Wisconsin Swiss Traditional Music Project Collection, 1986-1991



Philip N. Martin initiated, directed, and obtained funding for the Wisconsin Swiss Traditional Music Project. Martin enlisted folklorist James P. Leary to interview contemporary Swiss-American musicians and obtain permissions for some reproductions of early commercial recordings, and he hired photographer Lewis Koch to provide photo documentation for the project. Martin selected the musical numbers and produced the master sound recordings for the Swissconsin: My Homeland audiocassette at Marv Nonn's studio outside of Cross Plains, Wisconsin, where the master recordings remain. Martin also wrote the production's liner notes, and Koch designed the insert. Martin later edited and published Leary's related Yodeling in Dairyland: A History of Swiss Music in Wisconsin (1991) through the Wisconsin Folk Museum, and authored the final report to the National Endowment for the Arts, on which portions of this guide are based.

Project History

Phil Martin began the Wisconsin Swiss Traditional Music Project under his research organization, the Wisconsin Folklife Center, which was then based at Folklore Village Farm in Dodgeville where he was Vice-President of the Board of Directors. By the end of the project, Martin had folded the Center into a new non-profit, the Wisconsin Folk Museum, where he was Executive Director. The new Folklife Center grew from Martin's Old-Time Traditional Music in Wisconsin research and productions.

After featuring traditional Norwegian-American and German-American musical traditions in the Folklife Center's “Ethnic Music Series,” Martin turned to Wisconsin's Swiss-American musical traditions. He focused the new project especially on Green County, home to a concentration of Swiss emigrants mostly from the mountainous cantons of Glarus and Bern. The 1986-1988 field and studio recordings made for the project emphasized the public-oriented performance style often heard in community-produced concerts, recordings, and festivals. Assisted by Rudy Burkhalter, a well known Swiss-American musician, the researchers contacted area musicians and arranged recording sessions and interviews. Leary formally interviewed eight Swiss-American musicians: Rudy Burkhalter, Leo and Anna Gempler, Roger Bright, and Al Mueller with sound recordings, and Martha Bernet, Betty Vetterli, and Trudy Brandli with handwritten notes. The interviews focused on personal and family history, musical selections that were recorded, and the role of music in south-central Wisconsin tradition. Lewis Koch photographed the performers, their home interiors, historic personal photos, and farm and town landscapes in the area. Leary also located historic musical recordings of Swiss-American and European-Swiss artists from the Upper Midwest region and across the country.

The resulting cassette production, Swissconsin: My Homeland, published in 1988 by the Wisconsin Folklife Center, included accordion and alphorn playing, yodeling and choral singing, and alpine-style dance bands. Contemporary recordings of Rudy Burkhalter, Martha Bernet, Anna Gempler, Bob and Scott Lorenz, Alfred and Martha Stucki, Betty Vetterli, the Edelweiss Stars, the Monroe Swiss Singers, and the New Glarus Alphorn Trio, were interspersed with historic reissues of recordings by influential Swiss and Swiss-American performers (Rudy Burkhalter, Louis Alder and his Mountaineers, the Moser Brothers, and the Swiss Family Frauenfelder). Subsequently, in 1991 the Folk Museum published James P. Leary's related Yodeling in Dairyland: A History of Swiss Music in Wisconsin. One essay in the book provides an overview of Swiss music in Wisconsin, the other focuses on Rudy Burkhalter, an influential performer whose varied career, in the Old World and the New, epitomizes the Swiss-American musical experience. Swissconsin was included in the American Folklife Center's American Folk Music and Folklore Recordings 1988: A Selected List (Washington, DC: Library of Congress). In 2004, the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures re-released Swissconsin in CD format.

Martin obtained National Endowment for the Arts (Folk Arts) funding for the project, with Folklore Village Farm as the sponsoring non-profit organization, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Folklore Program contributed to production costs. Under the Wisconsin Folk Museum, Martin applied grants to the project from the Webcrafters-Frautschi Foundation, the Wisconsin Arts Board, and the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission.