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Culture

Rockin' on Air

Air guitar -- is it a cheesy farce or artistic pastime promoting world peace? The jury of public opinion is out on that one, but another jury will crown a world champion. We hear the lowdown from a German champion.

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German champion Katharina Tomaschek rocks out

Katarina Tomaschek, aka Leni Krawitzkowsky, is the reigning German champion in air guitar. She is the first woman to represent Germany and she'll show off her talents at the world championships to be held August 25-27 in Oulu, Finland. Air guitar might sound absurd to many, but it's a pastime that's gaining more and more adherents.

Rules and Regulations

Those who think air guitar is a hobby for cheapskates and dismiss its practitioners as somehow off in the head are mistaken, say fans. Air guitar competitions are held under -- believe it or not -- a set of very strict rules. The highest priority is the material comprising the guitar itself, namely air.

Luftgitarre Logo

Logo of the German Air Guitar Foundation

However, as long as the performers keep to this basic rule, they have all the artistic freedom they can muster to convince the jury it's an acoustic or electric guitar they're playing with. The same goes for the technique. Whether or not they employ air picks is completely up to them.

There is no specific dress code for the competitors, although most agree that pure air is probably not the best choice for a performer's clothing. The presence of air roadies, who lug the guitars and cables around, are also up to the discretion of the artist.

The judging runs along the same lines as it does in ice skating. Jumps are essential, splits aren't frowned upon. Another element that separates the men from the boys: the "airness" of a player. According to the definition of the term, "airness" is the ability to "transcend pure imitation and transform the playing into its own art form." Pretty heady stuff.

"Leni Krawitzkowsky"

Katharina Tomaschek plays air guitar for the pure joy of it. She thinks her particular talent for the form is in her genes. That's a conviction shared by many of her colleagues in the field. "I come from a very musical family and my father has a great talent for music," she said.

She even plays a "real" instrument along with her airy one, the piano. Her introduction to the air guitar was purely accidental. She spent a school semester in Oulu, Finland and happened to attend the air guitar championships there. She was hooked.

BdT: Luftgitarrenmeisterschaft in Berlin: Katharina Tomaschek aus Eberswalde

Katharina Tomaschek from the German city of Eberswalde plays air guitar as Leni Krawitzkowski as she performs to the Lenny Krawitz song "Fields of Joy" during the final of the German Air Guitar Championships in Berlin on late Saturday, July 23, 2005. Tomaschek won as the only competing female starter.

Her stage name, Leni Krawitzkowsky, came easily to her. It is a combination of the names of musician Lenny Kravitz and Mike Wazowski, the loveable monster from the film "Monsters, Inc."

The choice of her repertoire was somewhat more difficult. She says one has to have a special relation to the piece which will come over during the performance. Because of that, she chose works from Lenny Kravitz, since she says they show a feminine side of him that appealed to her.

While those in the air guitar world find her position as German champion one of honor and deserving of respect, others think differently. Musicians with real guitars might laugh at her dismissively, but at least her family stands behind her -- now anyway.

"At first they just laughed, since they couldn't imagine that air guitar was such a big thing," she said. "But they're very proud of me and like seeing me in newspaper articles or hearing me in radio interviews."

The fan base is growing

Air guitar is being taken -- somewhat -- seriously in countries around the world and has many fans. In fact, the championships in Finland are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. Besides Germany, flourishing air guitar traditions have developed in the US, New Zealand and Australia. And the fan base continues to grow. This year, representatives are travelling to Oulu from the United Arab Emirates, Canada and Spain for the first time.

A town in out-of-the-way Finland might seem like a strange place to hold the competition, but it was here that serious air guitar playing was born. It started on the edges of the Oulu Video Festival and took on a life of its own.

Swords to Air Chords

The expressed goal of air guitar players around the world as well as the different associations related to the event is world peace. That halcyon state will only be achieved, it is said, when all people play air guitar together. The reasoning: those playing air guitar have no more time for war.

Luftgitarre Aerobic in München

Air Guitar Aerobics are the news fitness trend in Germany

Others say their fascination with the form comes from its mix of irony and self-portrayal. The prejudice that air guitar performance is nothing more than a pathetic and somewhat cheesy desire for attention couldn't be further from the truth, say the air guitarists themselves.

Whether history will judge air guitar as true art or only hot air, is still up in the, er, air. But the competitions are at least a lark to watch and good for a laugh, maybe even a bit of amazement. So the only thing one really can say to the competitors is: keep on rockin'.

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