Sunday, December 6, 2015

Swiss and Basel Drumming - What's the Difference?

05FEBFFrom Robin Engelman

 Swiss and Basel Drumming

by Robin Engelman


Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Mss.h.h.I.3
Parchment · 472 ff. · 38 x 27.5–28 cm · Bern 1478-1483,
Diebold Schilling, Amtliche Berner Chronik, vol. 3. Swiss Halberdiers and Pikemen approaching the Battle of Morat (Murten),1476. photo courtesy Markus Estermann, STPV.
Click on photo to enlarge.

Until recently I was unaware of the existence of more than one side drumming tradition in Switzerland. I had believed Dr. Fritz Berger to be the preerminent Swiss drummer who during the 1930’s consolidated disparate Swiss styles into one. The presence of his solo Rudimenter Good Luck (Basel-America Mixpickles), in the National Association of Rudimental Drummers book, America’s N.A.R.D. Drum Solos, a.k.a. The Green Book, precipitated this belief. Later, the fame of Basel , Switzerland’s Fastnacht Festival and its drummers became well known to me and many other North American drummers.
Alfons Grieder of Basel, Switzerland was reputed to be Dr. Berger’s best student and disciple.  His early visits to North America and stunning performance with the American Basel ensemble Americlique during the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in 2002, further enforced my belief that Alfons’ drumming was the drumming of Switzerland.  I may have subconsciously wanted its unsettling bar line hesitations to be a national trait, uniquely Swiss as Scots drumming to Scotland and our straight forward anglo style of military drumming to North America.
And then in July of 2014, an e-mail arrived from Mr. Markus Estermann of the Swiss Fife and Drum Association intended to convince me that Swiss and Basel drumming were different entities. Below I reprint a few pertinent correspondences between Mr. Estermann and myself, all edited for clarity and continuity. As well as providing a context for this article, they contain information that may well be of interest to the general public and drummers in particular.
Finally I enclose an e-mail sent to me by Mark Reilly after he read this article.
26 August, 2014
Hello Robin
I studied your homepage. Under the chapter “snare drum notation” you wrote about Swiss notation. It is the hieroglyphs are used only in a few Basel drum and fife groups. The Swiss notation has nothing to do with hieroglyphs. You got from me all known Swiss military music scores actually known.
Alphons (sic) Grieder is unknown in the Swiss drum and fife association. (Italics by R.E.)
I hope we stay in contact.
Kind regards
Markus Estermann
26 August, 2014
Dear Mr. Estermann,
Thank you for your e-mail and notation downloads. I believe you refer to my postings titled “Examples of Snare Drum Notation” from 1589 to 1869 arranged chronologically. The example is the early Swiss drum notation you mention in your mail.
1860 ca.- Swiss,with modern notation below.
1860 ca.- Swiss,with modern notation below.
This score appears in your downloads as well as the booklet I referenced for my article, a booklet accompanying the three CD collection titled Trommeln und Pfeifen in Basel.
This collection, as well as the LP recording 100 Joor VKB were presented to me by Alfons after his appearance in the 2002 Drummers Heritage Concert in Columbus, Ohio, USA.
I have not been able to find an article of mine that uses the word hieroglyphs in connection with Swiss drumming notation.
Kind regards,
Robin Engelman
Dear Mr. Engelman
Thank you very much for your e-mail.
Unfortunately Alfons Grieder is not known in Switzerland and he has no influence to the Swiss drumming.
He was talking in the USA about Basel drumming not Swiss drumming.
Basel drumming is an element of Swiss drumming. So he put a lot of mythos in his publication. Georg Duthaler was historian and he has a correct view of the matter.
Swiss drummers used more than 200 years music scores and not hieroglyphs. Dr. Fritz Berger adapted the Swiss drummers music scores to the Basel-/French style. All typical Basel rudiments came from France.
I hope to give you some input and we can stay in contact.
Kind regards
Markus Estermann
Comment: Alfons passed away in 2003 and I don’t know the publication to which Mr. Esstermann referred. Nevertheless, it was now clear that Swiss Drumming, in a nutshell, is an altogether different discipline from Basel Drumming and had been long before Dr. Berger’s work.
While preparing this article I contacted some of my North American drumming colleagues and found they too had assumed Basel drumming to be Switzerland’s only military style of Drumming.
27 August, 2014
Dear Mr. Estermann,
I am sorry to hear Alfons is unknown in Switzerland and among Swiss drummers. He was a gentleman of great dignity and an exceptionally gifted musician and performer.
Thank you for making the very important distinction between Basel and Swiss drumming, a distinction I was unaware of and misrepresented because of personal ignorance.
I appreciate you taking time to write me and I have begun searching my articles in order to correct any faults relating to this issue.
My sincere best wishes,
Robin Engelman
27 August, 2014
Dear Mr. Engelman
Thank you for your e-mail. I am sure that we have a lot to exchange.
Kind regards
Markus Estermann

Mark Reilly’s clear and informative response to this article is reprinted below with his permission and my sincere gratitude.
Hey Robin,
Thank you for the email. I hope you had a wonderful holiday and a fantastic New Year. It is an honor for me to read through this. Markus is a good friend. We met a few years ago and spent time together here in DC this summer. I will see him again next month in Basel for Fasnacht.
As for the article, I believe this to be a beautiful write up delineating the two divided but connected drumming worlds present in Switzerland. There was one spelling error (Nark instead of Mark). I am also not sure if you would like to include some of the realities of this event regarding the Swiss trip this summer. The STV, now called the STPV only brought 60 members over for their US tour. I am not sure what the entire reason was for the smaller numbers.
When it comes to the differences between the Basel style and the “Swiss” style there are many differences that may seem subtle to our “American” ears but to those immersed within these cultures the differences are not only found within the music but also their customs.
The Basel style certainly became extremely popular around the world when Dr. Berger connected with the NARD in the 1930s and even more so when Alfons came to the States. The Basel style as it stands today certainly contains several localized dialects that vary from clique to clique, similarly to that of the Ancient fife and drum corps in the Northeastern portion of the United States.
The Swiss style that Markus refers to is also new to me as well. The research that Markus has shared focuses on the other fife and drum traditions prevalent in cities like Zürich, and the Wallis (Swiss Alps region), and Geneva. The Wallis fife and drum tradition is a very old tradition and still uses 6 hole wooden fifes with rope tension drums unlike the piccolos used in Basel.
I am not sure how far you would like to dive into this topic. It is expansive due to the depth of the cultural divide between Basel and the “other” parts of Switzerland. To compare it to American sports… The Basel / Zürich rivalry is similar to New York / Boston. A great example of this is Ivan Kym who is a Swiss national champion that lives outside of Basel and has begun to really push the envelope when it comes to technical demand of Rudimental drumming in Switzerland. He blends Basel drumming techniques with a myriad of other influences to include snare drum ensemble pieces that include several layered parts, comparable to the feel of a percussion ensemble.
It is my opinion that the shear number of drummers in Basel and the size of the Basel Fasnacht is a large reason why most of us have only heard of Basel when it come(s) to Switzerland’s drumming history.
I hope that this helps… Please let me know if there is anything else I can help with.
Cheers and best regards
SFC J. Mark Reilly
Snare Drum Section Leader
3d U.S. Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard”
Fife & Drum Corps
Official Ceremonial Unit and
Escort to the President of the United States
Comment: Mr. Estermann kindly provided me with  a recent example of Swiss drumming: Click on link to view:

New Ulster-Scots Fife & Drum Corps Needs Rope Drums

A reader writes seeking donations of playable rope drums for a new fife & drum corps in Scotland.  Can you help?

Let's see if we can send these guys some of our unused old players to spread the joy of drum corps to Scotland.

If you're interested, contact me at  I'll look for a non-profit organization with this kind of thing in its charter to assist in the cause.  And I'll see if FedEx or UPS will help out with shipping.



Dear Sir,

I am the Chairman of Cambuslang Ulster-Scots Society in Scotland. We are a voluntary non-profit society with the aim of furthering our Ulster-Scots (some call us Scots-Irish) Heritage, Culture, History, etc .As you will be aware there is a great deal of the history of the USA which is directly linked with the Ulster-Scots from early settlement until the present day, Hence this request to your good self.
We are forming a small Fife & Drum Corps but cannot source any rope tension drums.  These can be bought new but we are unable to pay commercial rates for them. We are therefore trying to source any old or unused drums.  Maybe a band with spares or defunct or stored away out of use. 
I realise this is an unusual quest but would appreciate if you can help us if you know of any way to obtain some. I can give you more details about the C.U.S.S if you require, Hope you can help
I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this.

Yours Sincerely

Robert Totten


Who are Ulster-Scots;


Hello Ellis
Thank you for your reply and interest in our group
Cambuslang Ulster-Scots Society was formed in Dec 2009, The group was formed to explore and further the links between Scotland and Ulster.There are many connections between the countries (more so the West of Scotland), for hundreds of years . One of the main events was the Ulster Plantation in the early 1600,s this brought a lot of Scots to settle in Ulster. A lot of the History, Culture and Heritage starts from round about this time. In my case my greatgrandfather and great grandmother came from Ballymena but I was born in Cambuslang Scotland. 
We raise funds from small raffles and social fundraisers.
At present I am at home in England but as soon as possible I will send you a copy of our Constitution set up for the Society probably take 2/3 weeks.
During the famine of early 1700 hundreds of U/Scots left Ulster to settle in America,these people were instrumental in the forming of the USA,without going too deeply in to history the influence of U/Scots has been immense .
The plan for the Corps ,is to demonstrate and play the traditional Ulster-Scots-American music that has been part of our culture for many years. A lot of this music has developed in to marching melody flute bands.We wish to go back to basic Fife & Drum. 
At present our youngest member is 14yrs old ranging through to myself (unashamed 70)
Instructors will be brought in from local flute bands we have some very experienced people at hand 
Our music as stated will be traditional tunes from our culture
At present we will only be wearing shirts and uniform trousers as any performances will be indoors .
We will be using 5/6 key Bb flutes as most of us already own these instruments or can borrow them ,we have several makers over here but ours are mostly Mull Wicks and Peter Worrell. The intention is to change to Fifes when we are fully established.
Hope this gives you enough information to be going on with and once again thanks for you time and interest
Bobby Totten

P.R. Winn, Drummaker

An article by W. Lee Vinson, author and publisher of and . For Lee's story about ...