History of the Helvetia Alpengluehn Swiss Singing Society
- One hundred years ago a group of Swiss men who loved to sing the beautiful
songs of their homeland organized as a singing section of the Portland
Gruetli Society with a motto, "Uno per tutti; tutti per uno'" which
means, "One for all; all for one." They believed "male singing and yodeling
a high standard in our great nation, America. There is nothing more uplifting
and inspiring than group singing. The building of higher thoughts and the
making of better citizens are it fruits."
- There were 29 charter members, some came to rehearsals by boat as there
were yet no bridges over the Willamette River. Kaspar Moor from Hohfluh,
Switzerland was their first director. The name of the group was changed to "Gruetli
Mannerchor" in 1895, to "Helvetia Saenger Club" in 1896, and later
to the "Helvetia Male Chorus" in 1939.
- The Helvetia Saenger Club, with Herman Hafner its director, was
instrumental in founding the Swiss Singing Societies of the Pacific Coast.,
January 21, 1934.
- In 1941 the "Swiss Ladies Chorus Alpengluehn" was formed by a group
of song-loving Swiss ladies. There were 12 charter members. Marie Louise Frey
was their first director. For years Swiss singing and yodeling was provided by
the Swiss Ladies Chorus Alpengluehn and the Helvetia Male Chorus
for the purpose of bringing joy and goodwill to others.
- In 1968, as both groups showed signs of needing additional strength, they
merged, forming the "Helvetia-Alpengluehn" mixed chorus we have today.
Under the direction of Clifford Barron Fairley, the club is continuing to keep
alive the Swiss music long enjoyed by the Swiss Community of Portland. Shirley
Bankston is president.
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History of the United Swiss Singing Societies of the
Pacific Coast (USSSPC)
Attracted by the natural beauty and spacious stretches of the Pacific
Coast, many Swiss immigrants were among the first West Coast settlers. After the
newcomers from the valleys and mountains of Switzerland had established
themselves in their new homeland, they found the time and means to resume the
musical traditions they had acquired in their youth. With large communities
established, it was only natural for Swiss singing clubs to be formed.
The Pacific Northwest became the cradle of Swiss singing and yodeling along the
Pacific Coast with three well-known male choruses among the singing groups. In
1933, the Helvetia Sänger Club of Portland invited the Männerchor Edelweiss of
Tacoma and the Swiss Male Chorus Alpenrösli of Seattle to join them in a
combined concert. On January 21, 1934, the 120 male voices performed in the
Swiss Hall in Portland. After the concert the presidents of the three choruses
met the following day and agreed to form a federation with the title “United
Swiss Singing Societies of the Pacific Coast”. The founding fathers were Otto
Hausermann, president of the Helvetia Sänger Club, who was presiding, Charles
Bischofberger, president of the Männerchor Edelweiss, and Hans Forster,
president of the Swiss Male Chorus Alpenrösli.
The purpose of the new organization was described in its first constitution as
follows: “To keep alive the songs of Switzerland as they are sung in our native
country, to arrange festivals in the various states, and to promote among Swiss
the best feeling and understanding.” Some 55 years later, when the constitution
was revised, this purpose was slightly enlarged and defined as follows: “To
promote Swiss folk singing, yodeling, and music; foster their common cause; and
to encourage friendship and camaraderie among the members of the societies. This
purpose shall be carried out mainly by holding song festivals periodically.”
Charles Bischofberger was appointed festival president. The three choruses,
number more than one hundred voices, presented a so-called Grand Concert on the
first day of the Festival, followed by a singing and yodeling folk fest on the
second day. Mr. Bischofberger was later awarded the title “Sängervater” (Father
of the Singers), an honor that has been bestowed upon every festival president
to this day.
The festivals were suspended during World War II, and resumed in 1946 in
Seattle. For the next eight years they were held every other year, rotating
among the member societies. Beginning in 1954, the interval between Festivals
was increased to three years. The Festivals have grown with the addition of
ladies and mixed choruses. An all-time high of thirteen choruses participated at
the San Diego Festival in 1990. The Enzian Swiss Ladies Chorus of Tacoma,
Washington, was the latest chorus to become a member in 1990. While there were
only 105 singers in the Tacoma Festival in 1935, 406 participated in San Diego
in 1990. The largest group (427 singers) performed when the Swiss Singing
Society Harmonie hosted the festival in 1984 at Long Beach, California.
The Swiss Festival to be held in Portland Oregon will be the 26th Festival
since their modest beginning in 1935. These Swiss singing choruses have every
reason to be proud of their accomplishments in perpetuating the songs, customs
and costumes of their native homeland.
The USSSPC flag is an extremely fine example of a rare Swiss folk art called
needle-painting embroidery. The flag represents the last echoes of this art
form, which is traceable to the High Renaissance. Once it flourished in
Switzerland and Northern Italy, but it is now only a memory.
The flag has two sides: one red and one white. The following are logo and
The red side: Arched over a central oval medallion is the inscription "United
Swiss Singing Societies of the Pacific Coast, 1934". The scene in the medallion
depicts the three men representing the three founding Swiss cantons with their
hands raised, their fingers in the oath swearing position and their left hands
on the hilt of a centrally located sword at the bottom front of the medallion
scene. This oval vignette is wreathed with white edelweiss flowers and blue
gentian bellflowers; each of the four corners of this same side has sprigs of
these two flowers tied with red and white ribbon.
The white side: In the center is a large golden lyre with sheet music behind it.
This is framed with an oak and laurel wreath bound with a red and white ribbon.
Centered atop the lyre is a spread-winged eagle with both a Swiss and American
shield representing the two countries. Depicted around and below the central
lyre motif are the five roundels of the original founding cities' seals:
Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Tacoma.
An alternating red and white fringe holds the two sides of the flag, both red
and white, together. The flag is mounted on a wooden staff topped with a
chrome-plated spike. Hanging from the staff at the top are four two-sided
streamers with the logos and devices of each of the next four city societies to
join: Salt Lake City Swiss Chorus, Edelweiss; The San Diego Swiss Singers; San
Joaquin Valley "Swiss Echoes", Ripon; and Swiss Choir of Vancouver, B.C.
The flag itself measures 56 inches square, as in a medieval banner. The
two-sided streamers are 6½ inches wide and 44 inches long. The flag was finished
by 1934, the streamers by 1940. The flag is mounted to a finial topped wooden
shaft as stated and it and the streamers are carefully stored in a hand-tooled
zippered leather case of about 5 feet long.
Because of its rareness and the extreme difficulty and cost to replace it with
an equivalent example of this art form it is considered priceless to the member
societies and admirers.
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- Last Updated
March 13, 2007
Prepared by Larry Michel