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Marcel and Gaby van Hasz perform at Oktoberfest this weekend as the Old Munich Duo. Their goal is to entertain while introducing American audiences to the true variety of German folk music. Photo by Phil Houseal

Marcel van Hasz and The Old Munich Duo Plus perform at Oktoberfest this Friday evening, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Main Street beer tent. Oktoberfest takes place on Market Square on September 30, October 1 and 2, 2005. This is the 25th Anniversary of the festival. Admission is $6, $1 for children 6-12, and under 6 free. Other groups include the Seven Dutchmen, Bandaid Jazz Band, Oma and the Oompahs, Polka Dot Community Band, Ed Kadlecek and the Fun Bunch, Rennie and the Happy Travelers, Fredericksburg Filharmonic, the Boerne Village Band, Havlak Batla Band, Polkamatics, and the Jodie Mikula Orchestra.e true variety of German folk music.

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Not your Opa’s Oompah

by Phil Houseal
Sept 28, 2005

To our Western ears, the bouncy music associated with Oktoberfest falls in the broad category we love to call “oompah.” That is simple onomatopoeia - a representation of the distinctive bass rhythms of the tuba in a typical polka.

But a native of Germany living in Fredericksburg has taken it upon himself to educate Americans to the subtleties of German folk music.

Marcel van Hasz and his wife, Gaby, perform this weekend as The Old Munich Duo “Plus.”

“The ‘plus’ is because we never know who might join us,” van Hasz explained.

Van Hasz began his music career singing “You Are My Sunshine” in English at the age of eight, and playing accordion in the school band in his hometown of Langen, Hessen, Germany.

By the age of 11 he was playing with his brother and cousin for weddings, dances, and parties.

“We played a lot for American audiences,” he said, “because that was the late 1940s and there were many Americans stationed in Germany.”

A new music called rock and roll was beginning to find its way around the world, so van Hasz learned to play drums (“the accordion wasn’t so cool anymore”), and the group did 50s standards. That’s when he began learning to speak, or at least to sing, English.

“We listened to Dick Buddy’s Jamboree every afternoon on the Air Force Network,” van Hasz recalled. “I listened to the Americans and mimicked the words even though I didn’t understand their meanings.”

Van Hasz also grew up with an appreciation for classical and orchestral music. Those were the styles he played in school, and his parents regularly attended local opera houses.

Since retiring to Fredericksburg in 2000, van Hasz has tried to clear up the conception that all popular German music sounds like Oktoberfest.

In reality, van Hasz says, there are many styles with roots in Germany, and each exhibits distinct characteristics.

“In Fredericksburg, we are used to the Bavarian style of music like you hear at Oktoberfest,” van Hasz explained. “It is one of the most recognized types of music in the world.”

He describes it as the familiar polkas, waltzes, and drinking songs that many of us affectionately call “oompah” music.

But variations in German music are extensive. Most Americans are not aware that Germany is made up of about 30 different states, with close to 100 distinct regions. Each region boasts a different style of food, culture, and, most importantly, music.

Music from northern Germany, around Hamburg, for example, is considered “sailor music.”

“It is called ‘sailor’ music, because the songs are all about the sea, and homesickness,” van Hasz said. “They sing of sad themes, but still have fun.”

The Rhineland, according to van Hasz, is the source of beautiful waltzes, with the focus on the wine grapes, the waters of the Rhine River, and the scenic countryside. The eastern part of Germany, which is close to Poland, is known for its martial music.

“It is a disciplined music, because you cannot march and play without discipline,” van Hasz said.

Van Hasz’s home region, Langen, is also home to folk music. “I call it ‘German country-western’ music.”

One of van Hasz’s artistic desires is to create a German music concert and demonstrate these various styles by performing examples of songs from each region.

But Fredericksburg visitors and residents still cherish their oompah music. So this weekend, van Hasz will try to inject a little education into his entertainment. You should stop by and listen to the group playing on the small stage just inside the gates of Oktoberfest. All around will be the sound of oompah, in the spirit of Gemütlichkeit.