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Three bandmasters are better than one!
C Adolf Bereuter - Bregenzerwald Tourismus

Three bandmasters are better than one!

Three bandmasters are better than one!

Village bands in the Bregenzerwald have a great role to play in the culture of the region, even in wintertime. Here we present music from the music club in Schröcken, a village that’s typically covered in the deepest snow.

In Schröcken, a village of just 220, 35 of the inhabitants play in the local music club. That’s 15% for those of you without a calculator at hand! And although there is a bandmaster, he is actually assisted by three musicians from the club who also take turns conducting. Of course, they also ski. Warth-Schröcken and Damüls-Faschina are their favourites.

The deep tones of brass instruments emanate from the open windows of the clubhouse. Thirty-two-year-old Natalie Feuerstein moves her hands gracefully at the conductor’s stand. As the last note fades away, the energy in the room drops to a normal level once more. Smiling, she hands the baton to her sister Sonja Feuerstein-Oss, 49, who carefully puts her tenor horn to one side. At the same time, Natalie takes up her flute, ready to follow the conducting of her big sister. Afterwards, Angela Schwarzmann, 44, sets down her saxophone and takes her turn leading the band as well. In addition to holding managerial functions in the tourist and ski resorts of Warth, Schröcken and Damüls, Natalie, Sonja and Angela share baton responsibilities as the future bandmasters of Schröcken.

The back-story behind the three bandmasters actually began about a hundred years ago, when a desperately poor couple gave away their three children and emigrated to America. At that time, little Josef Feuerstein came to Schröcken. He later played the organ here in addition to leading the church choir, founding the music society with 18 men, and eventually becoming bandmaster. In 1976, however, he died in a tragic accident. His 24-year-old son Heinz, a master carpenter who worked until his retirement at the Damüls cable cars, was forced to step in as bandmaster. With heart, soul, enthusiasm, perseverance and organisational talent, he managed to keep the band together over the decades. Even more impressive was the fact that it flourished under his tenure. Among other things, he made sure that young people were always involved. He did this by taking over the musical direction of the children’s traditional costume group.

Angela Schwarzmann was a former member of that costume group. She, like many children after her, enjoyed singing and dancing in the traditional costume group and thus received her first exposure to music. Her father, Wilhelm, was a founding member of the Schröcken music club. First, Angela learned to play the clarinet. She then learned the saxophone like her brother, niece and cousin. After graduating from the tourism college in Bezau, she took over the tourism office of Schröcken and Warth in 2008. Over the years, she witnessed Heinz training the brass players himself. Unfortunately, the group was missing a horn player. The plan was for his daughter Sonja to learn. But, like many eleven-year-old, Sonja found the idea of taking private lessons from her dad to be totally uncool. So things didn’t go quite according to plan. A year later, however, she joined the young music group after all along with nine of her peers. Sonja would also later attend the tourism college before starting work as a cashier at the ski resort in Schröcken. Today, she is in charge of the cashier’s desk for ski pases at Salober. She supervises the ski pass programming for the Warth-Schröcken ski resort and does administrative work as well as the accounting for the Schröcken sable car company.

Her younger sister Natalie also knows a thing or two about working at cashier’s desk for ski passes at the ski resort. She studied International Business Administration and has been employed by Damüls Cable Cars for eleven years, presently as an office manager. She is responsible for ski pass sales, marketing and other tasks related to cable car operations. Though all three women shoulder a great deal of responsibility in their professions, they can nevertheless be found every Friday evening playing with the brass band alongside 35 others – in a village with just 220 inhabitants!

Sometimes, Heinz still worries about the next generation. The band is his life’s work, and he knows from other villages just how difficult it is to find a bandmaster willing to take on the many years of responsibility and to weather the changing conditions. However, when conducting was offered as a subject at the Bregenzerwald Music School as a four-stage course over several semesters in 2016, Heinz lobbied for someone to come to Schröcken to provide training here as well. Seven people from his music club enthusiastically signed up. After the first test, only Sonja, Natalie and Angela remained. “We decided that the only way to do this was together,” the women agree. “We all still love playing music so much that we don’t want to stop completely.” So every two weeks they meet for lessons with their teacher Christian Schiestl. “He is an artist and an extremely good educator. Best of all, he knows how to deal with people to get the best out of them,” says Natalie. “We had to start out with the basics.” By basics, Sonja means posture, cues, facial expressions and breathing. “In the end, notes are just black dots on white paper. How they are played is up to the person conducting and designing,” says Angela.

Skigebiet Warth-Schröcken
Sonja Feuerstein-Oss, Natalie Feuerstein und Angela Schwarzmann © Adolf Bereuter - Bregenzerwald Tourismus

During lessons, they learn percussion patterns, score techniques, notation for percussion, note ranges, and how to transpose. Practicing moving their hands independently is a big part of it as well. They also deal with timbres and discuss whether to conduct the piece “Camelot Chronicles” in a three-four time or in slow waltz. “I’m clearly in favour of soft three-quarter,” says Sonja. “After all, the knight is standing under the window, pining for the princess.” All total, the women invest countless hours on scores. “The more we know a score, the better the rehearsals go,” says Natalie. With their words, they paint pictures of fish big and small, of castle ghosts and people swirling through an air duct.

As far as the band itself is concerned, solidarity and teamwork are quite strong. It’s nice to know that they can always count on receiving support. For the big concert at the end of the year, concert marches, modern literature, classical music and medleys are on the programme schedule. They divide the rehearsal work between the four of them. Their father, Heinz, also does his part. In a manner of speaking, he lets himself be “conducted” by the three women. Sometimes, he also takes the opportunity to sort through notes in the bandmaster’s office. “For me, the best part is looking at the satisfied faces of the musicians and seeing the members of our community come alive through music,” says Angela. Natalie and Sonja nod in agreement. “When the last note has faded, there’s a moment of silence. Then the applause erupts and we know that all our hard work has really paid off.”

Author: Irmgard Kramer
Travel Magazine Issue: Winter 2022-23