Wehrmacht Military Musical Training…

“The essence of being a soldier, the inner and outer discipline, the readiness for action finds its most compelling expression in the march, which even today, we simply refer to as the ‘military march’. As a soldier is expected to think, speak, look and act, even when not on duty, he is similarly expected to sound like a soldier when making music”…so quoted the Handbuch für die Singleiter der Wehrmacht when first published in 1940…

Viewed with the same seriousness as combat or specialist personnel, career military bandsmen of the Reich were recruited from the following four backgrounds: firstly there were the professional musicians in civilian life or former musicians with the Imperial German Army or Reichswehr who answered adverts in the Deutsche Militärmusikerzeitung (German Journal for Military Musicians) for specific musical posts within the newly formed Wehrmacht and SS Musikkorps during the pre-war period of 1933 to 1939, or who applied to join a military band having been called-up for general military service after the outbreak of war in 1939.

Second category would be young, fully trained Hitlerjugend musicians or gifted amateurs spotted by a SS or Wehrmacht Musikmeister and subsequently invited to join the unit or divisional band.. whilst a third grouping were drawn from young soldiers and part-time ‘hobby’ musicians who, having undertaken their pre-war six months training with the Reichsarbeitsdienst, then joined the Wehrmacht and were spotted by their regimental bands as potential recruits and recommended for formal military music training.

The final group would be comprised of professional military bandmasters and musicians recruited upon completion of their musical training in the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS respective military music academies (Heeresmusikschule Bueckburg & SS Musikschule Braunschweig) or the elite Berlin Music Academy.

In the previously quoted Third Reich’s official German Army Musician’s handbook ‘Handbuch für die Singleiter der Wehrmacht’, Major Ernst-Lothar von Knorr on the staff of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (German High Command) confirmed in his writing:

“Only professional musicians or young men with substantial musical training can become Wehrmacht musicians; they are either recruited as volunteers or by the Wehrbezirkskommando (regional army administration), once they have reached call-up age. Posts are advertised daily in newspapers & specialised publications and musicians are tested in their musical ability by the Musikmeister. The new military musicians must have mastered their main instrument to such a degree of competence that they can immediately take up their place in the band, which they will do upon completion of their basic training.

If a post becomes vacant, they will be assigned to it after signing a 12-year contract and if showing the required aptitude, will be admitted to the training programme for musician NCOs. This admission depends on a favourable report by the Musikmeister. Apart from a wide-ranging knowledge of music history, successful candidates are required to play not only their main instrument but a secondary one as well.

If they show exceptional ability and leadership qualities, two further career paths are open to them: without reference to their previous length of service they can be made Korpsführer; in this position they will stand in for the Musikmeister and bear the rank of a senior NCO,which in the Wehrmacht is either a Musikoberfeldwebel or a Musikoberwachtmeister.

The second option is the training to become a Musikmeister: candidates are nominated by their own Musikmeister who will oversee their preparation for admission to the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik (State Musical Academy), in Berlin where they will enjoy reduced military duties to assist with their studies. The academic training at the university takes 3 years and music students follow a set curriculum which comprises both practical & theoretical subjects.

Apart from purely musical duties, students are also trained for the military leadership of a Musikkorps (regimental band), and a Spielmannszug (fife & drum corps), and the course culminates in practical musical and an equivalent military examination. Before they embark on this course of study, successful candidates have to sign up for an additional 6-year contract over and above the general 12-year one, and a Musikmeister can expect to progress to the rank of Obermusikmeister and Stabsmusikmeister.

The musical demands of young military musicians are high and the daily rehearsals are serious work, therefore their selection and training is a matter of great seriousness….”

And this is certainly borne out by the Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS musicianship evident on the original 1933-45 schellack 78rpm recordings, digitally re-mastered to CD and on offer in The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Third Reich Military Concerts…

During the years of the Third Reich 1933-1945, public concerts & radio performances given by the military orchestras and bands of the elite Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS Musikkorps, particularly by Adolf Hitler’s Bodyguard Division band, the Leibstandarte-SS, were very much a feature of civilian life in both pre-war & war-time Germany and as such were deemed a vitally important part of the propaganda morale-boosting of the German Home Front…

The co-ordination of these  important social and inherently propaganda events came under the control of the ‘Kraft durch Freude’ (Strength through Joy) organisation, a department of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront that oversaw and promoted public entertainment and holidays for the people throughout the Third Reich.

So it was that this KdF organisation took responsibility for promoting all of the pre-war military concert tours that regularly took place right across Greater Germany, plus all of the major musical events staged by the elite bands of theSS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ and the Wehrmacht’s leading Musikkorps, such as the ‘Grossdeutschland’ Musikkorps within Berlin’s Wachbataillonen...

When rostered to perform concerts in public as part of their normal everyday military service, Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS soldier-musicians were governed by either the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or the SS Reichsführung Hauptamt, and were paid in exactly the same manner as ordinary enlisted personnel, which was once every ten days at the rate of 25 Pfennig per day.

However, when they were booked to perform at a specifically-staged high profile concert or national event… or were out ‘on the road’ on tour across Germany for the Kraft durch Freude organisation, a separate deal would be struck directly with the Musikkorps in question, which proved to be a very valuable source of additional private income for all of the musicians involved…

Permission would be sought of the band’s unit commander by the KdF organisation to perform, and a fee of some 5% of the concert or event takings would be paid directly into the unit’s military account; thereafter, pay for the performers was carefully divided up, with the conductor/band-leader earning three shares and each individual musician, regardless of his rank, earning one share apiece…

It was not always possible for the full band line-ups to appear, however strict band rotas were operated to try to make sure that all the band’s musicians received the opportunity to play at these outside concerts and earn a little extra, and to ensure that musicians were specifically selected for certain concerts according to their required musical skills.Indeed the Musikkorps of the SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ had, within its line-up of musicians, a superb dance-band (right) that was always in demand to perform at private parties for the well-to-do in and around the German capital, Berlin…

By way of further prospects for additional earnings over and above their normal military pay, all of the top Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS military orchestras in fact were also readily available (and much encouraged by their separate High Commands) to perform at private functions, weddings, family celebrations and myriad gatherings laid on by senior ministers, dignitaries, government officials and the military Top Brass.. an opportunity these highly-trained, professional musicians never missed when offered… their day-to-day military duties permitting. of course!

All Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS Musikkorps performances that were tightly organised and overseen by the Kraft durch Freude, also included those live performances broadcast on Greater German radio, such as the most important Sunday night Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht, (Request Concert for the Armed Forces, broadcast from Reichssender Berlin).

In addition the KdF also took on overall responsibility for organising the regular professional studio-recording sessions that many of the leading Musikkorps, (such as the Musikkorps LAH & ‘Grossdeutschland’) had with the leading German music labels, including Telefunken, Electrola, HMV & Gloria, where these varied musical activities would also result in a similar division of additional pay amongst the participating musicians, plus vital contributions to the individual band’s military fund…

           Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

The Third Reich’s Record Industry…

As I explain in greater depth in my book, The Military Music & Bandsmen of Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945, German military music and its production really came of age in the mid 1920s, with the introduction of electric recording and the advent of the microphone; as a result, subsequent record production took off in 1930 and continued into the years of the Third Reich from 1933 to 1941.

However, with the ready availability of military marching music in public life, be it an open-air concert in the town square or a military parade through the town headed by the garrison’s Musikkorps, the actual demand for 78rpm schellack records was initially limited. This combined with the fact that the ‘new’ records were still considered as a bit of a luxury, meant that the majority of military recordings were initially transferred onto schellack for radio play, although all this would soon change.

The actual quality of these recordings took a gigantic leap in 1938 when German industrial giant AEG first developed a plastic tape with a ferrous coating which was then followed in 1941 by a pre-magnetised, high-frequency tape.

When used in conjunction with the newly developed Magnetophone recorder, this allowed for both the recording and play-back of music and, (particularly fortuitous for the Third Reich’s propagandists), the speeches of Adolf Hitler & Joseph Goebbels which were to become virtually indistinguishable from their live concerts!

With these major technological steps forward it was now possible to record up to twenty minutes duration and, for the first time, also allowed the editing of pieces from different sources, another key feature in the propaganda war that was now being waged on the Nazi airwaves.

Whilst the number of record companies in Germany increased almost overnight, the financial crash of 1929 and subsequent depression saw a large number of these fledgling companies sink without trace. Those that survived did so because they had international connections; these included two companies owned by British interests, Electrola, the German off-shoot of the Gramophone Company, and Carl Lindstrom Gesellschaft, which belonged to Columbia and released its recordings on the Odeon label. Both companies had very extensive catalogues of music recorded in Berlin.

Deutsche Grammophon & Telefunken were the two most important wholly German-owned companies, (with recordings of military music primarily aimed at the domestic market), and their reaction to the incoming National Socialist regime in 1933 was cautious, to say the least! However from a purely business point of view they simply could not ignore the public’s clamour & demand for commercial recordings of the new Nazi-inspired political and military music.

So they went about fulfilling this insatiable demand and from May 1933 onwards, Electrola alone released seven records a month devoted purely to patriotic songs and marching music, with the other companies eagerly following suit. By war’s outbreak in September 1939, the annual German gramophone catalogue of music releases was offering over 580 different marches, including eight alternative versions of Die Fahne Hoch!(Horst Wessel Song) and a tantalising six different versions of the ‘The Badenweiler Marsch’.

Nazi regulation of the German recording industry was somewhat laxer than its hold over the radio industry, which is probably why Carl Lindstrom was able to continue recording and distributing American jazz music on its Odeon swing series throughout all the countries occupied by the forces of the Wehrmacht.

However, Goebbels soon included the German record industry in his implementation of the anti-Jewish policies and thus ordered all recording companies to purge their catalogues of all Jewish-penned & performed works, and an order issued on December 18th 1937 by the Reichsmusikkammer banned all records containing both Jewish & Negro musicians. As a direct result, other recordings deemed ‘acceptable’ to the Nazi regime were now very much elevated to an almost ‘religous level’ such as the aforementioned and very stirring tune that Adolf Hitler had adopted as his very own and highly distinctive entry march: Der Badenweiler….

The major labels initially resisted, but by 1939 they had all but given in, and the so the likes of Electrola and Carl Lindstrom (now both taken over by the Nazis), together with Deutsche Grammophon and Telefunken, had all completely cleared out their musical inventories of Jewish and Negro- influenced work.

However, keen jazz, swing & blues aficionados amongst members of Luftwaffe aircrew, flying on bombing raids against the British Isles during the Battle of Britain in 1940 and onwards, were still able to indulge their passion for this ‘sinful’ music by simply re-tuning their aircraft’s on-board short-wave radio sets to pick up BBC broadcasts emanating from London, for the duration of their mission!

By August 1941 Jospeh Goebbels had banned all music arranged by British, Poles, Russians & French citizens, the only works that survived his purge were by Chopin & Bizet and domestic orchestras were forced to turn their attentions to many obscure German composers.

However despite Goebbels’ diktats’ the German recording industry managed to function unfettered by Nazi interference, though as the Second World War progressed, fewer 78 rpm schellack records were produced between 1941 & 1942 and from 1943 onwards production virtually ceased altogether as raw materials began to reach critical levels across the Reich.

This, together with the call-up into the Third Reich’s armed forces of  workers from the hitherto ‘Reserved Occupations’ meant that, by the end of 1944, just 35,000 men & women remained in Nazi Germany’s recording industry!

But war’s end in May 1945, it had died altogether in the ashes of a defeated Germany, though several famous names, like Polydor, have risen again ‘phoenix-like’ to successfully rebuild and recover their previous international position since the end of World War Two…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013


Third Reich-era CDs versus the Computer..!

Despite being totally immersed in the production & voice-over work that I undertake for Tomahawk Films, I must admit that there is just the odd occasion when I feel a bit ’left behind’ in terms of my own levels of technical expertise..(which  suppose is why I became a producer: so I could simply hire or bring in the  brightest of the young ‘techies’ to assist with our work!!).. and quite how I managed to ‘self-op’ a top-flight radio studio for so many years of working as a local radio presenter without taking myself off air, I’ll never quite know..must have been more in the way of luck than judgement..!

Nevertheless, I must admit that I have rather been dragged ‘kicking & screaming’ into the technological era and the learning curve of new technologies & systems has been rather steep, what with  Tomahawk’s new website design & operation, the new Blog, our newly created Amazon shop-window, the world of PayPal & Sage-Pay secure on-line banking and even finding my way around my own personal i-Tunes account, (to which I now enjoy down-loading rock music, having been a fairly successful rock drummer myself in the days before I entered the ‘heady’ media world!), it’s all been a bit frenetic… though I still draw the line at Facebook and having an i-Pad..you can have too much of a good thing…not!

I suppose had I a young family of my own with a small brood of  ‘techie wunderkind’ then I would be far more advanced, and perhaps more relaxed, in my actual hands-on usage, though with the myriad audio & computer-based technology available on tap these days a certain ‘knowledge of’ has to be there at our professional level of Music & TV production, so thankfully I must be picking up a lot of the new skills than I realise by Osmosis, but I thank the gods I am surrounded by a team of young technical wizards who are blessed with a frightening level of expertise..!

Though only in my mid 50’s, in my defence I have to say that in the 30-plus years I have been in involved in television & radio production and thence producing Third Reich/Nazi-era music recordings for Tomahawk Films, I have witnessed technological advances in audio & picture editing on an incredible scale….indeed when I entered the television industry at the beginning of the 1980s TV documentaries were transmitted either from tele-cine (film), or on 2” video-tape and the ‘humble’ home VCR machine had not yet hit our high street shops.. so that’ll give you some idea of just how fast & far things have progressed during my career!

However as a Film, Television & Musik production company, Tomahawk Films has tried to keep abreast of the times, (where possible and certainly where pertinent to our work), even though we are a company dealing with archival material that is anywhere from 60 to almost 100 years old, it sometimes seems almost incongruous to me to talk about  that old material being played both in a modern era and on technologically advanced formats..and to be honest sometimes I feel as if there is a real clash of cultures that I am not always comfortable with…

I realise the day of the wind-up gramophone is long past, so in truth it is all about finding a happy balance and not asking your archival material to do in the New Millennium what its original German producers some 70-odd years ago either could not, or had no intention of doing…nor were they even possibily possessed of any credible vision of just what future technologies might bring in terms of editing & playing formats and so forth.

Indeed some years ago this was clearly illustrated to me when a fantastic young American customer called up Tomahawk Films to complain that though he dearly loved one of our CDs when played on his top-of-the-range hi-fi in his home, he was somewhat disappointed that he could not replicate  the same sound when playing it on his enormous ‘Boom Box’ in the boot (trunk) of his car… I must admit I laughed my head off and said ‘I’m not surprised, mate..!

The German music producers of the 1930s had only just progressed from recording live bands playing into a single microphone, with very little in the way of edit or enhancement facilities.. and so any talk of a ‘Boom Box’ (whatever that may be m’Lud!) would have been complete Double-Dutch back then!

I suggested to our young American friend that for those producers of the 30s, (as talented as they so obviously were when we now look back to their superb work), to somehow imagine his sort of technological future, let-alone produce an audio recording that, in 70-odd years time would sound superb when played through his massive ‘Boom Box’ would be akin to putting 1940s Spitfire or P.51 Mustang aviation-fuel into the tanks of a modern carrier-borne F-18 Super Hornet naval jet fighter… and then wondering why, when launched, it simply fut-futted to the end of the deck and merely fell over the edge instead of rising majestically into the air…you are simply asking too much performance from a 70 year-old historical item in a modern digital age..!

Our friendly American pal kindly grasped my point and went off quite happily to keep playing our Tomahawk CD on his ‘normal domestic hi-fi’ whilst, (I assume) keeping his Boom Box for his selection of Gangster Rap! But this ‘old re-mastered into the new’  does call into question the myriad modern methods of playing music, as from time-to-time our customers tell us they want play our High Street-produced CDs on their home computers..!

I must admit this is a spectre that, as a producer, always makes my heart sink as we are a production company not a computer company and I always feel somehow that is just wrong to play music CDs on a computer, especially when we hear on the very odd occasion that, because of the many vagaries of modern computer technology, the track listings sometimes don’t always match-up in their correct running order and so gives the impression to the uninitiated that the CD may be at fault.

Happily, 99 times out of a 100, the music CD not only plays pitch-perfectly though a computer, as originally & lovingly produced in the studio, but all of the track-listings load perfectly as well…  but very occasionally they do go awry and whilst that is a bit of a disappointment for the collector & enthusiast, it is not the fault of the CD. From my varying conversations with CD-manufacturing experts & replication houses, music CDs are still designed with the domestic & professional music hi-fi usage in mind…the fact that they also mostly play & correctly track-list in home computers is something of a bonus, but should certainly ‘not be taken as Gospel..!

During one of my many & varied chats to ‘those in the know’ a young computer wallah obviously fought his particular corner and said: “you should put a sticker on music CDs saying, ‘may possibly not play in a computer’ “ to which I, as the music producer, countered: ‘quite the opposite matey, any sticker were it produced should read “might play happily in a computer.. if you are lucky!’ “..and so in the words of the old UK Football Pool results: we left it as a score-draw..!

But on a serious note, Tomahawk Films is well known as being something of a very sensitive, if slightly old-fashioned, company in that we deal with very old archival material from what was obviously a troubled era and produce it primarily with the committed hi-fi archival music enthusiast, collector & historian in our minds and not really, (if we are honest) for the much younger modern generation of computer buffs!

However we are delighted when the younger, (and not so younger), ‘techie audience’ do buy our wares as they often find their own manual ways of ensuring track listings are exactly as they were produced and laid down in the studios, (if they do list slightly out of sync),  if they must insist on using a computer as their ‘hi-fi of choice’… I just have no idea what they do, (must call in the chief ‘wunderkind’ again), but it obviously works, from the happy feed-back we receive!!.

But this does focus the mind on what a modern CD or DVD will or will not do… indeed the ‘umble Compact Disc’ when first launched to a massive fanfare was hailed as ‘the answer to a maiden’s prayer’… but you only have to see & hear how many times a CD fails to perform properly to realise this ain’t necessarily so…

Quite often when you listen in to your local radio station, or you’re playing your favourite rock CD at home it will jump as a result of something as simple as a thumb-print marking the playing surface.. or in a worst case scenario you come back to a CD some 2 or 3 years after its last play and the damned thing has become a complete blank…Ouch!

But this was never meant to happen… according to the original inventors of this incredible advance in audio technology, you could happily drive a 60-ton Battle Tank over a CD ..and it would still play..yeah right! (though quite how it would still play when the area containing all of the digitally stored information is damaged beyond belief has always been an interesting question to muse on.. and one I shall leave to far brighter minds than mine to resolve!!)

However the fact that the CD still does as much as it does all these years on, is a  terrific endorsement of this means of music storage & play-back, particularly for digitally re-mastered German historical recordings that are the staple of Tomahawk Films’ daily working life..but the medium is far from infallible.. despite the desperately offered ‘60 ton Battle Tank scenario’… (and here the boffins at Kodak have some very interesting thoughts & observations which I’ll keep for a future Blog!)

Happily Tomahawk’s ‘failure rate’ in CD production/play back since we moved over from the much loved audio cassette, (see? I told you we were old-fashioned!),  back in 1999 is so small as to be ‘statistically zero’… less than a handful of CD failures in fact from the many hundreds of thousands we’ve sold around the world…and those particular faults were actually traced back to the odd duff blank as supplied from the manufacturing plant to the duplicating house: i.e. the ‘good stuff’ was unknowingly recorded straight onto the ‘duff stuff’… still mighty frustrating though as we always aim for a 100% record in everything we put our minds too..!

Which also reminds me of the gentleman who called Tomahawk  Films up to complain that one CD he’d had for some very long while did not play any longer, which was upsetting so we immediately offered to replace it free-of-charge as a goodwill gesture… only to have ‘this thing’ arrive in the post at our production offices that I think I ‘might’ just have recognised as once being one of our lovely Third Reich Music CDs..!

Somewhat hard to tell when 75% of the silver face coating had completely disappeared and all I could see was clear plastic and my hand showing through from the underside….I was absolutely dumbfounded and assumed the customer had been using it as a Frisbee for his pet Rottweiler..yet in that totally wrecked state he honestly expected it to still play: ‘good luck with that one fellah’.. but we replaced it anyway for his cheek, but pleaded with him not to feed any more of our cherished recordings to his faithful mutt..!

But I make no apology for Tomahawk Films taking a certain pride in  being ‘old fashioned’ in our professional approach to our archival  work, (and I have to say also in our approach to our many thousands of valued customers, even those who feed our stirring music to their household pets), and this is one of the main reasons that we professionally stay well clear of the whole download  issue… because we feel it is just not a part of what we do…

From long experience dating back to when Tomahawk Films was a WW-II film & video distributor we always found that the real collectors, enthusiasts & historians, (much like us), always wanted to buy an actual WW-II video in its box with a designed cover, so they could have something sitting smartly on their selves at home, rather than merely tape something straight from TV..advert breaks and all..!.

True collectors always did, (and I think always will),  like to own something tangible, be it a book, a DVD or CD with a slip case & printed cover bearing supporting information, and so too with our German WW-II archival products. Tomahawk’s brilliant band of loyal customers tell us they love to have an actual factory-produced & packaged item in their hand, especially with some of our CDs offering my accompanying voice-over offering a brief introduction to what they are about to hear… plus our ever-present free descriptive catalogue that comes with every Tomahawk Films CD or DVD purchase!

What our customers don’t seem to want, however, is a somewhat disembodied, single digital download for an i-Pod or computer that tells them nothing and is a part of er, well nothing in fact..and on this point I can’t say we blame ‘em!

As both a producer/historian & fellow collector myself I personally wouldn’t want to down-load an archival track as I feel my little i-Pod is purely for ‘modern music’  for me to listen to when out hiking or sitting on a ‘plane or at an airport… and when quite often there is only actually one decent track I want to down-load from my chosen rock album anyway.

Personally for me, with such beautiful & stirring Third Reich/Nazi-era recordings, I want the whole works: the CD album complete with exciting artwork cover and a contents detail that I can handle, play, read about and collect as a part of my ‘proper’ World War Two German collection…

Hopefully not being quite the Luddite I seem, (by slipping in the fact I do actually own an i-Pod and know how to download rock tracks to it), I fully appreciate that the younger, (and indeed now some of the older,) generations are growing up to think of downloads as the ‘only way to go’…and that is great for them and good luck with it..!

But having said that, and understanding how future technology is going, for the present this is simply not what The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive is, or will be all about..!

So for as long as our valued customer around the globe (and there are many!), feel there is still a place for an unashamedly old-fashioned archival Film, TV & Music Production company like us that continues to produce this rare archival material onto the ‘good old CD’  that you can lovingly hold and proudly display in your collection, then that is what Tomahawk Films will keep doing..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012