Austria: Yodeling echoes beyond kitsch

Courtesy of Folksong Workshops Austria
Participants test their lung power in a yodeling class in Lockenhaus, Austria.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

LOCKENHAUS, AUSTRIA – The primal scream, the call of the wild, the “yodel” is the Alpine “I am.”

In a region of reserve and restraint, the yodeling cry connects man to fellow man in a melodious call strengthened by the winds which carry it through mountain passages.

Austrians are reconnecting with their “inner yodel” more and more. Yodeling classes are on the rise, especially among executives and politicians. Courses are offered throughout Austria by several folk music associations.

“We also tailor courses. We go into the workplace, if that’s what the client wants,” says Irene Riegler of Volksliedwerte Oesterreichs (Folksong Workshops, Austria).

“As self-improvement, yodeling has a couple of functions,” says Sepp Gmazd, an instructor with Folksong Workshops. “First, it is a freeing experience. It allows you to express feelings that words can’t. But it also helps you bond with people.”

Yodeling has been in the news in recent months. Last spring a skier plunged 87 yards off a cliff, landing in a tree. It was his yodeling call for help, a sound which maximizes the echo in the mountains, which led a rescue team to him.

But a yodel has also landed in a German court. A score must be settled between an Austrian and a Bavarian about who has the copyright to a yodel tune, one which is sung often on the kitschy weekend folk shows broadcast on public television in both Germany and Austria.

“The common saying here is ‘yodeling is a tool for fools,’ ” says Rudolf Pietsch, a Vienna musicologist and yodeler. “But that’s because of what people see on television: the big-bosomed lady in her dirndl, and the silly lyrics she sings. But this is not what yodeling is. A yodel has no lyrics, only a melody. It can be more like a canon.”

Inside the medieval Lockenhaus castle near the Hungarian border, workshop participants crowd together in an interior chapel to practice a simple yodel cry. In the courtyard below, Mr. Pietsch breaks into a yodel and his wife spontaneously joins in.

“We solve a lot of our differences by yodeling. Not big things, but small things,” says Pietsch. “Doing a yodel brings the harmony back.”

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