Yodels bounce from snowy peaks to shopping malls
By Ceri Radford
ZUG, Switzerland (Reuters) – The sound of “yo yo yo lue lu”
conjures images of remote valleys and snowy peaks, but every
Friday the distinctive notes drift through a classroom window
and across the Swiss city of Zug’s industrial district.
Yodelling, long seen by outsiders as a caricature of
out-dated Alpine kitsch, is undergoing a renaissance among an
urban generation seeking to reconnect with their roots.
“It’s traditionally Swiss,” says 36-year-old architect Eva
Guhl, echoing other members of the evening school beginners
group as they explain what has drawn them to the classroom on
Metal Street every Friday evening for the last three months.
“It’s a wonderful feeling when you let it all out,” she
said. “In pop songs you can hold yourself back, but not with
The 1965 film “The Sound of Music,” starring Julie Andrews,
used yodelling, goat-herds and lederhosen in what became one of
the world’s most successful musicals.
Unlike lyrical singing, yodelling is a non-verbal technique
which plays on sharp transitions from low “chest” notes to high
or “head” notes — stringing together single syllables with an
energetic and unique twang.
The technique may have its origin centuries ago as a
far-carrying communication cry between Alpine shepherds in
remote mountain communities, but it endures today.
Despite the revival in urban Zug, Swiss and Austrian
yodelling is also heard in folklore festivals, tourist
restaurants or sound recordings.
Austria’s Eurovision Song Contest entry this year was a
distinctive fusion of yodelling and salsa.
Last month, a record 180,000 visitors thronged a yodelling
festival in Aarau — a Swiss urban outpost more known for its
shopping centers and apartment towers.
Professional yodeller Rita Ehrler, 48, attributes the
recent rise in yodelling’s popularity to a longing for and
reassurance in the face of social problems and rapid change.
“Yodelling simply gives you a feeling of warmth and
security. It’s a Swiss thing,” she says, flanked by her
20-year-old daughter Nicole, the fourth generation of yodellers
in the family.
Rita Ehrler learned to yodel from her grandfather in the
central Swiss village of Ibach Schwyz, home to the Swiss army
knife and picture-postcard views of green meadows sweeping up
to craggy snow-capped peaks.
It is a far cry from the classroom where she runs the
evening course for the Migros Klubschule, the educational arm
of a supermarket-lifestyle conglomerate which also offers
Zug-dwellers courses in hip hop or latino dance aerobics.
Although one-fifth of tiny Switzerland’s population are
foreigners and the export-led economy depends on links with
abroad, foreign influences have done little to erode stout
national pride among the country’s Germanic majority.
Yodelling itself often forms the refrain to traditional
songs about nature, communities or God which are sung in Swiss
German — a bastion of Swiss identity but a linguistic quagmire
to non-native speakers.
The evening school enthusiasts clasp their hands over
trendy belts and jeans as they blast out a Swiss-German song
about a little boy too eager to leave his mountain valley,
before breaking into a chorus of undulating yodels.
“It’s not the sort of music I listen to at home,”
acknowledges 23-year-old nursery school teacher Manuela
Brunner. “But I like it.”