How many community groups survive the test of time? The New Glarus Yodel Club is one such group that has its roots in the 1920's and continues to be vibrant and active, promoting New Glarus and the Swiss culture.
The group was organized in 1928 by 5 individuals: Hans Furrer, Ernest Thierstein, Karl Mueller, Caspar Yaun, and Ernst Burkhalter, who were all Swiss-born. Unlike their counterpart, the New Glarus Maennerchor which was started in 1912 and sang four-part harmony of Swiss and German hymns and folksongs, the New Glarus Yodel Club focused their performances on traditional Swiss yodeling songs of the mother country. The New Glarus Yodel Club's first appearance was at Volksfest in New Glarus in 1929. Volksfest is the celebration on August 1st of Switzerland's Independence and is still celebrated to this day in New Glarus on the first weekend in August. In 1930 there was a performance on the Voegeli Farm in Monticello, WI, for a meeting of the Brown Swiss Breeder's Assoc of America.
A decade later club membership was up to 9. As the group became more established, their repertoire consisted of yodeling, alphorn blowing, and cowbell ringing. Performances were local, as well as out of the state, traveling to such places as Highland, Illinois for their Centennial, Pine Island, Minnesota for a Swiss festival, Sauerkraut Day in Forreston, Illinois, and for Swissfest in Cleveland and Sugar Creek , Ohio.
It was also not uncommon to stop and do some impromptu performances during the trip. One such trip landed the group at Union Station in Chicago at 11 p.m. one evening on the way back home. As Paul Grossenbacher wrote, "We all walked in that big hall at the Station and the echo of our footsteps sounded back to us from all directions. Boy, I said to Rudi, would the alphorn sound good in here. Without a word, Rudi took his Alphorn out and started playing and the rest of us were ringing the cowbells we had with us. In about 2 minutes, we had 1000 people around us."
The group continued to grow and by the 1960's was at 14 members. The club’s membership remained constant into the 1990's, but their performances had gone national.
The original group started with John Furrer as the yodeler. He was followed by Oswald Buesser and Hans Neuenschwander. In 1956, Robbie Schneider emigrated from Zurich and became lead yodeler of the group. He had been the lead yodeler of many groups in Switzerland, was known as the "International Champion Swiss Yodeler," and was also an accomplished flag thrower. During his first few years with the club, the idea of going to Switzerland as a concert tour was presented and became reality. A total of 149 passengers embarked on the first trip in 1960. With the first trip being such a success, a second trip in 1964 was taken, with many more to follow. Robbie Schneider left the group in the late 1970's and moved to Colorado. Ernest Jaggi then assumed the role of lead yodeler and is still an active member of the group today.
The New Glarus Yodel Club celebrates its 80th anniversary with a total membership of 31, ranging in age from 33 to 80, showing the vitality of the group for years to come. Not all have emigrated from Switzerland, but many are of Swiss decent, along with a mix of other nationalities. The group has grown from one yodeler to six - Ernest and Therese Jaggi, Tony Zgraggen, Tim Pauli, Daisy Peterson, and Nancy Streiff. The rest of the members include - George Albright, Richard Arn, Damion Babler, Johann Bayer, Edward Brand, Gottlieb Brandli Sr., Kim Bright, Howard Christensen, John Colstad, Pete Etter, Kris Gmur, Ernie Halbheer, David Hustad, Wayne Kuenzi, Heinz Mattmann, Tim Nybroten, Frank Rear, Dean Streiff, Dennis Streiff, Matt Streiff, Steve Streiff, Dwight Truttmann, John Wegmueller, Tim Wurgler, and Erwin Zweifel.
The group performs many of the same songs that the founding fathers of the club performed. The club members are broken into 4 parts for each song - 1st and 2nd Tenor, Baritones, and Basses. The group wears the traditional “Berner Oberland” jacket and hat. The performances include yodeling, Schwyzerorgeli (Swiss accordion) music, Thalerschwingen (milking bowls with a five swiss franc rolling around in it), flag throwing, and alphorn blowing. Most of the venues are local or in Wisconsin and total anywhere from 10-20 per year.
This year we competed in Lucerne, Switzerland in June at the National Yodeling competition that takes place every 3 years. To prepare ourselves for the competition, a song (E’ Jodler) was chosen by the group and memorized by the club members. Then on Monday nights at our practices, a great amount of time was dedicated to learning the parts of the song, being instructed by Tim Wurgler. We also had an instructor from Switzerland come and work with the group for a week, improving our linguistics and dynamics of the song.
The group performed at the competition and received a high 2nd place. The judges overall impression was, "The New Glarus Jodelklub has the ability to inspire(engage) the listeners. The reason is the engaged(convincing) singing. The passion and joy for the Jodel song is evident throughout and is likeable. Nourish this joy of singing further! A heartfelt thank you for this refreshing appearance." Tony Zgraggen also performed as a solo yodeler and received high marks. Along with the competition, the group decided to do a tour of Switzerland and opened it up to anybody that wanted to come along. Tony Zgraggen coordinated the whole trip and it was a great time for all who attended. Our next competition will be in Banff, Canada in June of next year for Swissfest'09.
From the mountains and valleys of Switzerland to the gently rolling hills of Green County, the Swiss culture is shared with great pride and joy. Whether it be for the love of sharing ones culture or the camaraderie of the group sitting around having a beer, the New Glarus Yodel Club remains a very active group who will continue to entertain and enlighten their listeners for many years to come with Swiss culture and the yodel.