We didn’t know what to expect as none of us had heard SWISSWOOD Alphorns before. I was curious. One, possibly two or three alphorns together is how this instrument is usually played, but 10 or more, how would that sound? Well, I can honestly say, it was fantastic and they greatly exceeded my expectations!
SWISSWOOD Alphorns entertained us by playing 11 alphorns, presenting a very varied program, from traditional alphorn tunes to brass music, jazz, gospel and blues.
The playing was very impressive given the restrictions of an alphorn to harmonic series of pitches. When talking to their director, Pirmin Bernhardsgrütter, I learned that most of the players have a background in brass and wind instruments.
SWISSWOOD Alphorns at their yearly Gornergrat performance
Alphorns, Hirtenhorns, Woodhorns
The alphorns were supported by a kettle-drum for rhythm. For some songs a few alphorns were replaced, for example with five trumpets (Tiger rag), blues harps for the bluesy and gospel tunes while a couple of players turned into singers and in other songs played “Hirtenhörner”. These are very similar to alphorns, but straight and were likely in use earlier. The level of play was excellent, the audience spell-bound and giving thunderous applause.
After the show Pirmin told me that the group is now performing for six years, with a concert on the Gornergrat as a highlight. They are having lots of fun and are always trying out new songs, a combination of alphorns and Scottish bagpipes is in planning. Hey, I might even meet them in Edinburgh!
Engel-Chörli Appenzell – “Rugguusserli” and “Zäüerli”
The Engel-Chörli Appenzell is a well-known quantity in Swiss folklore, performing together for 35 years. During the evening they took turns on stage with the Swiss Wood Alphorns, performing three sets of songs with a different focus each time.
When singing traditional Yodel songs, they taught the audience that these are called “Rugguusserli” in Appenzell Innerrhoden, “Zäüerli” in Ausserrhoden and “Jolen” in the Toggenburg. I was struck by the clean and powerful voices of the eight singers. Usually a Yodel choir has approximately 20 singers.
In the second set they performed seasonal advent songs. People from Appenzell are also known for their dry humour and Leo Koller quickly had the audience on his side with a couple of jokes.
A capella folk music from Appenzell to Zansibar
In my view, their best was coming last when they sang “a cappella” using song material from all over the world. The introduction was particularly charming, combining folklore from Appenzell to Zansibar.
The programme included a few of ballads such as “S’Wasser vo Seealp”, earworms like a cover of “Strangers in the night“ with a text in their distinctive Appenzell dialect, a gospel song, and of course the Ruggusserli Blues, which features their director, Emil Koller, as a soloist. On their CD they also have a cover version of famous Swiss singer Polo Hofer’s “Alperose”.
I am always heartened to see how musicians from any genre of music and from different corners of the world get together and easily perform each other’s songs. While proudly wearing their Appenzeller Tracht (traditional costume), the Engel-Chörli is an excellent a cappella choir that can perform folk music from all over world.
We all thoroughly enjoyed the combined concert between SWISSWOOD Alphorns & Engel-Chörli Appenzell and I had this feeling of Swissness, which you can find whenever and wherever Swiss people get together and enjoy our heritage.
Next generation SWISSWOOD Alphorns player in training!