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Ancient communication: Yodelling

As loud as a scream or as melodious as a song – that’s the yodellers from Styria. Sung as a modulated “jo” syllable, the power of the voice is something which fascinates the world over and invites people to try it for themselves.

 © Steirisches Volksliedwerk

Håi-hudiridi-dia-hudirididia-håidladi-Ålm! It was in 1893 that a call was issued to collect together various Styrian cries and yodels. Anyone with something to contribute was invited to do so: the response was overwhelming, and a treasure of rural culture and its way of life was discovered. Ancient yet simultaneously artistic, a cornucopia of Austria musicality was revealed which influenced such composers as Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Ernst Krenek.

Yodelling is one of the oldest forms of communication there is – and probably the loudest that can be achieved with the voice alone. Names such as the “Almschrei” (“cry of the Alpine pastures”) or “Viehruf” (“cattle call”) suggest its function as a means of communication in mountain areas, from farm to farm, from lodge to lodge and across the valleys. The continuous switching between a chest and head vocalisation register and the constantly-recurring “I”, sounding particularly high and penetrating enables the yodeller to overcome large distances. He attracts the listeners’ attention, and the listeners then respond. Cattle, too, react to such a call – at least with a shake of the head – and this sets the bell hung around the animal’s neck ringing, as a signal to the herdsman or dairyman.

What really gets under the skin is when the yodel is sung in several voices. The singers stand around in a circle, and one man or woman strikes up the theme, loud and clear; the other voices come in, going with or singing a counterpoint to the main themes, in syllables and tones that rise up against one another as majestically as the mountain chains of the Alps and with melodic flourishes akin to mountain ascents and valley descents. For the closing notes, the sound generally ascends once more, into the sheer joy of the yodelling and expressing the elation of the Alpine pastures. Many yodellers swear by this. It is powerful singing with great depth: yodelling sets the body into a vibrating oscillation, and the whole person is transported into a meditatively-relaxed harmony. Notes are simply an approximate anchoring-point in this; what’s important is being ready to listen to one another in this singing and calling, and to open up to this intermingling with the full force of one’s breath. Anyone who has the confidence to be earthily loud and restrainedly quiet can yodel.

USEFUL LINKS:
Yodelling classes
Austrian Folk Song Association (österreichisches Volksliedwerk)
Information about yodelling courses throughout Austria (site is in german language only)

Yodelling rocker Hubert von Goisern
The Upper-Austrian Musician Hubert von Goisern combines Folk music with genres like Blues, Jazz, Pop or World music. Together with the “Alpine Cats” Hubert von Goisern has been the trendsetter for Alpine rock and is called the yodelling rocker.