You know German folk songs, says Bell's Oktoberfest headliner

Sep 9, 2013

Ein Prosit at Bell's Brewery in 2008.
Credit Ein Prosit

Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo is having their Oktoberfest on Saturday featuring the German band Ein Prosit from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Band founders John Griffith and his wife Chris say it all started “one time at band camp.” Chris and John go to these adult band camps all across the country.

The alphorn players at the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts, June 2012.
Credit Ein Prosit

“We ended up in a German band as just a sideline ensemble at a band camp in Pennsylvania,” says Chris Griffith. “We had so much fun playing in this German band one hour a day for a week that when we got home, we were trying to come up with a way to get all our friends—that we had traveled with to Europe and our friends that played in other summer events with us—together in one spot maybe once a month. And we’d have a potluck dinner and play some music.”

So in October of 2002, Chris says they ordered two sets of music from a German mentor of theirs in Texas and invited all of their friends from Michigan and Indiana to play with them. She says 14 people showed up. Now the group has more than 60 members across three states, including ten alphorn players. Alphorns are those 12-foot-long wooden Swiss horns you might have seen on the Ricola commercials. John Griffith is one of the Alphorns.

“The music caresses the leaves of the trees and touches the hard rocks. And you know, all of that, that makes it very special,” he says. “And it is a primal instrument in that it’s ancient and they use it to herd cattle. And I played it in front of a herd of cows that were scattered out in the field and they came running like puppies to listen to the music.”

Ein Prosit boasts the largest Alphorn Ensemble in North America. They also have trumpets, trombones, tubas, euphoniums, tenor horns, percussion, clarinets, bells, cowbells, flugelhorns, and one piccolo—that’s Chris. The band plays marches, polkas, waltzes, and schottisches. A schottische is a type of folk dance with a lot of turning hops. Chris says you probably know more German traditional songs than you might think. Even “The Chicken Dance” is based on a German song.

“A lot of them are based on folk tunes that we have heard even though we don’t realize they’re a German folk tune, just like ‘Ach du lieber Augustine,’ Chris Griffith says. “That’s something we play. Most people in America know that tune.”

But Chris says one song is definitely not German.

Chris: ‘Edelweiss’ was written for The Sound of Music, right here in America. But everyone thinks that’s a German song.”

John: Or Austrian song.

Chris: And they will always ask us if we can play ‘Edelweiss.’

Chris and John describe Ein Prosit as “the band that only plays happy music.” That’s because it’s the happy songs that make you want to get up and dance.

“It’s really important to get the audience singing or dancing,” says Chris. “Or we have flags—a beer flag and a German flag—and we call it the ‘flag snake dance’ where people will line up and walk through the audience. And just we try to get people involved.”

Even if you’re not participating, don’t expect to simply listen to the music. John says you’ll miss out if you don’t watch too.

“We have acts, you know, and we have solos,” he says. “We have audience participation for the whole family. A show band for the whole family and that’s how I feature it.”