Swiss Boy Choir Costumes

Figure 1.--The Zürcher Sängerknaben like many European choirs use a traditional sailor suit as their choir costume.

HBC currently has little information on Swiss choirs. The choral traditions of neighboring France and Germany have been influential in Switzerland following the linguistic and cultural patterns. The sailor suit appears to be used for choir costumes in the German areas of Switzerland. Some of the Swiss choirs, reflecting the relatively stability of Switzerland and relative success in avoiding major European wars. Some information is available on individual Swiss choirs.


Switzerland is a confederation of Cantons with peoples of very different national, linguistic, and religious backgrounds. The Swiss boy choirs have primarily been supported by the French and German cantons. As in Italy itself, there appears to be relatively little interest in boy choirs from Italian Swiss areas. Switzerland has both choirs with centuries of tradition and choirs of fairly modern foundation. One choir dates back to the 16th bcentury. The realtive stability of Switzerland and their ability to avoid many of the most destructive European War in part explain the centuries long contunuity of important cultural institutions.


We note Swiss choirs with a wide variety od costumes. Some Swiss choirs perform in ecleastical robes. One choir uses the sailor suit as a costume. Several choirs have adopted contemporary boys' dress for their choir uniform. We also see sailor suits and folk costumes.

Individual Choirs

HBC does not know a great deal about Swiss choirs. We have begun to collect some basic information on Swiss choirs. Traditiionally the choirs were boy choirs. In recent years childrens' choir have also become popular. We do not yet know of girls' choirs. Hopefully our Swiss readers will provide more informartion.

Escharlens Choir

We have obtained a few images of a choir in Escharlens. We have no information, however, about the choir. We are not positive that this is a Swiss choir. Escharlens does appear to be a Swiss town and this appears to be a choir in the town. We have, however, no information about the choir. The boys wear a uniform of caps, vests, short pants and kneesocks. I'm not sure about ther colors. Nor are we sure when this choir was functioning. Hopefully our Swiss readers will be able to tell us something about this choir.

Grabs Children's Folk Choir

The village of Grabs in St. Gallen canton has a Children's Folk Choir. The children wear traditional clothing with a mix of regular clothes like jeans. During the summer they go barefoot. The choir director says that this is not strange, in Grabs it is still common that children attend school in bare feet. We see this custom in some German-speaking cantons. It is different from the general attitude in Europe. The Haslen School is a good example.

Figure 2.--The Knabenkantorei Basel have a uniform of white shirt, burgandy sweaters, and long black pants. The boys are posed here in an informal momment.

Knabenkantorei Basel

Formed in 1927, the Knabenkantorei, Basel's famous boys' choir, celebrates 70 years of singing history in 1997. The choir, formerly the choir of the Swiss Evangelical Reformed Church of Basel, has now no denominational ties, singing both without and with instrumental accompaniment (orchestra and solo instrument). Its repertoire of religious and secular music ranges from Renaissance to contemporary. Recent years have seen performances of the following works: The Magnificat by C.Ph.E. Bach; St. Matthew's Passion and The Christmas Oratorio by J.S. Bach; The St. Nicolas Cantata by B. Britten; The Messiah by G.F. Handel; The Requiem and The Coronation Mass by W.A. Mozart and Saint Mark's passion by C.Ph.E. Bach. The Knabenkantorei organizes its own concert programmes, sings in concert with other choirs and accepts invitations for guest performances in and outside Switzerland: Maastricht (The Netherlands), St. Petersburg (Russia), New York, Seton Hall, Philadelphia (U.S.A), Hungary, Germany, Finland and Estonia. In spring 1998 the choir flew for its 70th anniversary to a successful concert-tour to South Africa. Also, the Knabenkantorei participated to "The International Festival of Boy's Choirs" in Poznan (Poland) and to the "Festival International de Chant Choral" in Nancy (France).

Figure 3.--The Knabenkantorei Basel are seen here in their white shirts, burgandy sweaters, and black pants.

Choristers from the Knabenkantorei are also given solo parts in city opera-houses in Basel, Berne and Freiburg (Germany) as well as in oratorios. The choir sings regularly in religious services and at secular events. CD-Recording, Radio and TV broadcasts in and outside Switzerland are also part and parcel of the choir's activities. Emphasis is placed an a solid musical training of the choristers. Training starts with a preparatory course at the age of six years or a basic course at the age of eight years. Following a probationary period, the young singers become fully-fledged choir members at the age of 10 years. Ongoing musical training is in the hands of competent, experienced tutors. HBC has no information on the choir uniform originally worn by the Knabenkantorei Basel. Today the choir wears a very contemporary uniform. The boys wear white shirts, burgandy sweaters, and long black pants. At the choir was founded in 1927, this certainly was not the original costume that the boys wore. Choir costumes, except for ecleastical robes, often follow contemporary fashion--although some traditional choirs cahnge costumes only slowly.

Figure 4.--The Solothurner Singknaben are seen in the ecleasistical robes in which they participate in religious services. The collored collars and other vestments were proably red.

Solothurner Singknaben

The choir. A steeped in tradition choir. Since its establishment in the year 1585, the choir is embedded into the history of the St. Ursenkirche in Solothurn, which is considered today as the cathedral of the Basel diocese--and as the oldest swiss boys' choir. Purposes of the choir work are the mission of the praise and its announcement. The program of the choir is based on both church music such as Johann Sebastian Bach or Heinrich Schütz, and also composers of the romantic era and present time. The repertoire. The repertoire covers Motetten, Kantaten, Oratorien and Gregorian songs. Additionally Swiss and international traditional folklore are well represented. The choir structure. The choir, which is not a boarding school choir, consists of boys from different religions and is therefore often also participating to religious services of the main churches represented in Switzerland. Sample work and applications. Since 1971 the choir, which counts today 90 members, is under the proven direction of Peter Scherer. The high performance standard of the choir results not least from a systematically operated basic training where the voice correct education is of primary importance. Experienced instructors carry valuable basic research out, on which the choir conductor can structure. Each singing boy completes per week 3 to 4 hours of choir work with voice education. Apart from monthly participation in religious services of the St. Ursenkathedrale and in other municipalities a "singing camp" and a concert tour are held annually. Apart from innumerable concerts in Switzerland the choir attained international reputation by its foreign journeys to Denmark, Germany, England, Estland, Finland, France, Italy, Lettland, Litauen, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Russia, Sweden, Tschechien and into the USA. Further journeys are already planned or intended at longer term. In acknowledgment of their achievement the government of the canton Solothurn honored in 1986 Peter Scherer and the singing boys the culture price. At the national talent competition of swiss broadcasting society for youth choirs in year 1992 the Solothurner singing boys at the regional elimination achieved the first rank of the Swiss germans speaking part. The Solothurner singing boys were representing Switzerland at the 1994 Eurochoirs festival in Interlaken. At the swiss national contest for choirs held year 1996 in Baden, the singing boys achieved the highest score of all the make choirs. HBC has no information on the choir uniform originally worn by the Solothurner Singknabenl. As the choir was founded in 1585, the boys must have worn a wide variety of uniforms over its long history. At religious services they wear ecleastical robes. At seclular ervents, the choir wears a very contemporary uniform of white shirts, black sweaters with a monogram, and black long pants.

Figure 5.--The Solothurner Singknaben at this performance appear to wear white shirts, black sweaters with a monogram, and black long pants.

Zürcher Sängerknaben

Alphons von Aarburg was born on 21 March 1938, in Kaltbrunn (SG). Following primary school in Kaltbrunn and the High School in Friedberg (Gossau), he studied at the conservatoire in Zurich. There he studied singing with Wolfgang Philipp and Franz Pezzotti as well as piano with Ceslav Marek and Hedy Strength. After graduating in piano, school music and choir he founded in 1960 the Zürcher Sängerknaben. He also taught at the teachers' seminar of the cantonal school Pfaeffikon (SZ). Boy voices, sounding like cristal bells, smooth harps and flute sounds: These are the unfailing musical recognition of splendid Christmas season. The Zürcher Sängerknaben Christmas concert has represented for many years a high point in the music life of Zurich. So high that only one concert would not be sufficient to satisfy the public demand to attend. The Zurich public expects a potpourri of the most famous Christmas carols, perhaps even joining the boys in some of these songs. Alphons of Aarburg and his nearly 100 singers have other higher ambitions. Particularly in the first part of the varied program, which was given in the Preachers church, included some compositions from the 16th and 17th centuries, which required from the boys musical and vocal qualities obtained through careful rehearsing work, vocal homogeneity and rhythmic discipline. And even the Christmas carols of second concert, dressed in promissing choral parts, were most appropriate to bring into a bright light the skills of the choir. The highlight of the evening, however, were together with various instrumental pieces, the solo of individual boy voices, whose beauty and purity of tone brought emotion up to the rear seats rows. The song school of the Zurich Sängerknabe is not a normal musical early education, but purposefully geared for later singing in the choir. The artistic attraction of the well trained boy voice shows up only on high level. It is important that the boys pass through different levels within the total choir, according to the respective status of their knowledge. The 6 to 8 year olds begin in the Songschool with elementary voice training and light doble voice singing exercises. After a individually measured time the boys will then join the general choir. The aim for each singer boy is then the travel choir. The education as soloist presupposes special vocal and musical gifts. The selection of the solo singers is difficult: on top of the musical qualities, the human ones also play a substantial role. The social structure of the choir may not be disturbed by the selection. A singer undergoes weekly two to three times the choir tests: a test on the voice register and a more general test. The voice register test is conducted for both soprani and alti, whereas all registers have to pass the general test. The artistic conductor remains in constant contact with parents concerning education, training, exams and planned concerts. HBC has very limiyed information on the uniform worn by the Zürcher Sängerknaben. The boys currently wear sailor suits with long pants, a uniform favored by Many German and Scandinavian choirs. HBC is unsure precisely when this uniform was adopted by the choir.


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Created: November 2, 1998
Last updated: 7:27 PM 9/6/2010