm and subtle harmonic change of plagal character between four bars of the tonic chord G major alternating with four bars of the subtonic above a tonic pedal point.

Example 10: The ‘Steirerbua’  verse as played by ‘Die Pfeilstoecker’


The compositional process included finding a way of retaining saxophonist Gradischnig’s personal sound within the context of the project. The piece was constructed so that Gradischnig’s versatile musical personality could represent the ambiguous stereotype of the ‘Styrian boy’ and, at the same time, tell his own story as a ‘true’ boy from Styria. The performance of the folk group the ‘Pfeilstöcker’ was also integrated into the composition. Abrupt changes between energetic passages of the jazz orchestra and the folk group aimed for dramatic effects and a representation of the aforementioned discrepancy between an idealized country life and the harsher industrial reality in Upper Styria.


In the completed version, the two ensembles seem almost to merge at times, but this is prevented by a variety of contrasting sections that occur without preparation. The juxtaposition of a variety of musical elements is a consistent feature of this composition. Formally this piece is more complex than ‘Gebirge’ and makes use of the contrasting sections to represent the complexities of real life as opposed to the stereotypes that are communicated through the folk song. Interruptions to the expected musical developments are a conceptual feature of the composition and deconstruction of the melodic material in the original folk tune is a significant aspect of the work.


The introduction involves a complex contrapuntal treatment of the main melodic elements based on the notes of the Folk song’s opening phrase D – G – A – B (Example 11). The phrases start with the opening call D – G and extend from this interval gradually toward the full phrase.

Example 16: Final part of the composition


Go to Part III

33. Peter Rosegger, Als ich noch der Waldbauernbub war (Arena Verlag, Würzburg, 1996)

34. CD, Upper Styrian Big Band Folk, High Styria Big Band. 2011.


Example 6: Chord progression for soprano saxophone solo and fragmentary line


Both the harmonic and rhythmic structures of this solo section present a challenge for the soprano saxophonist. In metaphorical terms, our hiker needs to climb steep rocks high in the mountains in order to reach the peak. He needs to consider each step on the uneven ground, and the risk of falling is high. In addition, further obstacles arise in the form of an unsettling solo background, which involves displaced accents in the brass section (Example 7). The ascending fourths and descending fifths in the melodic structure of this background provide another reference to the characteristic opening phrase of the folk melody.

Example 7: Saxophone solo background


As the saxophone solo comes to an end, the motive from the beginning of this solo section, consisting of fragments of the folk melody, returns. In conjunction with several stop-and-go passages, where the music seems to die away, this marks a desperate and seemingly unsuccessful end to the tiring hike (Example 8). The peak is near, but the weather conditions and the steep rocks on the way up have drained the physical powers. However, at the same time as the melodic fragments of the characteristic, once so optimistic melody seem to pass away, the subtle G tonic ostinato returns in the piano part. The bell-like character here may evoke either church bells ringing for a funeral or the contrasting feeling that help has arrived in this desperate situation. Finally, the ostinato is the only musical element left for a few moments, providing a moment of contemplation.

Example 15: Metric modulation from 3/4 into 4/4


The harmonic progression of the second solo section deliberately dissolves the tonal centers of G major and its relative minor (E minor) which have prevailed throughout the composition. This section involves various tonal centers with minor third relations (Eb major, F# major, A major and C major). The harmonies, in combination with the metric modulation, represent the loss of the established order. Traditions need to be reconsidered in order to proceed towards a brighter future, which may be interpreted in our contemporary world in terms of the current financial crisis that has unsettled our society. Finally, the situation calms down and the tension of the music resolves into a minimalistic section on the new tonic A minor. The drums, which have been very active and energetic throughout the piece fade out and the composition ends with a repeated pattern and improvised sounds and noises. The latter imitate the sounds of nature and herds of cattle in the mountains, and the techniques employed include blowing wind through the instruments and making metal sounds with the mouthpieces of the brass instruments (Example 16). The open ending merges with the introduction of another piece of the cycle (Über d’Alma) [Across the Alpine Meadows], which can be heard on the CD but is not part of the present examination.34 

Example 1: Opening section


In section B, the introductory vamp merges with a characteristic melodic line of the folk tune ‘Wir kommen vom Gebirg’ [‘We come from the mountains’] (Example 2). The original folk melody is performed rubato by a singer, conveying the syllables of the title ‘Wir kommen vom Gebirg’ [‘We come from the mountains’]. In this jazz version the line is kept melodically intact, but rhythmically altered and superimposed over the opening 3/4 vamp. The line is orchestrated for the saxophone section in a simple harmonization (octaves and sixths), which reflects the folk aspect of the original song onto the new composition. The trumpet section echoes with a little fanfare-like motive that ascends in response to the descending line of the folk song. 

35. Morag Josephine Grant, 'Experimental Music Semiotics',  International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, 34/2 (2003) p. 175.

36. Ibid.

37. 'Rinnegger' is not part of this exposition and can be heard on the CD Upper Styrian Big Band Folk.






http://www.blasmusik.at [accessed 15.10.2012]

http://www.blasmusik-verband.at [accessed 15.10.2012]

http://www.jazzinstitut.de [accessed 15.10.2012]

http://docupedia.de/zg/Authentizität [accessed 15.10.2012]

http://www.highstyriabigband.at [accessed 15.10.2012]

http://www.jazzandthecity.org [accessed 15.10.2012]

http://www.rhythmchanges.net [accessed 15.10.2012]



Count Basie. The Complete Atomic Basie. Capitol Records (orig. released 1957).

Roulette Records R203799 (re-released 1994).

High Styria Big Band. Upper Styrian Big Band Folk (2011).

MHS Big Band. Reihe Klangdebüts Vol 3. University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz (1996).


Books, Articles

Theodor Adorno,  Jargon of Authenticity, transl. by Knut Tarnowski and Frederic Will

(Northwestern Evanston: University Press, 1973).

John H. Baron, Chamber Music: A Research and Information Guide. 3rd ed.

(New York: Routledge, 2010)

Carl Ferdinand Becker, Hausmusik in Deutschland

(Leipzig: Fest'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1840)

Regina Bendix, In Search of Authenticity: The Formation of Folklore Studies

(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997)

Eurojazzland: Jazz and European Sources, Dynamics and Contexts, ed. by Luca Cerchiari, Laurent Cugny and Franz Kerschbaumer 

(Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2012).

Morag Josephine Grant, 'Experimental Music Semiotics', 

International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, 34/2 (2003). pp. 173-191.

Hans Haid, 'Volkskunde / Volkskultur zwischen Pflege und Kulturarbeit'.

in Volkskunde in Österreich: Bausteine zur Geschichte, Methoden und Themenfelder einer Ethnologica Austriaca, ed. by Olaf Bockhorn, Helmut Eberhart and Dorothea Jo. Peter. (Innsbruck, 2011) pp. 513-528.

Eckhard John, 'Die Entdeckung des sozialkritischen Liedes: Wolfgang Steinitz als Wegbereiter eines neuen “Volkslied”-Verständnisses'

in Die Entdeckung des sozialkritischen Liedes: Zum 100. Geburtstag von Wolfgang Seinitz. (Volksliedstudien 7) ed. by Eckhard John (Münster: Waxmann, 2006) pp. 13- 24.

Elisabeth Kolleritsch, Jazz in Graz. Beiträge zur Jazzforschung 10 

(Graz: Adeva, 1995).

Dietrich Heinz Kraner and Klaus Schulz. Jazz in Austria: Historische Entwicklung und Diskographie des Jazz in Österreich

Beiträge zur Jazzforschung 2 (Graz: Universal Edition, 1972).

Allen Moore, ‘Authenticity as Authentication’, Popular Music, 21/2 (2002) pp. 209-223.

Stuart Nicholson, Is Jazz Dead? (Or Has It Moved To A New Address)

(New York: Routledge, 2005).

Peter Rosegger, Als ich noch der Waldbauernbub war

(Würzburg: Arena Verlag, 1996).

Walter Salmen, Haus- und Kammermusik: Privates Musizieren im gesellschaftlichen Wandel

zwischen 1600 und 1900. Musikgeschichte in Bildern 4: Musik der Neuzeit. 3rd ed. (Leipzig, 1969)

Achim Saupe, ‘Authentizität Version 1.0’

in Docupedia-Zeitgeschichte (2010) http://docupedia.de/zg/Authentizität (accessed 15 October 2012)

Ingo Schneider,  'Erste Ansätze: Zur Frühgeschichte der österreichischen Volkskundevom 15. bis zur Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts' 

in Volkskunde in Österreich: Bausteine zur Geschichte, Methoden und Themenfelder einer Ethnologica Austriaca, ed. by Olaf Bockhorn, Helmut Eberhart and Dorothea Jo. Peter. (Innsbruck, 2011) pp. 11-38.

Seth J. Schwartz, Koen Luyckx and Vivian L. Vignoles. Handbook of Identity Theory and Research

(New York: Springer, 2011)

Wolfgang Suppan and Eva Bornemann. 'Research on Folk Music in Austria since 1800'

Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council, 8 (1976) pp. 117-129.

Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity

(Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 1991)

Toelken, Barre. 'Considerations for Further Research on the Alpine Yodel: A Fieldwork Report'

Barre Toelken, 'Considerations for Further Research on the Alpine Yodel: A Fieldwork Report'

in Jahrbuch für Volksliedforschung 27/28 (1982/1983) pp. 186-204.



Part III




USBBF emerged from the members of a small rural community's vague idea to create a collaborative project around the local 'High Styria Big Band' and the traditional folk group 'Die Pfeilstöcker'. The project was designed as arts-based research aiming for a contemporary interpretation of the community's cultural tradition. Community-based discussions revealed the scope of the notions of identity and authenticity in this context. USBBF explored these two notions by verbal means, as shown in the discussion in Part I, and artistically by creating and interpreting twelve compositions, both of which are analyzed in Part II regarding their musical references to the extra-musical issues of identity and authenticity.


Part I presented facts on the community and its socio-cultural background as well as crucial aspects of the project participants’ own perception of identity and authenticity. The analyses of these issues drew from a collective discussion process and my personal interpretations, which were based on my insider knowledge as a genuine member of the community. The discussion on identity revealed how the two music groups are situated within the wider community and how certain attributes of their performance practices represent the project's definition of local identity. The observations regarding the community members' identification with the tradition of big band jazz referred to aspects of self-image, such as 'being cool' and appearing sophisticated, intellectual, as well as socially responsible in terms of the educational role of some members within the community. The personal exposure of several project participants to the work of seminal jazz composers created another form of identification in a professional environment in jazz. The attributes associated with 'Hausmusik' explained the community's identification with this fundamental aspect of its own traditional music practices as authentic. This form of authenticity involves the adherence to a romantic perception of the region's folkloristic traditions, a view which was initiated in the scholarly activities of the Austrian archduke Johann in the early nineteenth century and consequently rooted in the popular discourse, as notable researchers in Austrian folklore studies suggest. The advocation of authenticity in relation to the performances of the 'High Styria Big Band' of seminal works of the American big band tradition was revealed as an illusionary concept, not only in Theodor Adorno's sense, but also in the community's own perception. Several aspects of authenticity as proposed by Charles Taylor, however, referred to the community's concept of authenticity. The group's own understanding of the notions of 'self-fulfilment', 'being true to oneself' and the 'struggle' for a 'higher' level of authenticity towards a 'moral ideal' constituted vital aspects in this regard.


The hermeneutic reading of my musical compositions in Part II reflected the musical translation of the aspects raised in the discussion of Part I. The analyses of the two scores described the relationships between musical structures and their extra-musical meaning in the context of the project USBBF. In summary, the piece 'Gebirge' accounts for my musical reflection of a hiker's experiences in the mountains, while exposed to changing weather conditions, and the composition 'Steirerbua' expands upon the idea of an idealized country-life in opposition to the real, sometimes harsh living conditions in the region.


Concluding remarks


The recordings are of particular relevance for the full understanding of the project's outcomes. The two selected pieces shown in an audio/video format in this exposition represent the project's envisioned artistic result and as such the final realization of the project's aims: the community has finally arrived at a contemporary form of an authentic musical expression of their own identity. The abstract musical representation thereof is captured in a haptic object, a professionally produced CD. This object evokes memories regarding the project and the emotions attached for each community member and many statements reinforce the notion of having achieved something 'meaningful' and 'significant'.


Not unlike 'identity' and 'authenticity', 'meaning' is just another term with a complex semantic sphere in the scholarly discourse. A general definition is beyond the scope of this project for reasons I have given in the introduction of this exposition. In response to this I will adopt Morag Josephine Grant's preference for the term 'significance' as opposed to the notion of 'meaning' for my concluding remarks: 'Significance, as I see it, is a broader term: on the one hand more relative (it may be entirely dependent on the context in question, the same element being significant in one context and relatively banal in another) and at the same time more specific (since it is only ever significant in relation to a given context)'.35 Grant's definition, which was developed for a study of experimental music, accounts for the importance of the context regarding the observation of significance. In these concluding section I will use the term in the particular socio-cultural context of USBBF, while also implying that an application of my interpretation of significance might be meaningless in another context. I will particularly assess the success of achieving USBBF's main goal of generating a 'meaningful' (in the sense of significant) musical translation of the notions of 'identity' and 'authenticity'. Implied in my interpretation of this achievement is a process of signification, which is understood by Grant as an active application of causal relationships between certain aspects within a specific context: 'things “become” significant because we relate them to something else in the context of which they become significant'.36 After the separate exploration of the concepts of identity and authenticity in previous sections, I will now relate them to various aspects of the project. I intend to show how these concepts function in various processes of signification in the context of USBBF and to explore aspects of the finished project which have not been discussed so far. In this sense, significance can be observed in a number of forms on different levels.


On a general level, the project USBBF has become significant for the community, as it stimulated the intensification of their own cultural values. These values, as identity-forming aspects, such as big band and folk music traditions, and authentic practices, such as 'Hausmusik' and the strive towards 'being true to oneself', were agreed upon by the project participants as significant aspects for the creation of new musical compositions. The project participants further agreed upon a specific interpretation of the music, which conveyed the significance of the compositions as authentic expressions of the community. The music could only gain significance as an authentic means of expression through the actual performance of the community members, which signaled their acceptance of the compositions as valuable and authentic expressions of their identity. The music, in its aim to convey authenticity, would appear as an 'illusionary concept' if performed by a different ensemble, or if not performed at all, as it would lack the community's approval in these cases. Similarly, in its intention to express the community's identity, the project could only reach this goal through the realization of the new compositions by those ensembles and soloists it was conceived for. The CD, which preserves the project participants’ performance, then becomes significant in its function of representing the community's values. One aspect of the potential of the CD to reproduce the recorded musical performances at any time refers to its intensification of the experiences of the participating community members. Their experiences refer to the thoughts and emotions which occurred during the CD recording, for instance. Each musician can hear his/her own interpretation and performance of the notated musical score on the CD and may remember the emotions attached to these processes. The CD is also significant regarding the appreciation of the sound engineer's work and the support of several assistants during the rehearsal and recording processes. Looking at the CD booklet and listening to the recording on CD reminds us of their input during the recording session, rehearsals and performances.


While the project gained significance through its intensification of the community's cultural values, it also generated significance upon the perception of these values within the community. For instance, the professionally produced CD increased the community's appreciation of their own cultural traditions. For the big band members, their first CD release marked a significant achievement, which reflects their approach towards a professional status in Austria's jazz scene. 'Die Pfeilstöcker', after a successful performance career of more than 50 years, experienced the appreciation of a younger generation of local musicians through their invitation to participate in a professional production. Finally, the musical combination of the comparably youthful 'High Styria Big Band' and the experienced group 'Die Pfeilstöcker' generated a significant statement regarding integration across generations. Although the emergence of the local big band practice in the region, in search of being 'cool', initially involved opposing reactions towards traditional music forms and vice-versa, the integration of the folk group in the contemporary musical setting of USBBF represented a reinterpretation of the big band members' shared experiences of 'Hausmusik' as an outstanding aspect of their identity. The integration of the performance of 'Die Pfeilstöcker' in this collaborative project significantly increased the appreciation of the big band members regarding those shared attributes of tradition and identity. The folk musicians' perception of jazz, on the other hand, was significantly challenged through their integration in the big band, and yet surprisingly, they expressed their joy of participating, for instance within an improvised, blues-inspired section of the piece 'Rinnegger'.37 In sum, the whole gamut of emotions and extra-musical references involved with the project participants’ experience of conducting the project may be regarded as 'significance', which the project USBBF has generated for the various members of the community on various levels.


The project has revealed specific aspects that are at play in a case study of a community-based arts-project in jazz, which refer to its design, the contextual discussion, the actual creation of the musical score and the realization of the final results in the form of a CD recording. This case study might inform the analysis of similar projects, which were conducted in the past without research-based reflection, and the design of future projects based on similar conceptions of artistic research. Past projects in Austria, which considered the exploration of the musicians' own socio-cultural background by re-composing folk material, included Wolfgang Puschnig's Alpine Aspects, some compositions in the repertoire of the Vienna Art Orchestra and, more recently, Christian Muthspiel's Yodel Group. Future projects may investigate the compositional process in jazz based on an epistemology of arts practices, which was omitted in USBBF in favor of an illustration of its community-based approach. Moreover, further arts-based research projects may discuss the role of improvisation in jazz composition, or explore the significance of other socio-cultural aspects for the creative practice in jazz, such as religion and spirituality, or globalization and commercialism - all of which may expand in other musical forms beyond jazz and/or consider collaborations across various art forms.