Can you imagine a gang of British brickies breaking into song mid-morning over their tea and biscuits and warbling away together in perfect harmony? Me neither. But last weekend, at the Interlaken Jodlerfest, we discovered that many of Switzerland’s finest voices belong to roofers, builders and carpenters.
Take the Hersche family. We watched Hansueli, a carpenter, and his son Martin, 21, a roofer, sing a beautiful duet accompanied by his other son Roman, 20, also a carpenter, on the accordion. All three belong to a 17-strong yodel choir from Ebrat-Kappel in the eastern canton of St Gallen, half of whose members are under 35.
Then there are the Wallimanns. We met Fredy, a roofer, outside a cafe at about midnight on Saturday, after being drawn to the spot by an especially compelling sing-song. We got talking to his daughter Renate, who spoke excellent English having once had a boyfriend in London. “When he’s at work on the rooftops, my dad loves to sing and yodel,” she told us.
Fredy has written numerous songs and when we headed with them to a late-night cafe he was greeted like a celebrity. Despite this, each time he heard a bunch of people striking up one of his compositions, he appeared as delighted as if it were the first time.
Of course not only tradesmen yodel. We spent a fun couple of hours in the Appenzoell tent with Regula Bieri, who works in child and adult protection, and Ueli, 38, who researches maize varieties. Theirs was a Zurich-based group, which Ueli joined aged 22 when he moved there and wanted to meet people. Yodelling is on the rise in the city: Ueli and Regula’s group, Stadtjodler-Dietikon, takes tuition from Nadia Raess, who classes are fully booked for the next five months (visit http://www.jodel.ch).
Dietikon’s competition song was by another ‘new’ composer, Marie-Therese von Gunten: it was about taking time to laugh, love, dream, play, greet and think. So is there a big difference between ‘old’ and ‘new’ songs? “The old songs are about cows and mountains and the new ones are about life,” Regula declared. “The new ones are popular but the old ones are starting to come back in.”
Then there were the Canadians. At the opening ceremony we met Hans, from the 24-strong Calgary group Heimattreu, most of whom are of Swiss origin. Their most famous member, Bill, however, is not. A professional musician with the Calgary Philharmonic, Bill chanced upon Swiss music when someone asked his help – as a horn player – to blow an alphorn. After having a go he wanted one: now he plays, makes alphorns (156 at the last count) and teaches it – sometimes even in Switzerland.
It goes without saying that most people we met were skiers or snowboarders – and that, of course, makes them even more brilliant.
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