The George Hinterbichler Years

Written by: Dick Batzer
Excerpts from the Semi-Centennial Program, 1983

The German American Musicians Association Band . . . came under the direction of George Hinterbichler in 1963. A native of Austria, George came to the United States in 1956, with his wife Mathilda, and sons Karl and George Jr., settling in Lackawanna. A daughter, Debbie, was born here a few years later. George holds a degree in Music from Volksmusikhochschule in Salzburg, Austria and played in the Saalfelden city band from 1937 to 1956.

George had stopped at the Bavarian Village one night, met Louis Beer there and was asked to join the German American Band as Director.

“There were 16 members at the time. After the third week, it dropped to eight,” George recalled. He brought his own limited library of German music to the Band. “The big comeback came with our Wald Concert at Spring Garden in Elma. People heard about it and the Band was back up to 18 to 20 members.”

In 1964, George, with Dick Silva, Al Odenbach, Kurt Wissing, started the first Oktoberfest, co-sponsored by the German American Musicians and the Germania Sports Club, of which Frank Bihler, an accordion player, was President. This first Oktoberfest was held at the Chuckwagon Banquet Hall in Lackawanna. “In 1966 it had grown so big we needed a larger place,” Mr. Hinterbichler recalled. “It was a sellout. We turned people away.” And we are still turning people away from the door at the Weber Post VFW in Lackawanna, where the 19th Oktoberfest was held last Fall.

“The Band had grown to 25 members and stayed that way for quite a few years.”

The late Leo Sauer, (a funeral director and friend of the Association), brought blue caps for the Band. State Assemblyman Al Hausbeck offered to help. “How come you never asked for anything?” Mr. Hausbeck asked, one day. “Everyone else does.” So George asked for Band uniforms. “Buy them and give me the bill,” said Al.

“We bought blue shirts with insignia and epaulets.” George said. And the sad part of the new uniforms was that “the first time we wore them was at Leo Sauer’s funeral.”

The Band was growing in members to about 30 and in popularity. “We were improving and giving more concerts, ” George said. He was given money by the Association to buy new music, which he ordered from a band music publishing house in Munich, Germany. Since Mr. Hinterbichler became Director, the emphasis has been on Bohemian and Austrian style music. Bavarian sing-alongs, and concert music, including overtures, waltzes, marches and polkas. The assistant Director, Eldon Francisco, now conducts several American style numbers to round out programs.

The high point of the German American Musicians Association Band – and of George’s career with it – undoubtedly was a concert tour of Germany and Austria in 1979. Much credit for the success of that tour must go to the GAM Women’s Auxiliary, which was formed in 1977, about the time planning for the trip began. The Band needed new uniforms for the trip. Irene Wingerter, wife of alto horn player Art Wingerter, (President of the Association in 1982), led the women in making the uniforms. They are patterned after the “tracht,” or national costume of the Tyrolean or Alpine region of Austria, consisting of red vests and black bundhosen-style pants, with colorful ties, leather suspenders and red and black knee socks. The girls in the Band wear red and black dirndls with white blouses and aprons, in keeping with the Tyrolean style. These uniforms are now the official uniform of the Band and are worn for every performance.

Money for the trip was raised from Band performances and a “Trip” raffle, along with raffles, card parties and bazaars put on by the Auxiliary. It took almost two years to raise enough funds for the 32 Band Members who were able to go.

The 16 day tour, in September of 1979, included 12 concerts throughout Germany and Austria by the Band, accompanied by spouses, relatives and followers-there were approximately 68 people on the tour. Our thanks to Herman Endres, Sr. and Jr. for their help throughout the tour.

The greatest thrill for the Band-and for George Hinterbichler, personally-was the awarding to George of the Austrian Medal of Merit in Music, the highest musical award in the country, for “keeping the traditional German and Austrian band music alive in America.” The medal was presented while the Band visited and played in Saalfelden, George’s birthplace.

The most prestigious appearance for the German American Musicians during the tour was a concert performed in a Munich Beer Hall during the famous Oktoberfest. The popular Oktoberfests were born in Munich in 1810, when the first one was held to observe the wedding of King Ludwig I.

Other places visited during the tour, which began and ended in Frankfurt, included our sister city of Dortmund, Drolshagen, Heppenheim, Bad Liebenzell, Berchtesgaden, Sindelfingen, Lofer, Eltville on the Rhine and sightseeing day in Salzburg.

The Band was treated to “heimatabends,” music and entertainment provided by the hosts, in almost every town visited. And in George’s hometown, Saalfelden, they were greeted by the town band and a 21-gun salute and marched to the town square where they were welcomed by the Burgermeister and Town Council. Whenever possible, where the Band performed, pictures of the Band, taken by Ferdi Kasprzak, and Buffalo pins were presented to the audience.

[T]he Band . . . [performed] in concerts and Oktoberfests in Toronto, Rochester, St. Catherines and Kitchener; Lancaster Opera House; summer Town Park concerts in the area, as well as regularly scheduled concerts and Oktoberfests in Bavarian Village (Deutsches Haus), Club Lorelei, Weber Post VFW, Weimers Grove and Buffalo Soccer Club. The Band recently participated in the Buffalo Sesquicentennial parade. The GAM float, designed by Art Wingerter, won first prize in its category.

In 1982, George Hinterbichler was named “German American of the Year” by the Federation of German American Societies. The honor is bestowed yearly by the Federation on a person who has furthered German American relations in this area. The Association is proud to note that several other members have been named to this honor over the past 50 years.