REVIEW: Alpine Yodeling in Chinese

Shoutout to the Confucius Institute for hosting this awesome lecture/performance.

I’m a huge fan of Chinese music. I listen to traditional pipa, modern groups like SodaGreen, and all time greats like Leslie Cheung. However, I have never heard of yodeling in China because yodeling doesn’t have a presence or history in China. The speaker, Lu Tong, only started promoting yodeling to China in 2010, and yodeling had its first feature performance as a song in the recent hit movie Hello Mr.Billionaire. I think yodeling will become more popular as Chinese movie music, because if you aren’t familiar with Chinese comedy, it is very ridiculous, care-free, and boisterous–perfect for yodeling.

Something I never realized about yodeling is that it is a music technique not a music style. For instance yodeling is in the same category as operatic singing not jazz. Yodeling began in the alps as a way of communication and was an imitation of the sound of wolves. So in yodeling different repetitions, tones and words had different meanings. For example if something is yodeled three times, something urgent is being communicated. Jimmy Fallon and Brad Pitt did a skit where they communicated to each other across New York City yodeling. The skit is humorous but not so far fetched.

Different regions have different yodeling styles. Every country has their own unique style, but most styles can be categorized in two particular styles, Alpine and Country yodeling. Alpine yodeling uses more chest voice and can be described as more operatic. It has a lower tone, stronger resonance and longer notes. Country yodeling is more light hearted, free-flowing, and softer. Many say that Country yodeling sounds like a donkey.

What Lu Tong was demonstrating today was his journey of trying to create a unique yodel that was domestic to China. He wants to create a Chinese way to yodel. First he imitated how Northern Chinese farmers call their pigs. The sound these farmers make is a “lue” sound. When he performed a song using this sound I noticed he yodeled extremely fast and with a relatively stable pitch compared to most yodeling. He also performed a yodel that used the sound Chinese farmers use to call their chickens, which as you can probably guess sounds very similar to a chickens cluck. Yodeling originated from imitating animal sounds, so using a chickens clucking is an accurate way to yodel. However you can also base yodeling off non-animal sounds. Lu said yodeling reminds him of the sound of Chinese ambulances.

Something else very interesting about yodeling in China, is that the classic yodel sounds, like  “you-wu-di” and “you-de-lai” are words in Chinese. When he performs he often likes to incorporate a story with the yodeling, or give some context of a discussion happening when he is yodeling.

I wish there was more yodeling and less lecturing. It was nice hearing him yodel as examples throughout his talk, but we only got the chance to hear one full song.

One thing that was nice about this being a lecture-performance, is that I was able to ask a question afterwards. I asked if he has ever thought about combining buddhist chanting with yodeling. He actually said he has done it and performed part of a buddhist sutra in a yodel style. However, he said this wouldn’t be popular in most places as it is seen as disrespectful to the sutra.

Ronald McTrump

I am a senior studying business and I have lots of travelling experience in Asia. I am very pessimistic and opinionated about life, but art brings me happiness and I hope my pessimism isn't apparent in my reviews, for the sake of the artists!

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