German-American Music Project Collection, 1984-1986



Philip Martin was Executive Director of the Wisconsin Folklife Center at the time of this project and served as Project Director. Folklorist James P. Leary and ethnomusicologist Philip Bohlman, both Wisconsin natives with prior fieldwork experience in the state, joined Martin in conducting interviews for the project. Photographer Lewis Koch, who had previously worked with Martin on the Wisconsin Old-Time Traditional Music Project, photographed German-American musicians, public events, architecture, and landscapes for the project.

Project History

The German-American Music Project followed upon Phil Martin and Lewis Koch's Wisconsin Old-Time Traditional Music Project, sponsored by Folklore Village Farm in Dodgeville, which had emphasized traditional Norwegian-American fiddling in Wisconsin. By the time of the German-American project, Martin had created the Wisconsin Folklife Center concept as an umbrella entity for his documentary research and productions, which then proved to be the foundation for the Wisconsin Folk Museum and several Wisconsin ethnic music documentary projects and commercial recordings. The German-American Music Project documented significant aspects of German-American music and culture in Wisconsin, from 1984 to 1986, through a cooperative effort between the Wisconsin Folklife Center, then based at Folklore Village Farm, and the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Funding was awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts (Folk Arts), the Kohler Foundation, Stackner Family Foundation, the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Wisconsin Humanities Committee, M&I Banks, and the H.J. Hagge Foundation.

Project director Philip Martin and folklorist James P. Leary, along with documentary photographer Lewis Koch and ethnomusicologist Philip Bohlman, conducted research and interviews with key musicians and traditional practitioners in Calumet, Dodge, Marathon, Ozaukee, Sheboygan, and Milwaukee counties. The researchers recorded a wealth of traditional music and information on subjects such as traditional German-American weddings, shivarees, holidays, foodways, and social history. Besides a capella religious hymns and children's songs, music included numerous dance tunes performed by German concertina players especially, as well as brass and reed Dutchmen ensembles, button accordionists, fiddlers, and experts on Hackbrett (type of hammered dulcimer) and zither. The research and fieldwork generated a number of productions. A commercial two-disc LP recording, Ach Ya!: Traditional German-American Music from Wisconsin, was released in December 1985. It includes 47 songs and melodies performed by 22 individuals or ensembles and emphasizes secular traditional music, especially dance tunes. The selections represent a wide range of family and neighborhood sources, printed songbooks and church hymnals, and semi-commercial radio and dance hall recordings.

A two-hour Wisconsin Public Radio Simply Folk program aired in 1985 and featured artists Ruth Flaker of Wausau, Albert Kolberg from the Sheboygan area, Elfrieda Haese and Heidi Schlei of Colgate, and Irving DeWitz of Hustisford. In 1986, a 30-minute slide/tape program, "Ach Ya!: The Story of German Music in Wisconsin," toured 10 community sites. The historical and contemporary images evoke the long-standing heritage and rich diversity of Wisconsin's German musical traditions, while the synchronized recorded narrative explains the field research process and includes music and interview clips from field recordings.