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Learn to yodel

Lifting and liberating – the cry of elation

No, yodelling is no longer a means of communication in the Tyrol. Today yodelling is an expression of enjoyment. It is an art that almost vanished into oblivion; indeed, it even fell into disrepute. Martha and Reinhard Schwaizer are running the first ever yodelling workshop to take place in Tyrol. “We’re helping to preserve a piece of our culture.” Reinhard with his guitar, Martha with her voice. A cheerful, likeable, congenial couple if ever there was one! (translated from German)

On a technical note: yodelling involves the repeated change of pitch – the so-called ‘yodel break’ – between the head voice and the chest voice. And it is precisely this that visitors learn during the two-hour workshop in Innsbruck’s Audioversum [1]. That’s all there is to it! The rest comes of its own accord under the shower, in the schoolyard or on the mountain top! But instead of attempting a long-winded explanations of how the ‘yodel break’ works, why not simply listen to it here: Jodelschlag [2]

Yes, believe it or not it’s true – there was a time when yodelling was really frowned upon. Reinhard believes that this was due to the commercialisation of traditional Alpine folk music. “With this first yodelling workshop in Innsbruck, we want to cultivate and pass on what we believe is a wonderful tradition.” This workshop really is the first of its kind. There anyone and everyone can learn to yodel. In earlier times the art of yodelling was passed on within musical families. Martha adds, “In the 1960s, when I applied to take part in voice training at the Conservatory of Music in Innsbruck, I was advised against yodelling. It was very much frowned upon!” Today yodelling can be taken as part of the voice training curriculum.

Rainer und Martha Schweizer [3]

Rainer and Martha Schweizer: Discover the ‘yodel break’ and open up your inner self with the help of Rainer and Martha. Photo: Vil Joda

“Much further back yodelling was a form of communication in the Alpine region” – at least according to one of many hypotheses on the origins of the melodic cry. The word ‘yodel’ (in German ‘jodeln’) is a relatively new word and is thought to have replaced the word ‘jolen’ at the end of the 18th century. “Spoken sentences were hard to understand from one side of the valley to the other,” Reinhard explains. “So the ‘speakers’ combined certain syllables, sound sequences and the alternation between chest and head voice.”

Yodelling all over the world

“Yodelling, as it is practised in the Alpine region, sounds totally different to yodelling in Cambodia, Melanesia or the yodelling practised by the pygmies.” Yep! That’s right! It’s not just the Tyroleans, Bavarians and Swiss who yodel. Yodelling is practiced all over the world. Perhaps the people simply felt the need to stand up to the mightiness of the mountains around them and what better way to do so than to yell at them. I do it too! Mountains can have a claustrophobic effect and yodelling acts as a form of liberation. Our landscape shapes who we are and the Alpine folk is, in a way, a reflection of the mountains – rugged, solitary, capricious and, therefore, so interesting. That’s my theory anyway, and I mean it in a most respectful way.

Yodelling is a tradition that is passed down orally and it is a part of the Tyrolean identity. Martha was only 12 when she decided herself that she wanted to learn to yodel – an unusual wish since she did not grow up in a musical family. “But it’s my life, and now I’m even married to a yodeller!” They share a tender gaze. “I was allowed to yodel even at school,” enthuses Martha, her eyes lighting up. “Through yodelling I received recognition, attention and applause. I still do!” she admits. Reinhard only recently discovered the joys of yodelling. “It was always my wife’s field of expertise.” But yodelling means a lot to Reinhard now too.

“It offers freedom, a form of release. It makes me feel light, liberated and at one with myself. It allows me to yell out my frustration.”

So my theory might very well be true…I suddenly get goosebumps. Swept along by so much emotion I give the yodel break a go myself. Rather cautiously at first, but then louder, freer and from the heart – yodelling works! It’s wonderful and I learn about myself while doing it. You just have to have the courage to do it. There’s no good or bad yodelling.

Reiner und Marthe Schweizer [4]

Harmony – it’s lovely to watch the two of them yodelling together. Again and again they gaze into each other’s eyes, here in the lounge of the Weisses Rössl in Innsbruck. Photo: Vil Joda.

“Yodelling touched my soul, just as it did the souls of everyone in the hospice.” Martha played music in the hospice. She sang and she yodelled, enwrapping the dying patients in music from the heart. “I also sing together with dementia patients. They know all the words of the songs by heart and, for a moment, they’re happy and they feel very close to me,” she explains. “But as soon as the music stops, they’re back in their own worlds again. Far, far away.” And Reinhard adds, “That’s sometimes the case with children too, which is why I also visit primary schools and try to give the children an insight into the culture of yodelling. They love it!”

Reiner und Marthe Schweizer [5]

After my private workshop the couple played music right in the middle of the Old Town – authentic, joyful music from the heart. Photo: Vil Joda.

If you want to explore a part of the Tyrolean identity, liberate yourself and feel genuine warmth in your heart, then get in touch with Reinhard and Martha! It’s not only musicians and members of the older generation who participate in their workshops, but also, and indeed in particular, young people as well as those who are simply curious and open for new experiences. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll soon have regular yodelling get-togethers,” they muse.

And here a few treats for you to listen to and watch:

Wann i von der Alm obageh”

“Der Almschrei”

“Der Verkehrte”

Kuhduttenjodler [6]

Schwaizer Zwoagsång
Martha und Reinhard Schwaizer
Archenweg 8
6068 Mils bei Hall
reinhard.schwaizer@outlook.com [7] +43 (0) 699 / 18 22 85 86