The halls of Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts are alive with the sound of music – yodeling, to be exact.
But the aahl-dee-oh-lay-eee’s emanating from the college’s music department are not just random sounds. They are part of the school’s yodeling curriculum, the only such bachelor’s and master’s degree major at any university.
The course was added to the curriculum in the fall, joining the school’s other degree programs focusing on Swiss folk music and instruments – like the alpenhorn, a long wooden wind instrument traditionally used in the Alps.
The university’s yodeling classes emphasize not only vocal training, but also “a very broad repertoire, from the traditional Swiss natural yodel to classic yodel vocals, up to very modern variants,” the course’s teacher, Nadja Räss, told USA TODAY.
As the first semester of the new course is coming to an end, Dayana Pfammatter, one of eight yodel majors in Räss’ class, sings praises to the wide range of skills she is learning, such as the emphasis “on voice and body technique.”
Pfammatter, 26, has been yodeling since childhood and conducting a yodel choir for some time. “When I learned that I could major in Yodel as part of folk music studies in Lucerne, I knew immediately this was the right thing for me,” she said.
Surrounded by mountains of central Switzerland, Lucerne is a fitting location to study yodeling, which was used in the past by shepherds communicating with each other from one Alpine valley to another. Over the centuries, yodeling has morphed from herdsmen’s calls to more melodious renditions of folk tales or stories about nature and love of homeland.
Lucerne is also just a crossbow’s shot away from where the fictional William Tell hit an apple on his son’s head, a legend that boosts the region’s folkloric appeal.
In the USA, yodeling was popularized by the 1965 movie “The Sound of Music,” where Maria von Trapp, played by Julie Andrews, yodeled the refrain of the song “The Lonely Goatherd” with her charges. But in Switzerland, this tradition has been practiced for generations, with many competitions and concerts taking place throughout the country. About 200,000 people attend the national festival, which is held every three years.
But not everyone here believes that a degree in this field is needed to succeed as a yodeler.
“I don’t want yodeling to become too sophisticated. The most important thing is that it comes from the heart,” Karin Niederberger, President of the Swiss Yodeling Association, told the local news site, Swissinfo.
“Of course, yodeling does not require a diploma,” teacher Räss, who is a prize-winning yodeler in her own right, said. “You can and should cultivate the original yodeling tradition in the family or in clubs, but there is also room for a good education that trains future yodel teachers.”
That’s why student Pfammatter enrolled in the course. “I want to turn my passion into a profession and later work as a singing teacher,” she said.
The three-year Bachelor’s and a two-year master’s programs are open to anyone, from any country. However, prior yodeling experience is required to pass the entrance exam, along with the knowledge of German. And no lederhosen are needed; contrary to the popular belief, these leather breeches are not Swiss, but originate from the Bavaria region of Germany.