Fifes and drums in the canton of Valais

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 theAssociations des tambours et fifres du Valais romand(fife and drum association of French-speaking Valais) or theOberwalliser 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 theAppel au Drapeau(oath of allegiance) and dances like the famousgrande 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

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Social practices
Traditional craftsmanship




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


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



Association des Tambours et Fifres du Valais Romand

Oberwalliser Tambouren- und Pfeiferverband

Schweizerischer Tambouren- und Pfeiferverband STPV

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