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Swiss yodellers ready to sound out overseas competition

Yodellers will be treating Fribourg to three days of alpine melodies Keystone

Thousands of Swiss are warming up their vocal chords ahead of this weekend's federal yodelling festival in the city of Fribourg.

More than 12,000 yodellers – including groups from as far afield as Canada, South Africa and Australia – are expected to take part in the three-day event.

The competitions begin on July 5, but the festival is officially opened with a flag handing-over ceremony the following morning.

Organisers of the event – which takes place every three years – say high standards of singing are guaranteed because all participating groups of yodellers have previously won their respective heats in regional finals.

The competitions take place in halls and tents set aside for the festival, but folklore groups bring their music to the streets and alleys of Fribourg with spontaneous live performances.

German predominates

German-speaking Swiss traditionally dominate the proceedings, with only three yodelling clubs prepared to sing exclusively in French. Apart from the Italian-speaking region of Ticino, every Swiss canton has its own yodelling club.

The Federal Yodelling Association was founded in 1910 and since then the number of participants allowed per club has doubled. Whereas only 14 singers per club were allowed make their yodelling voices heard in 1978, this year 22 yodellers are admitted.

“This is one of the changes we have made,” said Paul Rudin, secretary of the Federal Yodelling Association. Another modernisation measure is that this year female flag swingers are allowed to take part – wearing trousers, of course.

Techno yodelling

However, in the early 1990s techno yodeller Christine Lauterburg accused the club and its then president, Hermann Noser, of refusing to take any steps to modernise it. The association barked back at her, saying Lauterburg’s music was “far from being cultural”.

“It’s not true that we are not revising our rules and regulations and that we don’t go with the time,” Rudin told swissinfo. “And,” he added, “how often are the rules of chess or football changed?”

Nobody can actually say how yodelling developed, but legend has it that it was invented by alpine cowherds and shepherds, who sang loudly to fend off loneliness. They began to experiment with the range of their voices, which would echo through the mountains.

In 1826 Johann Rudolf Wyss, Swiss writer and author of the Swiss national anthem, described the peculiarity of yodelling as “a kind of singing with no rules, which was mainly pursued by herdsmen of the Alps”.

Educated voices

As the federal yodelling festival is actually a contest, Rubin said rules were needed in order to decide on the best singer or club.

“How else would we be able to assess the artists,” he said. “The men and women in a yodelling club are more than just a few chirping birds, who want to release a sound or two,” Rubin added.

Every club or individual yodelling artist is allowed to perform one song, which the jury judges by its tunes, articulation, rhythm and dynamics.

This year more than 12,000 participants and 80,000 visitors are expected to attend the 25th edition of the festival.

One of the highlights of this year’s festival will be a midnight performance by hundreds of alphorn players, followed by a firework display.

The festival reaches its climax on Sunday afternoon with a giant parade through Fribourg, normally led by groups of flag swingers, who skilfully toss and twirl the red and white Swiss flag high into the air.


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR