Yodel School, Zell Am See, Austria
It turns out that I’m at least physically able to yodel. My skill level, though? Well, that’s another story. But some people have a genetic trait that means they will never be able to do it properly. Those poor souls. They’ll never experience the magic of shouting out across the mountains and hearing the sound reverberate back to them.
My training to become a yodeller begins unofficially on the way up to the top of the Schmittenhöhe Mountain above the Austrian town of Zell Am See. Standing in a crowded cable car, leaning against the wall for support, I hear a yodel cry fill the space. It’s my instructor who has spontaneously broken out in song before we’ve even reached the summit.
This isn’t part of the lesson – he just can’t help himself. Yodelling is in his blood.
Thomas Reitsamer (who calls himself Tony professionally, because he thinks it sounds more authentic) came from a family of musicians and artists. He tells me that he was singing and playing instruments from a young age. And it was when he was a kid that he first heard yodelling.
“Every day I heard it on the radio in the kitchen of my mum or my grandma,” Thomas explains.
“They listen to this music and I liked it and so I tried it. And then I found, oh, I also can yodel.”
At the top of Schmittenhöhe Mountain, we find an empty spot on the grass to do our lesson. Thomas tests the spot by with a melodic shout. It bounces back. Perfect.
The lesson is not so much a drill of skills (luckily, because it turns out mine aren’t so strong). It’s more of singalong. Sometimes we yodel together with the help of Thomas’s accordion, at times he performs his favourite songs on his own, and he encourages me to do a couple of solos.
Even though I don’t rate myself, the small crowd that’s gathered around us clap and cheer and I start to feel at least a little bit Austrian.
Thomas explains the main reason for yodelling – it was to communicate with family members who were further down the mountain or to get a message to a village across the valley. Perhaps your mother wanted you to come home for dinner, or perhaps you were trying to impress a girl. If it was the latter, your style was important!
A good yodel comes from deep within you, Thomas tells me. It uses a part of your soul. This isn’t simple communication, it’s part of your identity and part of what defines mountain life.
“I think the frequency of yodelling has very special waves and it’s good for you to listen,” he says.
“It’s good for your body, like meditation – but a funny meditation.”
It explains why Thomas is always yodelling. The unprompted cry in the cable car was nothing. He’ll do it on the street, in bars and even in international airports. I ask where else he yodels.
“Everywhere! When I go in the region, when I go into a cafe or a restaurant, everybody shouts, ‘Can you yodel something!’”
He, by his own admission, is quite famous around Zell Am See.
“I do it the whole day. I live in a village and in the morning, when I stand up, I go onto the balcony and I yodel and some farmers yodel me back. But then some people across the street, they hear that and they are happy and they smile and they feel good.”
I can feel it myself. I feel good. Perhaps it’s the yodelling, perhaps it’s the infectious energy that Thomas brings. It could also be the incredible views we have here of the snow capped mountains and the lake beneath us. Whatever it is, I have gone from slight embarrassment at singing in public to wanting to do more, to get better.
Thomas looks at me. Perhaps he can sense this change in me.
“Yodelling is a magical thing,” he says.
Indeed. And I feel like I’ve got many more tricks to learn.
For accommodation, I highly recommend the Hotel Tirolerhof in Zell Am See.