Fifes and drums in the canton of Valais


Category:
Performing arts
  • Social practices
  • Traditional craftsmanship
Canton:

Description

The impressive sound of fifes and drums conjures up grainy images of soldiers marching into battle. While the roots of this tradition are military and date back to medieval times, this musical practice is still alive and well today in the canton of Valais, and perpetuated by civilian enthusiasts. Together Upper and Lower Valais have 38 fife and drum corps, which boast  as many as 2,000 members. All of these corps are themselves members of either the Associations des tambours et fifres du Valais romand (fife and drum association of French-speaking Valais) or the Oberwalliser Tambouren- und Pfeiferverband (Upper Valais fife and drum association), which meet and perform throughout the year at various contests, festivals and local events. It is often hard to believe that the life-affirming music that these instruments produce would have accompanied countless men from Valais deployed as professional mercenaries in foreign armies. On their return home, these men upheld the musical tradition and worked hard to ensure the survival of fife- and drum-playing. By the end of the 19th century, it became increasingly common to hear fifes playing and drums beating during religious ceremonies, or at social occasions or other public occasions that attract large numbers of visitors, such as Corpus Christi. Nowadays, the fife and drum music scene is as inclusive as it is diverse, often accompanied by songs, marching tunes like the Appel au Drapeau (oath of allegiance) and dances like the famous grande chaîne. In Valais, different types of fifes are still played, while the preferred drums are standard Swiss army issue drums dating from the 19th century, as well as the Basel Drum. In the past, the instrumental technique was passed down orally from generation to generation. Today, standard notation is used, with classes often given by the actual fife and drum corps. Besides Valais, the Basel region is another centre in Switzerland where this musical tradition is preserved

Image gallery

  • «Vignolage» in Muraz sur Sierre, 1942 © Max Kettel/Médiathèque Valais, Martigny
  • The fifes and drums of Visperterminen, 1967 © Fonds Treize Etoiles, Médiathèque Valais, Martigny
  • Legend has it that this was the fife that accompanies the troops from Upper Valais during the Battle of Finges in 1799 © Dépôt de la commune de Steg, Musée d’histoire du Valais
  • Ivan Kym: Celebration, 1993 (II) © Ivan Kym/Archives Tambours et Fifres sierrois
  • Manfred Bohnet (fife), Rolf Wyden (drum): Bim Chelchbach, 1991 © Manfred Bohnet, Rolf Wyden/Archives Manfred Bohnet, Zeneggen
  • «Vignolage» in Muraz sur Sierre, 1942 © Max Kettel/Médiathèque Valais, Martigny
  • The fifes and drums of Visperterminen, 1967 © Fonds Treize Etoiles, Médiathèque Valais, Martigny
  • Legend has it that this was the fife that accompanies the troops from Upper Valais during the Battle of Finges in 1799 © Dépôt de la commune de Steg, Musée d’histoire du Valais
  • Ivan Kym: Celebration, 1993 (II) © Ivan Kym/Archives Tambours et Fifres sierrois
  • Manfred Bohnet (fife), Rolf Wyden (drum): Bim Chelchbach, 1991 © Manfred Bohnet, Rolf Wyden/Archives Manfred Bohnet, Zeneggen

Video

Le vignolage, DVD 75 ans des Fifres et Tambours de St Luc © Fifres et Tambours, St Luc

Beim Oberwalliser Tambouren- und Pfeiferfest, Zeneggen 2011 © Reinhard Bertholjotti, Visp

Audio

Tambouren- und Pfeiferverein, Visp: Bim Chelchbach (75 Jahre Oberwalliser Tambouren- und Pfeiferverband, Jubiläums-CD, Wasen, 2006) © Manfred Bohnet/Rolf Wyden/ Oberwalliser Tambouren- und Pfeiferverband

La Liberté, Savièse : Vieille Suisse (Fifres et tambours du Valais romand, Martigny 1997) © La Liberté, Savièse/Association des tambours, fifres et clairons du Valais romand

Les Aiglons, Hérémence : Franchel (Fifres et tambours du Valais romand, Martigny 1997) © Les Aiglons, Hérémence/Association des tambours, fifres et clairons du Valais romand

Tambours et Fifres, Sierre : Luuser (Fifres et tambours du Valais romand, Martigny 1997) © Tambours et Fifres, Sierre/Association des tambours, fifres et clairons du Valais romand

Fifres et Tambours, Grimentz : Marche de Grimentz (Fifres et tambours du Valais romand, Martigny 1997) © Fifres et Tambours, Grimentz/Association des tambours, fifres et clairons du Valais romand

References and documentation

Publications
  • Brigitte Bachmann-Geiser, Brigitte: Die Volksmusikinstrumente der Schweiz (Handbuch der europäischen Volksmusikinstrumente Serie I, vol. 4). Leipzig, 1981

  • Josef Bittel: Walliser Tambouren und Pfeifer im Dienste der Heimat. Visp, 1970

  • Georg Duthaler: Trommeln und Pfeifen in Basel. Basel, 1985

  • Georg Duthaler, Brigitte Bachmann-Geiser, Urs Ramseyer, Christoph Kreienbühl: Vom Trommeln und Pfeifen. Basel, 1986

  • Hanns In der Gand: Pfeiferweisen aus dem Eifischtal. ln : Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde vol. 31. Basel, 1931, p. 1-32

  • Schweizerischen Tambouren-Verband (Ed.): Die Tambouren-, Pfeifer- und Clairon-Vereine der Schweiz. Brig, 1990

Documentation