Nick Lees: Edmonton Swiss Men’s Choir president Hans Voegeli plans to gallop towards end of pandemic

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A hopeful sign that COVID-19 driven by the highly contagious variant of Omicron may be nearing its peak locally is to hear that Hans Voegeli is once again riding his horses and yodeling his favorite Swiss-German song.

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“I usually ride at least three times a week, but I haven’t ridden for several weeks during our terrible sub-zero period,” said Swiss-born Voegeli, who lives on land near Sherwood Park.

“But our Edmonton Swiss Men’s Choir is planning to rehearse again for a future concert and I warmed up my voice by riding my two horses and singing Kamerade.

“Kamerade means friends and the song has such a wonderful, warm melody that we declared it our choir’s theme song.”

Choir President Hans Voegeli, back row, first from left, with the Swiss Men's Choir and its director Elizabeth Anderson, front row, fourth from right, and assistant director and pianist Irena Tarnawsky, seated in the piano.
Choir President Hans Voegeli, back row, first from left, with the Swiss Men’s Choir and its director Elizabeth Anderson, front row, fourth from right, and assistant director and pianist Irena Tarnawsky, seated in the piano. Photo by Nick Lees /Provided

Voegeli has been president of the Edmonton Swiss Men’s Choir since 2005 and has led it to several victories in the United States and Switzerland.

“I tried to quit the choir several times, but the members insisted that I continue, saying ‘just one more year?’ said Voegeli.

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“It may be a male choir, but it should be noted that the director, who led the choir for 35 of its 42-year history, is a woman, the friendly Elizabeth Anderson. “

“Hans is the ultimate classy gentleman,” says Anderson. “He is very organized, efficient, gentle and polite. You could say he is typically Swiss.

Voegeli’s smiling face is familiar to many Edmontonians. After working for CP Hotels in Calgary and Four Seasons Hotels in Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton, he hosted guests as a manager at some of Edmonton’s old favorite restaurants, such as Walden’s, Boccalino, Chef’s Table and Trumps. .

“In 1992, I became manager of the revolving restaurant La Ronde at Château Lacombe,” he says. “I still make an appearance there from time to time if necessary.”

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Kurt Blesi joined the choir a year after its inception and said Voegeli is an excellent leader and is optimistic about the future of the choir.

“We have recently lost members for various reasons and Hans encouraged everyone to bring young people to join us,” Blesi said. “His leadership may have something to do with the fact that he is a former Swiss army officer.”

Hans Voegeli has two ambitions he plans to achieve when the COVID-19 pandemic ends.  He plans to do one last ride in the Rockies with friends he's been riding with for over 20 years, and he'd like to once again take a fox hunting trip to Virginia.
Hans Voegeli has two ambitions he plans to achieve when the COVID-19 pandemic ends. He plans to do one last ride in the Rockies with friends he’s been riding with for over 20 years, and he’d like to once again take a fox hunting trip to Virginia. “We have to do the things we love as long as we’re fit and able,” he said. Photo by Nick Lees /Provided

Voegeli’s love for horses began when he was a child.

“My grandfather was in the horse business and drove a stagecoach in the Swiss mountains,” he said.

“My father took over the business, which included stables and the supply of horse-drawn carriages for weddings, films, tourists and for pulling sleds at hill stations.”

His father also supplied horses to the mountain troops of the Swiss army and it was Voegeli’s love of horses that led him to do his compulsory military service in the cavalry.

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“Most of Switzerland is mountainous terrain and normal temperatures in the Alps can often be 25 degrees below zero in winter,” Voegeli said.

“Trucks would generally be unnecessary, but horses and mules can withstand the temperatures and are capable of hauling up to 220 pounds of gear over mountains and through deep snow.”

Knowing they would be traded, Voegeli said it was hard to become affectionate with horses when he was young. While his brother now runs the family horse business, Voegeli said he now has a close friendship with his two horses here, who will both turn 25 this year.

“Zarek is gray hotblood and Spike is part hotblood with a bit of Arab blood in him,” Voegeli said.

“They are cousins. Both have thick coats and are considered outside horses. But I brought them both inside when it was alarmingly cold and gave each a blanket.

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Voegeli has two driving ambitions when COVID-19 is definitely under control.

He hopes to bring back a Lake Louise hike this summer that’s been on for more than 20 years, while also hoping to return to Virginia on a foxhunting trip.

“I last visited Switzerland in 2019 and old cavalry friends who had previously participated in our treks here are pushing me to organize one last such trek,” Voegeli said.

“I’m also in regular contact with my old friend Jim Fitzgibbon, one of the first general managers of the former Four Seasons hotel when it opened in Edmonton in the late 1970s.

“Jim is keen to go fox hunting in Virginia and I would love to join him again.

“It’s a different riding style than riding in the Rockies. But it’s just as fun and exciting. We should do the things we love as long as we are fit and able.

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