Music in the blood.

Hitsch Kessler

Hitsch Kessler
Whistling and drumming from roof to roof. If you should soon be sitting in a restaurant or at a public event next to a tall, slim and well-trained man who is constantly tapping an inaudible beat with his fingers on his right knee and quietly whistling a few notes to himself here and there, then it is most likely Christian Kessler, known as Hitsch, the master chimney sweep from Schiers.

Text and photo: Marietta Kobald, luaga.ch

When Hitsch drives his Mitsubishi bus, crammed with chimney sweeping tools, up a narrow bumpy mountain road to clean the chimney and cooking stove of a Maiensäss, his fingers on the steering wheel are always in motion, tapping this beat. If he is standing on a steep house roof, letting the rope rattle down the chimney with the round brush, he whistles a funny tune. Music is simply in his blood.

Hardly anyone doesn't know him, the 56-year-old who grew up in Prättigau, the valley of folk music, and is still at home here. Be it as a master chimney sweep from the front Prättigau, be it as a clarinetist with the Rhätikon band or as a ski tourer and biker.

The master chimney sweep

Hitsch has been the owner of a chimney sweeping business for 20 years. As technology has advanced and clean air regulations have come into effect, the requirements of a chimney sweep have changed during that time. Hitsch is not only responsible for ensuring that flue gases are extracted smoothly, he must check firewood for proper storage and distances from combustible materials and intervene if waste is burned in the combustion unit. Together with two employees and an apprentice, he is responsible for more than 1000 oil-fired heating systems, about 2500 individual furnaces and about 900 objects outside the villages in areas that are sometimes difficult to reach. A chimney sweep should also have a friendly manner and be communicative. Hardly anyone will claim that this does not apply to Hitsch.   

The musician

A beautiful summer evening in Conters. Hitsch is sitting at the table of the Disch family and, as he has done many times before, he can have dinner here. He has a close friendship with Röbi Disch, the father of the family. The two have been playing music together for 35 years and 30 years ago, together with Kurt Hostettler, Kurt Meuli and Toni Steccanella, they founded the Rhätikon band, with which they have already performed in Canada, America and half of Europe.

While Hitsch gives insight into his life, he incessantly drums his beat on the tabletop. His musical career began at the age of ten as a clarinetist with the Jugendmusik Küblis. "I had my first free night as a musician when I was fourteen at one of the famous toboggan races in Conters together with my godfather, Hitti Walli and others," he recounts with a laugh. Later, from the early 1980s, he played dance music with the Somara Quintet, performed as a saxophonist, on the keyboard and with the clarinet. He learned a lot with the Küblis Music Society and the Harmoniemusik Horgen. "But I really learned to play the clarinet with René Oswald in Chur in the years from 1978 and with Willi Honegger in Horgen. At that time, despite teaching and working, he played music ten to twelve hours a week. "It happened that I performed on twelve weekends in a row at events, there was a lot of hustle and bustle".

Music is my outlet

With the marriage in 1889 and the two children, this calmed down somewhat. Today he lives in a partnership, the children have flown the coop and are independent.

Hitsch has been president of the Graubünden Association of Swiss Folk Music since 2012, and in this capacity he can often be found at folk events. His duties also include organizing the Bündner Ländlerkapellentreffen at the Forum im Ried in Landquart, the oldest event of its kind in Switzerland.

"Music is an outlet for me to let off steam," he says, describing the opportunities as endless to develop and learn. Although he enjoys being with people, he doesn't need free nights as much anymore. And when he does, it's with the Rhätikon band in the lineup, Röbi Disch, Andrea and Paul Engler and Berni Hunger. In addition to the three CDs released so far by the Rhätikon band, a fourth is planned for some time, recorded as always by Röbi in his Grischuna Sound studio in Conters. 

Sport

He has just returned from a week's biking vacation in Tuscany with the Schiers Bike Club. Pedaling 100-120 kilometers every day gives him pleasure. You can often meet him in winter on a cross-country trail or with his skis on a mountain. Also in summer he cycles over Spitz and Berg after work or hikes with his girlfriend on ds Chrüüz or the Sassauna. Up there at the mountain restaurant, he likes to sit with a plate of bacon and Bündnerfleisch and a glass of wine and enjoy the view. The restless man also does sports because he likes to eat and drink well, he laughs mischievously. He is fascinated by travel, South America, high altitude tours in the range of 5000 to 6200 meters. He laughs again and says he still has time, needs little sleep. His friend Röbi says about him, "He's everywhere and nowhere, the more he's in the air, the more he whistles."

One day after our conversation, Hitsch's tirelessness came to an abrupt halt. After a fall with his bike on an after-work tour, he had to have his knee patched up in the Schiers hospital. The advice was to take a break for 10 days. What he did during this time is beyond my knowledge, but it can be assumed that he sat on the terrace of the mountain restaurant Sassauna in a cozy round, drumming with his fingers on the tabletop, setting the beat and whistling funny.

Rätikon chapel

More about the Rhätikon Chapel can be found on its website: rhaetikon.ch

Good to know:

The Prättigau is one of the folk music strongholds of the Grisons. With countless Stubeten, the traditional folk music vacation weeks, but also with down-to-earth folk music festivals such as the Prätti-Ziller-Fest and the St. Antönier Ländlerchilbi, the Prättigau can look back on a long tradition.

From the beginning of the year until Christmas time, you will find a varied program in the Prättigau: there is an endless amount to experience, to see and above all to hear!