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November 2016

Swissfest - 50th annual

The first Swissfest, or Swiss Night, as it was originally known, was held on November 15, 1963 by the newly-formed Monroe Swiss Singers, then known as the Gemischter Chor Monroe. Made up of 19 singers, all but one of them immigrant Swiss, the group was directed by Edwin Schuetze from the time the choir was established in February 1963 until his passing in January 1966. Other directors have included Christian Gafner (1966 - 1971), Betty Koehler (1971 - 1976), Marie Power (1976 - 1985), and Deborah Krauss Smith (1985 - present).

Now a longtime tradition associated with the Monroe Swiss Singers and Turner Hall of Monroe, the performance did not start becoming an annual event until 1967. The Swiss Nights were generally held the first Saturday evening in November until 1997, when the performance moved to a Sunday afternoon and was renamed Swissfest.

In the early years, many in the audience still understood Swiss, so in addition to music, the programs usually included skits performed in Swiss. Up until the late 1980s, the now-disbanded Swiss-American Gymnastics Association (Turners) also put on an exhibition of gymnastics during the program.

Today the Swissfests focus on all different aspects of Swiss folk music, including choral music, alphorns, yodeling, accordions, Talerschwingen (coin-rolling) and flag-throwing. To accommodate the now mostly English-only speaking audience, translations of the song texts and explanations of the musical customs are also part of the program.

A special feature of this year's 50th Anniversary Swissfest will be a video filmed and produced by Beth Zurbuchen, President of the Swiss Center of North America in New Glarus, recounting some highlights of the last 50 performances. The video includes interviews with some of the Monroe Swiss Singers' longtime members and photos from the past.

In addition to the Monroe Swiss Singers, the Männerchor New Glarus and Jodlerklub New Glarus will also perform, as well as duo singers, Marian Kundert and Martha Bernet, also known as The Swiss Chicks; John Waelti playing accordion; and guest alphornist from Missouri, John Knechtenhofer. Advance sale tickets are $10 through Saturday, November 5, and are available in the Ratskeller Restaurant of the Turner Hall of Monroe, 1217 - 17th Avenue, or at Orange Kitten Yarns on the south side of Monroe's square. Tickets at the door are $12; both include a dance following the program played by the Greg Anderson Band. The tickets are general seating and doors open at 1:30 pm. The Ratskeller Restaurant will also be open following the program.