Experience 5: Learning to yodel in Austria

by Christa Larwood
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It was a quiet morning in the upper reaches of the Austrian Alps. Fat grey clouds grazed the snow-specked mountain tops and cast deep shadows in the valley below. The only sound was the rumble of a scouring wind and the soft lowing of cows from a distant field. Then suddenly the morning lull was shattered.

HOP-SO DA-RE I-RI!

A full-chested, octave-sliding yodel rang out across the landscape. Christian Eder, dressed in a traditional pair of lederhosen and checked shirt, paused for effect then sucked in a deep breath and let fly with another, the sound seeming to cut through the air and ruffle the grass on distant slopes.

We were on this blowy mountain to learn about the art of yodelling, an alpine practice used by farmers and families in this area for countless generations – and of course popularised by Julie Andrews and her lonely goatherd in the 1965 film, The Sound of Music.

"In former times, before cell phones came along, people living on the mountains needed something to transmit messages," Christian said. "So they developed this kind of singing language. They would yodel down the mountain to say 'I'm coming home now', or something like that, and their families could answer back over those great distances. There are thousands of yodels, all with different meanings."

Inspired by the tradition, Christian has established the world's first yodelling walking trail, called the Jodelwanderweg, in the mountains around his village of Konigsleiten, east of Innsbruck. During the warmer months, hikers can make their way along alpine trails winding from one spectacular mountain view to the next and pick up some basic yodelling skills by listening to recordings at dedicated stations.

"People are a little bit shy in the beginning," Christian said, "but after a while they really let loose."

We soon saw this trend in ourselves as we followed his lead, and witnessed our first bleating attempts develop with startling swiftness into wincingly loud yodels. There is something immensely satisfying about summoning up all one's vocal power and letting loose over the mountains – even if your best attempts sound reminiscent of a discordant foghorn, as in my case.

The key to a good yodel, according to Christian, is the location. "I find it much easier to yodel on the mountain than in my living room," he says. "You just feel it. A good yodel can be felt, not just heard."

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