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Worldwide spread and still truly Swiss, recognizable and making you fall in love with it from the very first notes – it’s all about yodeling. Where does the tradition come from and how to “yodelay – eee– ooo”? Let’s see!

The history of yodeling originates in the very dawn of the civilization. They say that in the 4th century a.d. Julian, the Roman Emperor, complained about shrieking songs coming from the mountain people. Most experts agree that the herders from the Central Alps used yodeling to communicate between the mountains and to call their stock. However, there is an opinion that yodeling was originally just an imitation of the alphorn sound. Later the “unusual manner of yelling” became part of the musical expression of the dwellers, their emotional reaction to the breathtaking Alpine sceneries. The earliest record of yodeling was made in 1545 and it was described back then as “the call of a cowherd from Appenzell”.

In the middle of the 19th century yodeling went beyond the rural Alps and became a popular entertainment in music halls and theatres of Europe. In the 20th century musicians started experimenting with the sound and combining yodeling technique with blues, hobo and country music. In 1928 the father of country, Jimmie Rodgers, released his recording “Blue Yodel No.1” and made the United States go crazy for yodeling.

Norwegian Kulning singing, Persian tahrir, Georgian krimanchuli, Central Africa pigmy singing – athough yodeling was born in the Swiss Alps, its technique is spread all over the world. Some yodeling traditions use musical instruments, the other sound more like a cry, the third ones include whistling, but there is one thing that unites them all – the purity and the uniqueness of the sound.

So, want to know how to yodel? Human voice has two vocal registers – the “chest” voice and the “head” voice also known as falsetto. There is a certain range of notes you will feel comfortable singing in your chest voice and for higher tones, you will switch to the head voice. Yodeling is based completely on this alternation and the craziest thing is that the singer can switch from one voice to another several times within just a few seconds and at a high volume. The registers overlap each other and this repeated passage gives yodeling its recognizable sound. This technique is considered one of the most difficult in the world – that is why everybody honors yodelers greatly!

Plus, there are no lyrics you will have to memorize: a genuine yodel is one without words. What yodelers usually sing are sound combinations like “yodel-ay-ee-oo”, “hodaro”, “lo-ho-dra-e-ho”, “ho-la-da-itti-jo” and so on. One more thing you will need for a better sound is a place with an echo. Mountain ranges, rocky gorges, lakes and shorelines will suit perfectly.

The tradition is more than alive today. There are about 2000 compositions of Swiss yodeling in German and French and contemporary folk music keeps experimenting with yodeling. Furthermore, every three years yodelers from all over Switzerland celebrate the Yodeling Festival. Isn’t it a true proof that the Alpine singing is the most enchanting way to express one’s feelings in a pure and natural form?

Touching your soul with Fantastic yodeling!

Michael AW

Michael AW

Michael is the founder of Fantastic Switzerland Associaton. A non-profit organization to promote the location of Switzerland

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