– 7.6 minute read –
The Sunday Session Welcomes Bernhard Hollinger!
It’s a seriously cold day in Amsterdam Noord. We meet at The Soep Bar on Van der Pekstraat and get talking about how Bernhard from Bavaria, Germany, arrived in Amsterdam and how he made his way here as a musician. Bernhard is a composer and initially came here to study music at the Conservatory back in 2010. He plays bass and sousaphone, predominantly Jazz.
The sky is blue and I’m hoping for a good sunset and twilight. Bravely we sit outside and order soup and coffee. As with most Dutch streets there is a road for cars accompanied by a cycle/ motorbike lane. I start my recording, trying not to get distracted by the motorcycles thundering past. Bernhard tells me that his home town Ingolstadt. It’s where Audi cars are manufactured. He remembers that everybody seemed to work for them and all the cars around seemed perfect. I tell him that I’d love an Audi – they are so solid! He applied to the Conservatory and got in.
“So I studied in Amsterdam, things were different here. If your bike was stolen, it was no biggie, you just had to move on. So I got into my routine, but after a while had the feeling that I needed to break out again.”
Bernhard tells me that he met a Session band from New Orleans. They said you should come over! So he set up an exchange program and went over. We discuss music for a while. I tell Bernhard that I once bought a great vinyl of ‘New Orleans Funk’. I comment that I am a music fan, but confess that Jazz sometimes confuses me. As I listen to Bernhard, I’m thinking: I know it’s quite free, and there’s a thread that holds it all together, but I don’t understand how it moves, how someone dictates the mood. I guess that there must be a lead musician. Bernhard explains to me that there is always a melody; a melody delivering emotion, an idea. He says that you could say that every musician helps that idea blossom; that it’s less about the rhythm and timing and more about the emotion.
In New Orleans he found a freeing and celebratory vibe. Music, live music was everywhere. And this is where he discovered the sousaphone.
“I picked up this instrument. I had never played a brass instrument before and it really started something for me. We formed this brass band and found that we could deliver! And make people dance! Coming from an institution where they tell you that you can’t play a piece of music until it’s perfect.”
On returning to Amsterdam Bernhard started a brass band, calling it ‘Neutral Ground Brass Band’.
“So how has the New Orleans vibe transferred here?” I ask.
Bernard swallows a mouthful of soup. “Hmm, having been on tour with the brass band, we went to Slovenia, London, Poland, Berlin, Brussels. The thing is; if something’s good, then everybody feels it. If something triggers a mood, then it’s good, that thing doesn’t need to be defined and everybody reacts differently. That was a lesson for me. I remembered that New Orleans vibe. I came back here and tried it, and then you realize: oh it’s not happening, not in the way it happens is New Orleans. Well, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, it doesn’t mean people don’t love it. They just show it differently. The best example was in Slovenia. We played, people loved it, but they just didn’t move. Their facial expression showed it, but for us it was so important to make them move. We were like No! Fuck! Annoyed almost by it. But in the end, our Slovenian trumpet player was like: “Man, just like that’s the way it is!”
“Yep” I added. “I guess it’s important to be in the moment and think I’m doing my best. I’m enjoying it and putting out the best I can.”
“Yeah” Bernhard comes back. “In the end I try to create a party, but it’s not only about you, you need the environment to join into that vibe. If that happens then it’s a magical night cos’ everybody wants to go down that road of having a great party and dancing your ass off!
I remember my end exam at the Conservatory. And you know like I said, I’ve struggled with the art in Institutions. So I decided to be myself. The performance space was full with my teachers, family and contemporaries. The room was a quite serious, and quite a cold room.”
“A bit formal” I add.
“Yeah, so we marched in New Orleans style, like a funeral march. Really slow, really creepy. And then we went to the front of the stage and jumped up. I started repeating a phrase I heard in one of those Jazz clubs one day. The guy was there with his tambourine, going through the crowd saying something like this:
“Hey everybody! You know here in New Orleans, music is a religion. And having a concert and creating music, and creating something for you, well that’s nothing different than a church. So I want to welcome you all to church today. Come on, give me a Hallelujah!” There was a silence. It took them about 2 seconds, then the whole crowd came back “Hallelujah.”
“That moment meant so much for me. Because I was able to bring my experience from New Orleans and remove that seriousness and awkwardness from the concert hall. So in a way you gave them the key to be part of the experience. You’re allowed to do something, something beautiful, and not just sit.”
“That’s a really nice sentiment.” I add. We finish up and head into the golden light. Yes! Hallelujah.
You may be curious to hear Bernard’s music in its various forms. Click the links below and enjoy the sounds. Thanks for reading.
ngbb.net (Brass Band)