The Sound Truck: On a big trip to the little ones

Packed full with violin, timpani and guitar, the Sound Truck races from one kindergarten to another.

»Oh, it's you!« The porter at the Laeiszhalle sticks her head out of the door. »Out early again today?« Annegret Winkler waves back and plods out into the cold, carrying her cello case. At half past eight on this January morning, the car park behind the building is still in the dark. The only light comes from the open door of the artists' entrance – and from a delivery van that's parked here. Though the word »van« really doesn't do justice to this special vehicle: the Sound Truck is brightly painted, with little men dancing over the sides, playing the violin and clambering over an outsized trumpet.


Starting at dawn

The cargo space was specially made as well, with shelves, compartments, hooks and tension belts designed for the transport of instruments. Winkler heaves the instruments into the van, starting with the big timpani and the harp, then the smaller instruments, and at the end the carrying cases. Everything is lashed up, and then Winkler slams the door and the Sound Truck is ready for departure. Today's destination is the »Bethlehem« kindergarten in Eimsbüttel.

This is an excerpt from the Elbphilharmonie Magazine (3/2019).

Das Klingende Mobil
Das Klingende Mobil © Kathrin Spirk

On the road in Hamburg

Annegret Winkler is one of the music teachers who drive the Elbphilharmonie Sound Truck through Hamburg. They hold one-hour workshops at kindergartens where they introduce the children  to the different instruments of the orchestra, and give them the chance to touch and try out real instruments. This is the kind of music that brings the greatest pleasure – music you play yourself. Winkler herself started to make music at nursery-school age: first the recorder, then piano, saxophone and singing, and later on she played percussion. »I was lucky to come into contact with music at an early age«, she says. She decided she wanted to share her passion, and went on to study voice, choral conducting and music education in Rostock. After numerous projects as a freelance teacher, she moved to Hamburg in autumn 2017 to take up the job at the Elbphilharmonie.

Careful preparation

The courses are led by two teachers in each case. Today, Winkler is accompanied by Jonas Danielowski. He quickly types the address into the satnav, turns on the headlights and starts the engine. »We only drive around within the city boundaries, but it still takes a while to get to Billstedt. That's why we always leave at daybreak«, Winkler explains. »Of course it's quite a bit of work, packing all the instruments into the van and then unpacking them at the other end. But we can't leave them in the van over night, they are too valuable for that. And the cold would put them out of tune.«

Das Klingende Mobil
Erste Töne © Kathrin Spirk

»Wenn die ›Elbphilharmonie‹ und ›Klingendes Mobil‹ hören, rasten die immer völlig aus.«

Just after eight o'clock, the Sound Truck reverses into a parking space outside the »Bethlehem« day-care centre. The first children press their noses against the window, full of curiosity. The special visitors from the Elbphilharmonie are expected, and children and parents alike give them a warm welcome at the entrance. »They are really excited«, the head of the kindergarten says. »When they hear the words Elbphilharmonie and Sound Truck, they just go crazy.«

The Control Centre

The Sound Truck is in great demand, and since the Elbphilharmonie was officially opened, the interest has increased. Benjamin Holzapfel is in charge of the Elbphilharmonie World of Instruments, and he knows all the details of the growing selection of courses offered. He started giving workshops himself back in 2008 at the Musical Museum, the predecessor of the World of Instruments. He was part of the team when the Sound Truck was first created; he played at the inauguration with his band, and later on drove to the kindergartens himself. Today, he takes a back seat, directing things from the control centre in the Elbphilharmonie basement, the brick-built Kaispeicher.

Benjamin Holzapfel in der Instrumentenwelt
Benjamin Holzapfel in the World of Instruments © Kathrin Spirk

500 musical instruments

The World of Instruments contains an impressive collection of over 500 musical instruments, and these see regular use: in the first year, some 18,000 school students and adults took part in the workshops held in the Kaistudios. These courses constitute the lion's share of what the World of Instruments has to offer. But the Sound Truck as a mobile unit is still extremely valuable. In addition to day-care facilities, it also regularly visits community centres. »The idea of taking our instruments out to the different parts of the city has met with a very positive reception«, says Holzapfel. »Well be going out in the Sound Truck even more often in the future. And we are also reworking the concept: we are going to use nearly 10 years of experience to refine our workshops' content, without abandoning the original idea.«

Violin and Tuba

Back to Eimsbüttel: while the children are still busy with handicrafts next door, Jonas Danielowski and Annegret Winkler start to set up the instruments. They throw big blue cloths on to the tables that are a bit reminiscent of a magic show. »That way, the children already notice that something special is planned when they come through the door«, Danielowski explains. »The instruments are valuable, after all. We tell the children at the outset that these are not toys.« Even though they almost look like toys: most of the 25 instruments in use today are smaller versions designed to fit a child's hands – quarter- and eighth-size violins, half-guitars, a small tuba known affectionately as »Tiny Tim«. But the drums and timpani are original size to ensure the maximum fun.

Elbphilharmonie World of Instruments

Be it the double bass, the trumpet or the gamelan: here you can immerse yourself in the world of music in a wide variety of workshops.

Das Klingende Mobil
Annegret Winkler © Kathrin Spirk

An unexpeced fascination

Danielowski is looking forward to see what the group is like. »That's the great thing about this job: you never know what to expect.« And that applies both to the children – »they respond differently and honestly every time« –  and also to the kindergartens: »Some of them are tiny but have a really warm atmosphere, while others are spacious and very well-equipped, but kind of cool.«

Danielowski has been doing the job for ten years. In this time he has seen more than 400 day-care centres, and has helped thousands of children understand musical instruments – and adults too – at the courses in the Laeiszhalle's Musical Museum. »It's a good feeling to see that you've aroused someone's interest. Once a woman came up to me at the bus stop and said ›Are you the man from the Musical Museum? It was thanks to you that I started to play the trombone.‹« Holding an instrument in your hands and producing sounds on it is something that triggers an undreamt-of fascination in some people. Even in small children and in some kids you wouldn't expect it from: »In some kindergartens there are so-called rookies who act all important, then later on you find them sitting at the harp with a dreamy look on their faces. It's always fun to see that.«

Tales and music

Then it's nine o'clock and the rookies come trooping in. They look at the shiny timpani all wide-eyed. But before they get a chance to play, Danielowski tells them a little story about a dwarf king whose daughter is kidnapped by a giant. First of all the witch tries to rescue her, then the smallest and bravest of the dwarves manages to outwit the giant. The young audience listens attentively, joining in at the top of their voices to imitate the giant's rumbling laugh, the witch riding wildly on her broomstick or the mischievous chuckling of the dwarf hero.

Klingendes Mobil: Jonas Danielowski assistiert beim Kontrabass-Spielen
Jonas Danielowski helps a youngster play the double bass © Kathrin Spirk

Giant, Dwarf, drum and timpani

Afterwards, the characters from the fairy tale pass through the workshop like a kind of leitmotif: the giant's soup is cooked on the djembé drums. The children rhythmically add the ingredients to the huge saucepan: »a hun-dred po-ta-toes«, »two hun-dred pie-ces of broc-co-oli«. The giant blows the witch away with one drum roll. A dialogue between the giant and the dwarf is presented by the double bass and the cello. Each instrument has its story, and every timbre evokes a new picture in the listener's mind. Some of the children submit an expert verdict on what they hear (»That one's better, that one sounds lower«), while others carefully touch the instruments or hop around in circles (»Can I go first?«).

Initial contacts with music

»The idea here is not for the children to learn how to play an instrument«, says Annegret Winkler. »We just want to give them their first positive contact with the world of music.« For some children, music is not new: »My dad has a trumpet«, one lad tells us out of the blue after half an hour. Another boy says: »I've got a keyboard at home that I got for Christmas.« One little girl is already taking violin lessons, and plays something during the workshop. »Of course there are differences, with some parents actively encouraging their children. And in some kindergartens the children sing or play music together«, says Winkler, »but not everywhere. There are also children who have no access to music at all, and that's why what we do is so important.«

»Es geht hier nicht darum, dass die Kinder ein Instrument lernen. Wir wollen einen ersten positiven Kontakt mit dieser Welt herstellen.«

Jonas Danielowski vom Klingendes Mobil
Jonas Danielowski © Claudia Höhne

long-term impact

To reach as many day-care centres as possible, the course fee was abolished when the Sound Truck was incorporated into the structure of the Elbphilharmonie. Instead of 200 euros, each kindergarten just pays a token fee of 20 euros now. That reduces the barriers, for the kindergartens in Eimsbüttel and even moreso for those in areas like Billstedt, Steilshoop and Jenfeld. »We often encounter children who have no idea about musical instruments, who have never seen or heard a tuba, for example. When they blow into it and a sound comes out, they just stand there dumbstruck«, Danielowski says. He sees the workshops partly as a mission: »Playing an instrument is something special – but it's not a privelege. We want to get this into people's heads.« The kindergarten teachers can confirm that the workshops leave a lasting impression. – At the latest a few days after the Sound Truck's visit, when a child looks up from the picture he's painting and exclaims happily: »I've already played the violin«.

Text: Fränz Kremer, last updated: 10.4.2018

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