Melodious Kolumba 

Christian A. Petersen, the owner of Petersen Tegl, came to the rescue when the South Denmark Philharmonic suddenly found itself short of a xylophone. 

The South Denmark Philharmonic’s New Year Concert is always a big draw in Sønderborg. This year’s programme 8 January in the Alsion concert hall was conducted by Ari Rasilainen. It included a bouquet of operatic arias and duets by Gitta-Maria Sjöberg (soprano) and Niels Jørgen Riis (tenor). 

As the evening drew to a close, the audience was treated to an amusing surprise with a dash of local colour. The finale was the Danish composer Hans Christian  Lumbye’s famous Champagne Galop, but when it reached the xylophone solo, the percussionist shrieked in an outraged voice, “Who’s taken our xylophone?!”

Christian A. Petersen came to the rescue. He jumped up from his seat and onto the stage pulling behind him a xylophone with keys made of Kolumba bricks, which Malte Magnus Nielsen Vendelby then played beautifully the rest of the way through the piece. 

Bjarne Rasmussen, the chair of the orchestra board, came up with the idea. He had spotted a Kolumba xylophone on a visit to the brickworks a few years ago. The brick instrument had to be finely tuned before it was ready to make its Philharmonic debut. The timpanist Henrik Cornelius Hansen, who worked with Petersen Tegl on the project, takes up the story.

“First of all, we had to decide on the type of brick. After some experimentation, we opted for K57, which has a nice, resonant sound. The bricks’ height and width were fixed, so the lengths had to be adjusted until the keys played the nine tones. We’ve decided to keep working on the Kolumba xylophone and expand it to 24 tones above two octaves. We’ll be able to play every tune in the Western classical canon then!”

“Percussion on natural stone – the lithophone – goes all the way back to Antiquity. The German composer Carl Orff used it in some of his early-20th-century works. Nowadays, a lithophone costs approximately DKK 2,500 per key. So playing on the Kolumba xylophone is far less expensive!”