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  • 14

    Joyful Shouts in the Alps...
    Health/Wellness; Posted on: 2007-04-13 14:50:47 [ Printer friendly / Instant flyer ]
    Natuur Juuz

    Bennett Konesni - Sloweek

    June was just three days away, and it was snowing. Hard. By nightfall we had six inches and it looked like it would continue to snow for at least another day. The farmer’s faces betrayed concern as the snow covered the fresh grass in the pastures, and the livestock stood under the eaves of the barn, staring balefully out at the snow. Everyone seemed low, even the goats, who, as I brought them one by one through the milking parlor, were giving less milk than usual.

    Suddenly, from the darkness of the pigpen, came the whooping voice of farmer and cheesemaker Oskar Pfyl. He was singing a joyful song without words, which warbled up and down and echoed in the cold interior of the barn like lone reveler’s shouts in a cathedral. The goats turned and looked, cocking their heads and the pigs squealed as he distributed their feed. Just then I realized what Oskar was doing lifting our spirits in the face of the hardship of this unexpected late-spring snowfall.

    The singing continued and I turned back to milking. ‘My goodness,’ I whispered to the goats, ‘it’s a juuz!’

    The Swiss-German word juuz (Pronounced ‘yootz’), derives from a verb meaning, ‘to erupt into spontaneous shouts of joy.’ It describes one of the world’s most unique and uplifting sounds, the rough yodels of the farmers of the Swiss Alps.

    The natuur juuz, with its echoing yelps and cries and its yodeled folktunes, was at one time the work song of the Swiss farmer. Herdsmen beckoned their cows in from far off pastures with loud calls that bounced off steep mountain faces and ran down into the valleys. They burst into song while milking livestock in the barn or lumbering on the slopes. And in evenings, on top of quantities of local brew, farmers would Juuz in local beerhalls and then polka with their girlfriends and wives to their native accordion dance music.

    This ‘natural juuz’ is the antecedent of the modern choral juuz, sung by tens of thousands across Switzerland today and performed at cultural gatherings for large, appreciative audiences. Outsiders know this style by the familiar term, ‘yodel,’ but the natuur juuz, retains its distinction because of the open, natural style of the singing and its intimate connection to traditional Swiss pastoral lifestyles.

    Today, only a few farmers carry on the tradition of singing while working in the pastures, forests and barns. In May of 2006 I traveled to the small, remote valley of Muotathal in central Switzerland. It was an epic journey that began in my college library with an old, dusty LP record and ended in small, rustic farmhouses in the heart of the Swiss Alps.

    Years earlier, I discovered an old record tucked away in a dark corner of a school library. It had a photograph of a Swiss farmer on the cover, mouth open in song, hand cupping his ear, eyes closed in concentration. His name was Erasmus Betschtart and his songs were some of the most striking examples of work songs I had ever heard. Unlike rhythmic chants used in fields of cotton and cassava, these songs were more open, obeying a beat but not married to it. Gentle, like lullabies, but sharp enough to carry down slopes and across valleys, these songs sounded like wordless hymns shouted out from grassy mountain flanks into the alpine air. I was entranced, and decided I must go hear the natuur juuz in person.

    This led me, this past May, to the barn where Oskar Pfyl was, almost inexplicably, singing amongst his pigs in the snow. At his mountaintop farm I explored the making of traditional goats milk cheese and helped prepare for the annual walking of the cows up to the mountain from the winter pastures in the valley. While working, Oskar would occasionally burst into traditional juuz and in the evenings he would juuz a prayer out over the mountains, the sound of which echoed from slope to slope, bringing the livestock in for the night.

    Oskar was shy about singing, as were most farmers in Muotathal. For at least 40 years, non-farmers have looked on juuz practitioners as backwards, old-fashioned mountain hicks. The numbers of singing farmers has steadily dropped, replaced by folkloric yodelers singing in choruses during cultural festivals in Switzerland’s towns and cities.

    The two styles are in fact quite different. Traditionally the natuur juuz has used a different scale than the choral juuz. The third note in this scale is sung a micro-tone flat as compared to the choral juuz, leading music teachers in Swiss schools to denounce this music as being out of tune, and hence un-learned and unsophisticated. This accounts for some of the stigmatism attached to the old natuur juuz.

    News Source: slowfood.com


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