Kerry Christensen - Alpine and Western Yodeling Master

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About the Alphorn

Originating as a crude wooden signaling instrument, the alphorn has evolved into the national folk instrument of Switzerland.  In the beginning Swiss farmers blew upon it to summon help and to call the cattle from the pastures.  The haunting tones could be heard for miles through the clear Swiss mountain air,  Eventually, shepherds took their alphorns to the pastures to pass the time and to entertain other shepherds within audible range,  It is said that the alphorn was played while the cows were being milked because the soothing sounds had a calming effect on the animals.

An alphorn is crafted from a spruce tree which has been gently curved at the base by the weight of the winter snows from the time it was a young sapling.  The tree is cut off at the base, air-dried for a year, sawed in half lengthwise, hollowed out, glued back together, wrapped with split cane for strength, and varnished.  Finally the bell is beautifully painted with the Swiss flag and alpine flowers.

An alphorn is played with a mouthpiece fashioned of boxwood.  Because of its twelve and a half foot length, a range of four octaves can be reached.  While only the "natural" harmonic tones are available, many beautiful melodies can be played.  Several composers have been inspired by such melodies.

By the 20th century the alphorn's construction had been refined, allowing its acoustical potential to be fully realized, making it a true musical instrument.  Today, modern composers are writing for the alphorn in many instrumental settings.  The alphorn has come a long way from its crude beginning to a solo instrument to today's concert stage.


This picture is of me playing alphorn in Hallstadt Austria.


Even cows love the sound of the alphorn.



©2007 Kerry Christensen