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Swiss Band That Wears Bizarre Masks To Perform in St. Patrick's Day Parades

By Howard Ludwig | March 12, 2015 7:59am
Swiss Carnival Band
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BEVERLY — A 50-piece marching band dressed in oversized, humanesque masks and ornate costumes wants to wish Chicago a Happy St. Patrick's Day.

"The Noggeler" will perform in full ensemble in both the Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade on Saturday downtown and the South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade on Sunday in Beverly.

The band hails from Lucerne, Switzerland — a sister city of Chicago since 1998. The German-speaking city in central Switzerland annually celebrates the end of winter with the Lucerne Carnival Festival.

"The carnival in Lucerne features costumes and masks. That’s an old tradition. Originally, the masks we’re worn 'to expel the winter,'“ said Matthias Lips, president of the Noggeler Guggenmusig.

Indeed, the festival dates back to the first half of the 20th century and has many elements similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, including ties to the Catholic observance of Lent.

In explaining the festival, the English translation of The Noggeler's website describes Lucerne's signature celebration as, "a glittering outdoor party, where chaos and merriness reign and nothing is as it normally is."

Carnival bands called Guuggenmusig have long been a part of this tradition in Lucerne. The Noggeler is one such band. It's comprised of amateur musicians playing mostly brass instruments and drums — and mostly off-key.

Onlookers of the celebration are also encouraged to dress in costume during the Lucerne Carnival Festival. Other strange characters wearing masks and fantastic costumes are also spotted throughout the alleyways of Lucerne as part of this rite of spring.

Some people may find the experience a touch creepy — particularly the masks. But most are simply mesmerized by the band and genuinely interested in the intricate masks, Lips said.

This is the ninth time The Noggeler band has visited Chicago since 1991. They are traveling with the mayor of Lucerne, Stefan Roth.

Lips isn't worried about scaring the shamrocks out of anyone this weekend with his German-speaking band in eerie masks.

"We really can’t say what we’d do if someone would be scared. I guess taking off the mask and show them our smiles would be a good start," Lips said.

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