The Knaub Home

Early Autumn, 1636

 

“Katrin, why do you hate your family so much? Do you want to see us reduced to the laughing stock of Bremen? What have I or your brother ever done to you to make you despise us in this way?” Herr Knaub stood in his richly-appointed study across the desk from his youngest daughter. The two faced off like familial gladiators torn between fighting and running for the doors. The tension in the room seemed to grow thicker with each passing minute. The silence hung like a visible curtain as the dust motes danced in the morning light sifting through the glass windows. The night before, Katrin had revealed her new identity as Barbie, the leader of Bremen’s first rock and roll band. Most of Bremen had welcomed the Musicians of Bremen. Most, including the burgermeister, but not Barbie’s father.

Katrin, also known as Barbie to her band members and newly minted fans of her rock and roll band, the Musicians of Bremen, fought back tears as she gripped her blue linen skirt. “Papa, I love you!” she croaked out through dry lips and throat. “I am not singing because I want to hurt or harm the family or you! I sing because I want to live my life! I want to be more than just a hausfrau or an arm ornament to some rich man!” The words poured out, almost of their own accord and kept coming. “I want to be a rock and roller! I want to be famous for that!”

Herr Knaub had remained standing, seemingly frozen to the ground, while his youngest said all this. Then, the spell broke, and he took a few steps back to his comfortable leather chair behind his ornate oaken desk. He sank into the dark brown leather and put his face in his hands.

Katrin/Barbie continued standing still as stone, watching her father. She fought back tears of frustration. Her lower lip quivered. What could she say or do? How could she make this right? Could she make this right?

Her father lifted his head, eyes taking in his youngest daughter.

“Katrin, what can we do? You have already made us a laughing stock. How can I face the bürgers? They will all know . . . will all have seen you . . . what do you call it? Ach, rock and roll. I always believed I would see you safely married. Now, both of my daughters rebel against me, against everything I know. Your sister wants to work with the radicals against her class, her government, and you want to sing this ungodly up-time music. At least your brother Ebbe is still sane.”

Kristin/Barbie bristled at her brother’s name. Was he to be brought into this?

“Papa, can you not talk to Aunt Betlinda? She does not think this is a bad thing! She thinks it is good for young women to have their own lives.”

At the mention of his sister’s name, her father sat straight up and glared at her. “My sister has always been a radical, even before that benighted Ring of Fire! We could never convince her to marry and be a proper woman.” He turned and looked out the window behind him, seemingly looking into a past no one else could see.

Katrin/Barbie knew better than disturb her father in a reverie.

“She always swam upstream. Our papa was so distressed when she refused to marry any of the eligible men who came calling. He finally gave up and washed his hands of her . . .” He sighed.

“See, Papa, it worked out. Aunt Betlinda is fine. She has a good life! Why can’t you see my life can be good, too? Besides, I am nowhere near old enough to consider marriage.” She ran to her father and threw her arms around him. “Papa, I love you, and I will not bring ruin on the house or family! I promise!” She hugged him, feeling his familiar warmth through his embroidered brown vest.

He turned and hugged her back. “Katrin, I considered sending you away, maybe to a cousin’s house.”

Katrin/Barbie started to pull away. “Papa! No, please!”

“Wait, Katrin. Let me finish. I said I considered it but knowing you, you would only find another way to do what you want. You are too strong, just like your late mama. She was too strong for me, too.” He fell silent for a moment. “What I have decided to do is give you a time to be a rock and roller, as you say. The bürgermeister likes it and so do the bürgers. They think it is good for Bremen. I do not know about that. But I do know my daughter. If I forbid it, you will find a way to go ahead, and we will be at odds. So, for now, yes. You may play with your Musicians of Bremen.”

Katrin/Barbie could not believe her ears! Was he really agreeing?

When she threw her arms around him again, he felt like he had been grabbed by a bear.

Meine liebe Tochter, do not kill me in your happiness!” He hugged her then pried his daughter off himself. “”Katrin, this does not mean you can run wild, out at all hours. You must still comport yourself in a way to make us proud of you. Do you understand? And not so much black. You are not a widow.”

“Yes, Papa! Yes, Papa! You will be proud of me! All of Bremen will be proud of us!” Kristin/Barbie could barely contain her delight! She would be a rock and roll diva!

****

 

Outside Bremen at a farm

The next afternoon

 

“Barbie! Barbie!” The small crowd of boys and girls who were waiting at the door to the band’s practice barn when Barbie walked up swirled around her.

“Please, children, let me through. Why are you here?” She looked around for their parents. Surely, they must have parents.

As she stood in the middle of the pod of children, each trying to get her attention, a young woman with her ginger hair in two plaits, gripping a recorder in her left hand, came through the open barn doors. “Shoo! Shoo! Do you have no homes, no manners? Let Barbie through!”

The children scattered like a flock of birds.

Barbie breathed a sigh of relief and smiled at the newcomer. “Thank you, Brigitte. Where did all those children come from? Why were they here?”

She looked around the now mostly quiet barnyard where only the usual goats and chickens went about their daily business.

The afternoon sun glinted off the instrument Brigitte held. Barbie could hear other voices through the doors. Occasionally a bit of music floated out as well. But the children had disappeared.

“They showed up a little while ago and claim to be our fans. Isn’t it exciting?!” Brigitte’s eyes sparkled. She twirled, and her blue skirt flew up around her.

“I don’t know about exciting. They were a bit scary. I’ve never been mobbed like that before.” Barbie continued scanning the barnyard as if expecting a horde of children to jump out from behind the barn or haystack.

“Get used to it, diva! I have not been able to even shop without at least a few people coming to ask me when we are performing again!” Brigitte danced back into the barn, plaits bouncing on her shoulders.

Carl peeked around the door, saw Barbie, and walked out to meet her. His brown hair stood out messily from his head. His trendy jeans looked like they could use a good washing. In all, typical Carl. Carl had pulled the group together, and Barbie looked to him to keep leading.

“So Barbie, how do you like your fame?” Carl grinned and scratched his elbow. His slightly dingy cuffs peeked out from his brown jacket sleeves.

“I do not know yet. It seems almost scary . . .” Barbie continued to scan the barnyard looking for children to jump out again. “We should get back to work.” With that she moved past Carl and into the relative darkness of the barn. Carl followed her in.

The other band members were already in the barn. Most sat on hay bales. The ones who played smaller instruments clutched them while the rest sat near theirs. Everyone was excited, chatting happily about the performance.

Almost all had received good reviews from their friends and family members. A few family members had been among those who left quickly, but only a few openly disapproved of the music. The one exception was Lotta, a birdlike young woman who played a flute. Her mother told her she must stop because this music was not “godly.” Her mother let her learn to play the flute because she saw it as a “gentle” instrument. All said, it was hard sometimes to hear Lotta’s efforts against the volume of the band, but her face absolutely shone when she played! Lotta loved being in the band, and now her mother might cause her to drop out. This was a tragedy! Lotta should be free to be a rock and roller too! What could be done?

Lotta sat on her hay bale, seemingly ready to cry. Her flute lay on her lap like a silenced lark. The rest of the band sat in shocked silence.

“Lotta, what about your father? What does he say?” Gisella moved over to share Lotta’s hay bale, putting her hand on Lotta’s arm.

“My papa died three years back. He was a dyer with his own shop. Mama married one of his journeymen. He is kind, but he feels like this is Mama’s decision. She is an upstanding Lutheran woman and thinks this is doubtful.”

“Did she say she was absolutely against you playing in the band?” Barbie knew how Lotta felt.

“Not exactly . . . but Mama does not always say exactly what she means.” Lotta looked at the dirt floor, scuffling her leatherclad shoe in a small pile of straw. “She sort of loomed over me when I got home and . . .”

Barbie saw an opening. “So she didn’t actually say no?”

“Well, nooo—but she made it clear . . .” Lotta became a small animal looking for escape . . . but from Barbie or her mother’s wrath?

Barbie walked over to the tiny woman, putting her arm around Lotta’s shoulder. Gisella, sitting on the opposite side of Lotta, put her arm around the other shoulder.

“Lotta, I just had this conversation with my papa. He is no fan of the Musicians of Bremen either, but when the bürgermeister said he wanted another performance, Papa relented. Do you think that would work with your mama?”

Lotta, looked up, blinking back tears. “It might. She very much respects the bürgermeister. I will try!”

“Good!” Carl had been quiet but now he jumped in. “Maybe Barbie can go with you to talk to your mother? She could help explain how our music would be good to draw visitors to Bremen. What is the new word, tourists?” He glanced at Barbie to see her feelings about this.

“Definitely! I am with you!” Barbie enthused.

“This could make all the difference. Would you actually help me talk to Mama?” Lotta wiped away the tears with the sleeve of her cotton blouse.

Barbie stood up. “Now we have dealt with that . . .” She didn’t finish that sentence because Tancred, trumpet in hand, spoke up.

“Folks, we need to talk about our music.” Tancred rarely said much so every head turned his way.

Bernhardt, the drummer, had been sitting quietly, listening to the others talk. He cocked his head, and his dark unruly hair fell back from his face. “What is on your mind? “

A cloud crossed Tancred’s normally cheerful face. “How are we going to do this? I mean, are we fooling ourselves? I started thinking about what we are trying to do, and it hit me that no one else has done this. We are trying to play loud, raucous, emotional music on our quiet instruments. Bernhardt has his drums, and he can really make some sounds but what about the rest of us? Yeah, Gisela’s sackbut can make some sound, too. Gunter can make his dudelsack heard. But what about the rest of us? Can we do this music justice?” He looked around the barn at the young faces. “I am not trying to depress us but what do you think? Am I wrong? Can we do this? I really, really want to!”

The barn fell silent around them. Even the normally clucking chickens seemed to take a breath. Only the afternoon refrain of a few neighboring goats broke the shocked silence.

“What are you saying? We all want to do this!” Lotta looked close to tears again.

Tancred ran a nervous hand through his shoulder-length blond hair. “I know we did well, once. But can we do it again and again? How can we do it. Look, I want to rock as much as anybody but I want to make sure we can do it. I’m open for ideas . . .”

Gunter spoke up. “Tancred has a point. I’ve been worried, too.” His scrawny shoulders seemed to sink a bit as he talked.

Carl looked from face to face. “What does everybody think? Anybody who has doubts should let the rest of the group know now, before we start writing arrangements.”

“Utz, Metta, Bernhardt, Gilbert, what do you think?” Carl looked at the musicians seated and standing around him.

Bernhardt’s answer was to play a short riff on his beer barrel. The others responded by picking up their instruments and giving responding riffs.

“But what about us on relatively quiet instruments? What about us? Bernhardt and Tancred can be heard all the time. But how about my flute and Gilbert’s harpsichord?” Once more Lotta’s face tended toward dark pink, suggesting tears were not far behind.

Carl waded in. “Lotta and everybody else, let’s think about this. I know it might be difficult but everybody here has shown they want to play rock and roll. MORE IMPORTANTLY, you’ve shown you can do it!”

Some of the teen’s faces brightened a bit. Some even nodded in agreement. Barbie hoped they were over that hump.

Although Lotta seemed mollified she was not the only band member to need encouragement. Several of the teens had another fear. Could they really play rock? They had carried off four songs but that, they felt, did not make them rockers. Were they just lucky on their first performance? Could they keep it going?

The questions rolled out from the teenagers.

Gilbert, the dapper harpsichordist in a neat blue doublet finally threw his concern into the round. “I guess we can do this, but it was only one concert. We are talking about a lot more. I’ ve played the harpsichord for maybe ten years but it was always the quiet, traditional stuff.”

Other heads nodded around him. They were hungry for an answer that would give them the confidence to continue.

The long afternoon shadows seemed to swallow the young musicians as silence fell in the barn again.

“We carried off a few songs at the gig but can we keep really reproducing up-time rock and roll?” Gisella bit her lower lip as she glanced from teen to teen.

“Gisella, now is not the time to doubt ourselves . . .” Bernhardt’s deep voice resonated like his drums.

“How do we handle the differences between the sounds our instruments make and what rock and roll should sound like! Our music is not loud enough.” Utz stood up and walked around the outside of the circle, obviously frustrated. “Our sounds will not be exactly the same . . .”

Several of the others nodded in agreement, looking from Carl to Utz. The others shuffled their feet, stirring up dust and straw.

Gisella pulled her sackbut out of its bag and looked at it as if it could hold answers. “What if we rearrange the music?”

Bernhardt looked up with a spark in his eyes. “Yes! We do not have to do everything exactly as the up-timers. This is now OUR music! We can rely more heavily on drums and instruments like Gisella’s sackbut. They can be louder.”

A few others still looked a bit doubtful, as if they were afraid to hope too hard.

Carl looked pointedly around the circle. For a moment the only sounds were the chickens pecking the ground and the soft bleating of the few goats standing near the open barn door.

Barbie stood still, afraid to say anything. Now was not the time to say the wrong thing and discourage the band. They had such a good start! They couldn’t lose it now, could they? She wouldn’t let her dreams die so easily!

But before Barbie could speak up, someone else did.

“He’s right. Carl is right! We can do this!” Birdlike Lotta stood up off her bale and stomped her tiny, leather-covered foot. “Rock and roll is about new music and a new spirit! We do not have up-timer instruments, but we are musicians. We have our instruments, we can find more instruments, we can invent instruments if need be, and, most importantly, we understand the music. We can do this because we love rock and roll. Rock and roll is not about a few instruments, it’s about us, the musicians. We can do this! We are rock and roll!”

“Lotta is right! We will find a way to play this music! We can do it!” With that Bernhardt began to chant in his deep baritone. “Rock and roll! Rock and roll! Rock and roll!” Quickly the others began chanting along and clapping. Then they began dancing around the bales, girls’ skirts swirling and the boys stomping in time with the claps. The small flock of chickens and geese looked up from their food searches to watch the cacophony around them. A few white goats stuck their curious heads in the open door then quickly exited, realizing there was no new food source for them.

After a minute or two of chanting a few of the fan children who had been outside snuck into the barn and joined the revelry. Chants of “rock and roll” resounded throughout the barn. The chickens that had been pecking the ground scuttled out of the way, clucking their disapproval.

Carl, still standing in the middle of the crowd, cleared his voice. “I kept quiet until we had shared our concerns. I think we may have an answer.” He seemed to stand a little bit taller as he addressed his attentive audience. “Rock and roll is about beat and energy. What if we arrange the songs to use our louder instruments, including our hands and feet, as the primary instruments? We can use our quieter instruments and voices kind of like spice in a soup. Of course, every arrangement will be different . . .” Carl seemed to get lost in his own thoughts for a moment.

“And we can do some songs a capella! If you listen to the up-time recordings, they use their voices in many ways!” Tancred’s face held a new light.

“Yes!” Gilbert clapped his hands together in delight.

The teens all talked at the same time, making everything unhearable. The cacophony of various conversations ran for a few minutes until they naturally ran down.

“So, who wants to work on arrangements?” Carl raised his hand and looked around the circle.

A few others, including Utz and Metta, raised their hands, too.

“Great! Why don’t we meet later and discuss what we need to do?” Carl seemed relieved to have help. Barbie took this as her cue to speak up.

“Yes! That is settled so let us get back to why we are here in this barn . . . music!” Barbie threw up both hands with a flourish.

At that, the rest of the band who had fallen quiet let out a cheer. The sudden ruckus made the few hens pecking at the straw in one of the corners of the barn stop and look up, giving the rowdy teenagers haughty chicken glances. Then they returned to the serious labor of excavating bugs and forgotten grain.

****

 

Back in the barn

A week later

 

After a chilly fall week the young musicians drew together in the warm barn, ready to learn more about rock and roll. The teens sat on their hay bales. Everyone had made it, including Lotta. Her mother had relented when faced with the opportunity to incur the bürgermeister’s thanks. Lotta happily grasped the silver flute in her hands, waiting for her new future.

The group had a visitor today. Barbie’s Aunt Betlinda had claimed a bale and was sitting slightly outside the circle. The slightly messy circle consisted of the whole band—Barbie, male lead singer Carl, drummer Bernhardt, Brigitte with her recorder slung over her back in a loosely woven cotton bag, Gisella with her sackbut in its brown bag and her straight brown hair pulled into a braid hanging down her back, birdlike Lotta with her silvery flute on her lap, chunky Metta and her lute, black-haired Utz looking lost without his clavichord, harpsichordist Gilbert, dudelsack player Gunter, and a new person.

Bernhardt introduced the young man with dirty blonde hair falling over his green eyes as Siefert. “Siefert here is a drummer, too, and wants to join us. After our discussion on leaning heavily on percussion I thought that might be a good idea.”

The band members had never heard Bernhardt say so many words at one time. It took a moment for the shock to wear off.

Metta was the first to reply. “Makes sense to me.”

Several other teens nodded.

The new extra drummer, Siefert, smiled. “Thanks, I won’t fail you.” He fairly beamed.

Barbie spoke up. “That done, on to music!” She motioned to where her Aunt Betlinda sat.

Next to Betlinda sat an up-timer box with a smaller battery compartment attached. On the bale next to Aunt Betlinda was a small stack of the magical items known as records. They were copies of real up-timer records but to the assembled crowd they were the next thing to heaven. They held the music, the songs the teens wanted to reproduce with their own instruments.

Aunt Betlinda watched the group quietly as Bernhardt and Gisella spoke. Occasionally, one of the other band members would try to break in.

Carl took the time to step up with a suggestion. “Bernhardt and Seifert, how about you two lead us on one of the songs we know? I would really like to hear how you two play together.”

With no more of an invitation to play the two young men sat behind their various selection of ersatz drums constructed from different sizes of barrels. Within a few minutes they were off, riffing on the beloved “Proud Mary.” The rest of the band stood or sat on the ever-present bales clapping and joining in on the verses. They clapped and stomped. The chickens, more afraid of the seemingly unruly band than their desire for worms, fled to the doors or flapped into the low rafters.

Hearing the band playing, several of the young fans slipped in the barn door. Once they realized the Musicians of Bremen were too into their music to notice them, one of the young girls went out and led a few others in to join them. All the young fans slumped down near the door and clapped along.

Suddenly the barn door flew open.

“What is going on in here?” Herr Weisz, the farmer who owned the barn stood by the door with his hands on his leatherclad hips and a huge grin on his sunburned face. “Is this how rock and roll musicians practice?”

Betlinda, who had moved next to the barn wall to be out of the way of the carousing youngsters, decided it was time to speak up. “Herr Weisz, our musicians were swept away by the spirit of the music they follow. I think the chickens and geese were quite safe.” She let loose a laugh of her own.

Herr Weisz let out a deep guffaw and walked back out the door, content that his barn was safe from marauding demons. The autumn afternoon welcomed him back with lengthening shadows.

Meanwhile, Betlinda straightened her light blue cotton skirt, more expensive than the standard linen, adjusted her seating on a somewhat spiky hay bale, ran a hand through her slightly lightening dark blonde hair as she smiled to herself. Yes, her niece was turning out to be a very interesting young woman. Between Barbie and her band the future would be something to see! And wouldn’t her brother be surprised!

The black and white hen that chose that moment to strut by Betlinda’s feet seemed to agree. She cocked one eye at the older woman perched in her barn and gave a henly harrumph before moving on in search of more corn.

“That’s right, my feathered friend, things are just getting really interesting around here.” With that Betlinda turned back to watching the tribe of older musicians and their younger followers strewn around the barnyard floor. “I just wonder if my brother is ready for the excitement?”

“Aunt Betlinda, can we listen to the music you brought?” Barbie was talking to her. “Are those the, what did you call them, records?”

“Wow! Where did you get them, Frau Betlinda?” Carl headed over to her.

The other young people peppered her with questions, too. “How many are there?” “What musical groups?” “What kinds of rock and roll?” The musicians bustled around, all attention focused on Betlinda and the semi-magical musical box. Several of the band drew close to the stack of records, obviously anxious to look through them but kept in check by their proper upbringings.

“Let’s go through and listen to each record to see what you want to play. Who wants to be in charge of the records?” Betlinda looked around the group. ”Who is good with equipment?”

Brigitte edged forward. “I have some experience with equipment. My family owns what the up-timers call a machine shop. I have to work on some of the machinery.” She stood staring at the record player.

“Frau Betlinda, would it be acceptable to you if Brigitte managed your record player?” Carl asked.

Betlinda smiled and nodded. “Ja, my young friends. I will remind you I went to a great deal of trouble to get this here. Please take all care with it. I do not know when I will be able to replace it.”

All the heads nodded, even those of the young fans still in the barn.

Betlinda began teaching Brigitte how to use the machine and play the records. The rest of the band members milled around talking about the music they planned on playing.

****

 

Back in the Weisz barn

A week later

 

The black and white hen that had watched the musicians the week before sat in the corner of the warm barn with her fellow hens. They were not quite sure about the loud and bumptious humans currently seated on hay bales in their barn. The goats closely watched the young humans in hope they would produce some treats. No luck so far, but the goats lived in hope.

Betlinda was not there but her record player was. Gisella manned the machine while Utz and Lotta carefully looked at the records.

“Let’s listen to this one. It says ‘Best of the 1980s.’ ” Lotta glanced at Utz who seemed interested. Then she passed the record to Gisella.

Gisella slipped the record from its cardboard sleeve and placed it delicately on the turntable. As she got it going everyone took seats on the ever-present hay bales. The chickens, always hopeful for some extra grain, moved toward the musicians.

As the music poured out of the small speaker toes began to tap and everyone seemed to have a ghostly drum. Before long, all of the young people were moving with sounds that would have been very familiar to people almost four hundred years later.

“Stop the record!” Barbie stood up to strengthen the words, the embroidered silver chains on her bodice reflecting he afternoon light slipping in from the doorway.

“Why?” Gisella looked up at the other girl.

“We can do that song!”

“How do you suggest that work?” Carl asked.

“We do not have to use all the instruments exactly the way they did. A lot of the song can be done with no instruments other than voice and clapping or drumming.” Barbie grinned broadly. “We have that ‘covered’ as the up-timers say.” Her grin got even bigger.

Metta pushed her dark blonde hair back from her face and adjusted her green bodice. “Tell us more, Barbie. How would we do this?”

“Well . . . think about the first part of the song . . .” Barbie then proceeded to explain her vision for the song.

All listening to the records stopped for the afternoon, and Barbie and the Musicians of Bremen began their arrangement of one of every rock and roller girl’s themes —”I Hate Myself for Loving You!”

****