By Robert Stoneback
The Danville News
DANVILLE — Martin Keller received a rare gift for his birthday in 2009.
“On my 75th birthday the Queen of the Renaissance knighted me,” said the Danville resident.
His group, the Pennsylvania Alpiners, have been regularly playing their traditional Bavarian music at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire for the past few years. Before that, Keller and the group, which he helped found in 1972, recorded an album now kept in the Library of Congress and performed at regional festivals around the state, at nursing homes and even on cruises.
Keller even performed in front of an audience in Munich’s Hofbrauhaus beer house, using an authentic Bavarian Alpine horn, which is over 10 feet in length.
Keller has three such horns, the first of which he made himself as the Swiss and German makers of the horns do not permit them to leave their countries as they fear they will lose their authenticity.
“Nobody had an alp horn in the United States because they wouldn’t sell them,” said Keller. Undaunted, Keller built his own to play. “I had the only Alp Horn in Pennsylvania,” he said. “We got a lot of recognition with that.”
He then bought two more, one while visiting Switzerland and another while visiting Germany, which is the one he played in the Hofbrauhaus.
He has previously played his Alpine horns for fanfare marches, and also adapted songs from “The Sound of Music” so they could be played with the instrument. Keller and the Alpiners also used it to perform alongside champion yodeler Dick Dorn.
The band recorded an album in 1976, “The Pennsylvania Alpiners Present Festive Tributes for Memorable Occasions,” which contained a birthday song for America’s bicentennial. The song, “America’s First Happy Birthday Song,” was played at Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park in 1976. Keller received a special letter of recognition from the city’s mayor, Frank Rizzo, thanking him for his contribution to the bicentennial celebrations.
A copy of their album is now kept in the Library of Congress.
Keller, Navy veteran, also regularly plays at the Bloomsburg Fair, performing military music next to an exhibit of an Army tank.
The Alpiners have also played on Caribbean cruises and for residents at regional nursing homes, such as Northumberland’s Nottingham Nursing Home and Lewisburg’s Elmcroft.
The Alpiners diversify their lineup for retirees, throwing in songs from places such as Hawaii, France and Italy.
A two-man band version of the Alpiners, featuring Keller, will also be performing at Lewisburg’s Victoria House restaurant Oct. 11 and 12, and members will also be playing during Mifflinburg’s Christkindl Market this winter. They have played at the market every year since it began 25 years ago.
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