Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sunday 15 July 2012

A village band festival

You don't realise that Austria isn't that small a country, at least from side to side, until you travel the five hours by train from Vienna, at the eastern end, with Slovakia on its doorstep, to Innsbruck and on into the Tirol at its western end, with Germany, Switzerland and Italy within day-trip distance. Here in the mountains, villages even in valleys now barely half an hour by bus or car from Innsbruck were relatively remote until there was investment, not so long ago, in roads and transport to entice winter sports enthusiasts, summer walkers, mountain bikers and the like.

Here the traditional doesn't mean the grandeur of the Habsburg palaces but home-grown entertainments like the village band; and on our first day in the Stubaital we went to a neighbouring village to see the parade of bands from villages round about. If I understood the parade announcer correctly, some of the bands date back to the late eighteenth century, and even villages with quite a small resident population can get together 40 or 60 people, of all ages, to join the band.

This being another in a series of very hot days, much of the heavier traditional uniform was safely parked while everyone fortified themselves in the beer and sausage tents, before eventually streaming off to the mustering point for the start of the parade, while the guests of honour mounted the temporary podium by the road.

The formalities required the recital of quite a long list of people of consequence in regional and local government, and in the organisations promoting and supporting the bands, before the parade itself started. Apparently the federal Minister of Education is a member of one of the bands, but was away at some international conference. Fourteen bands in all paraded past, each preceded, Olympic-style, by a banner announcing who they were (some of them appeared to be competing for a "winsomest tots" award), and the ceremonial schnapps-bearers. Some stopped in front of the dignitaries to perform various marching manoeuvres; and eventually the guests of honour were lined up behind the last band to march off in their turn, back to the beer tent. Here there were more speeches, cheerfully ignored in the convivial re-fortification and general conversational catching-up, before bands gave a sit-down concert in the village pavilion: the only one we stopped to hear surprised me by playing some British music (and very well too).

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