Yodeling and «Talerschwingen»

The men and women stand in a circle, hands in their pockets, concentrating solely on each other and the melody. The lead singer strikes up a tonal sequence and one after the other the rest join in. The singing is natural and intuitive. Almost no other type of yodel touches the spirit as strongly as the Innerrhoden «Rugguusseli» and the Ausserrhoden «Zäuerli».

The two terms «Rugguusseli» and «Zäuerli» refer to multi-voice, wordless natural yodels of sonorous vowels and syllables. Typical for the first voice is the rapid change from the chest register to the head register (falsetto), the «glottal leap». The melody of the «Voozaurer» (lead singer) is supported by an improvised multi-voice harmony, known as «graadhäbe».

The origin of the terms «Rugguusseli» and «Zäuerli» is uncertain, but a document of 1606 mentions the expressions «sauren» and «rungusen» for alpine calls (Alfred Tobler in: «Kuhreihen», 1890). «Zaure» is one of the typical forms of communication in the Alps. It is a cry of elation and life, an expression of enjoyment of sound and echo.

In Innerrhoden it was originally the herdsmen who yodeled. However, from around 1900 onward this form of singing became well-known far beyond the Alps with the rise of solo yodelers. «Rugguusseli» and «Zäuerli» are simple, slow melodies. Although no melodies in minor keys exist, listeners often find the singing melancholic. These days yodeling can be heard at numerous concerts, «Alpstobede» festivities and, of course, on alpine cattle drives.

«Schölleschötte» – music produced by the rhythmic swinging of huge cowbells – is a unique musical performance to which the «Rugguusseli» is the ideal accompaniment. The reverse is the case with Talerschwingen (the rolling of a coin around the inside of an earthenware bowl to create a rhythm). Here the natural yodel takes centre stage and the triad-based drone of the bowls forms the accompaniment. There is no standard tuning of the different bowls but the most popular are those with the same intervals as the cowbells (E-G-A) or in triads.

The people of Appenzell love to come together to sing – and sometimes these sessions can become very boisterous. One person sings the first verse of a «Ratzliedli», followed by another and another and another. Funny, insolent, mocking, playful and everyday rhymes are put to simple melodies, which often come from well-known folk songs. Everyone then joins in the yodeled chorus as the entire gathering becomes a yodeling choir. The «Ratz» part of the word «Ratzliedli» comes from «zom Tratz» meaning teasing, taunting or joking. Some of the texts are handed down from generation to generation but there is always room for invention – they are sheer folk poetry!




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