Schalmai- An ancient instrument is revived by 298th Army Band member
Just to look at the thing, one might never guess that it's a musical instrument. With its
close pipe threads and a hose clamp here and there, it looks like it was put together by a
plumber. But the schalmai is in fact a rather old, but little known, brass instrument,
apparently native to Germany. Just ask the man who owns one-Randy Tyler, a trumpet
player in the 298th Army Band.
Randy bought his schalmai in East Berlin about four months ago. The instrument is rather difficult to play, because "it takes a lot of air". Randy practices on it when his busy schedule permits, but his repertoire is still limited to "Mary had a little Lamb." Randy's schalmai has four valves and 16 bells, each with its own metal reed. The instrument will play a chromatic scale of two octaves and is pitched in E-flat. Randy believes his model is about 50 to 60 years old. Its ancestors, however, date back to the Baroque period, when it had only one bell with two reeds. An antique shop on the Ku-Damm has a variety of smaller and larger schalmais, ranging from bass to soprano. A German house painter once saw Randy with his instrument, and told him that his son once played a schalmai in a band. Randy recently saw a photograph, taken in the early 20th Century, of an all-schalmai band from Berlin's Neukolln district. As for the sound, Randy thinks it resembles the traffic jam scene in the musical "An American in Paris." Says Randy, "Gershwin would have loved it!'
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