Clarinets are Cool!

German 'Oom-Pah' Music

Oom-pah is a term that's become slang a large body of traditional German, Austrian, Swiss and Eastern European music. We most frequently see it performed at celebrations of Octoberfest, a traditional Bavarian festival held around Halloween. This is not a single style of music, but a wide variety of styles including Polkas, Mazurkas, Schottishes, Waltzes and Landler. The clarinet is commonly used in these traditional groups, and this type of music can occasionally be a source of paying gigs for the clarinet player.

The term 'Oom-Pah' is in imitation of the downbeats played by the bass or tuba and the off-beats played by other instruments to provide rhythmic accompaniment for the melody. If you've ever seen the musical Oliver!, the 'Oom-Pah-Pah' song pretty well illustrates this.


European Band Music - Most of the European groups are modeled on the Prussian & Austrian military bands of the late 19th & early 20th centuries. Most of this material can be done with 2 flugelhorns (melody & harmony), a tenorhorn (countermelody), a euphonium (doubling countermelody, afterbeats or bass line) and tuba. Trombone and french horn parts are stricly afterbeats. Clarinet and flute parts tend either to double the flugelhorn parts or be purely decorative. A number of folios are available with fairly flexible instrumentation. Just make sure that melody and harmony, countermelody and bass are covered. A couple of afterbeat parts wouldn't hurt, either. (more info coming on specific publications) Some publications are available online from Fest-Musik-Haus.

Tanzmusik/Volksmusik - Much of the folk music is sold in folios for 2 flugelhorns (melody & harmony), tenorhorn (countermelody) & tuba. Often a clarinet will double the second flugelhorn an octave up. There are usually no parts for afterbeats or rhythm instruments. The chord structure of these songs is extremely simple, and musicians playing afterbeats can probably make up their own parts just fine. Other sets are sold simply as flugelhorn or clarinet duets. Again, it is not terribly difficult for experienced musicians to add their own bass lines, afterbeats and even countermelodies with a little rehearsal. For some good arrangements click this page from German publisher Karl Edelmann.

Hungry Five - This is a group possibly of Polish-American origin. Instrumentation is 2 clarinets, trumpet, trombone and tuba. The classic book to have is Hungry Five in Germany by Harry L. Alford, but there are also Hungry Five folios for Irish, Spanish, Ragtime and probably some other styles as well. At least some of these are still published by Hansen House. Another good book for this group is German Band Encores by Carroll Butts, published by Kendor Music.

Polka Band Music - Larger arrangements for Polka bands appealing to various ethnicities are in the Vitak-Elsnik catalog, which is today handled by Browns Music. I don't know at this point just how the parts break down, or what the quality is.

Sidelight: These kinds of groups provide a good preview of what would become 'dixieland' bands in the US. Trumpet playing melody, clarinet harmonizing an octave up, and trombone playing a low countermelody.

Great Oompah Site - Visit the homepage of Dudley Delaney of Hampton, VA. Very nice page with links to bands, MIDI files, etc.

Local Oom-Pah groups here in the Richmond area: I am pleased to be a member of the Original Elbe Musikanten (drawn mostly from members of the European Wind Ensemble) and of Die Glucklichen Musiker (drawn mostly from members of the Richmond Pops Band). Performances are listed both on the websites and on my own performances page.

A few German terms:

Szamstellung - compilation

Bearbeitung - arrangement

Verlag - publisher

Blasorchester - Wind Band

Holzblas - Woodwind

Blechblas - brass

Tanzmusik - Dance Music

Volksmusik/Volkslieder - Folk music/folk songs

Landler - a 3/4 piece slightly slower than the waltz

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