- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - When someone says hello to Herb Albinus between sets at Hofbrauhaus, the passer-by typically receives an unusual response.

Yodel-ay-ee-ooo.

“It puts a smile on someone’s face when you yodel,” said Albinus, entertainment director for the German restaurant at Grandview Yard who yodels during performances, too. “They can’t replicate it.”

Indeed, some Hofbrauhaus patrons are unaware that the centuries-old form of communication survives.

“It’s a dying art,” said Albinus, 48, a Grandview Heights resident who began yodeling when he was 14 and was trained in 1992 by a yodeling “master” in Las Vegas. “Not too many people even do this anymore.”

Albinus and the few others in the Columbus area who yodel are in demand at this time of year - during Oktoberfest and the fall festival season.

Whether the entertainment involves groups such as the Columbus Swiss Singers, which has three yodelers, or soloists such as Albinus and Western square-dance caller Jason Raleigh, yodelers share a passion for the art form steeped in European - and, later, Appalachian - tradition.

And they enjoy delivering the “party trick” that can stop listeners mid-conversation.

“Sometimes you see people’s jaws drop: ‘Is he really doing that?’ ” said Raleigh, 36, of Grove City.

The distinct sound of yodeling is impressive because it requires practitioners to switch quickly from a falsetto - or high - voice to a low chest voice.

Although yodeling dates back tens of thousands of years as an animal call in various cultures, Albinus said, Alpine yodeling - from which today’s version originated - first appeared about the 16th century in the mountains of Germany and Switzerland.

The practice helped farmers herd their flocks and communicate among far-flung villages.

“It was very echo-y, and there were no phones back then,” Albinus said. “It was not in the music world - you weren’t meant to sing it.”

As cow herders began to congregate in villages, they incorporated lyrics and improvisational harmonies to turn yodeling into musical entertainment, according to writings by Bart Plantenga, who is considered the world’s expert on yodeling. Sometimes, they added cowbells, alpenhorns (think Ricola cough-drop commercials) or other instruments.

Yodeling might have been present in America before the 19th century because of Native American and slave musical traditions, but German immigrants are generally credited with bringing Alpine yodeling here in the late 1800s, Plantenga writes. It found a home in Appalachian music, and early country singers picked it up, with the singing technique reaching its peak popularity in the 1940s and ‘50s (think Slim Whitman).

Yodeling landed a place in pop culture in the song The Lonely Goatherd from the musical The Sound of Music, in hit tunes such as The Lion Sleeps Tonight and, more recently, in the repertoire of singers such as Kacey Musgraves, who got her start as a yodeler, and Jewel.

In 2013, during a Tonight Show skit, actor Brad Pitt and host Jimmy Fallon pretended to yodel across New York skyscrapers.

“It’s definitely a unique experience when you hear it,” said John Long, director of the Columbus Swiss Singers. “Especially when it’s the ones filled with native Swiss dialects.”

Long, 63, learned the technique in 1985 from a yodeler from Switzerland during the North American Swiss Singing Alliance’s annual Saengerfest, a singing festival.

Yodeling, he figured, would make the choir more authentic.

“I got him in a corner - we probably both had a beer in each hand - and asked, ‘How do you do that?’” said Long, a retired vocal-music director from Pickerington Central High School. “He’d sing something, and I’d sing it back. It’s not like I sat down and read a book about it.

“Each time we met, I was stealing a different piece from them.”

Long eventually taught two other choir members, Karen Stewart and Terry McBride.

Stewart, a lifelong singer from Plain City, figured that her “decent range” would benefit her, but yodeling was unlike anything she had ever tried, she said.

“You have to forget all the correct singing techniques and drop the notes in the back of your throat. The sound is round and hollow.

… You’re singing out of your norm.”

Like Long, Stewart has picked up tips and learned new songs at singing festivals.

Today, most yodelers learn the trade informally from other singers, Albinus said. Although his parents are from Germany, the Hamilton County native began yodeling when he worked as a German singer at Kings Island amusement park.

It wasn’t until he moved to Las Vegas to sing at the Excalibur that he really perfected the craft, with help from legendary Alpine and Western yodeler Kerry Christensen.

“I would like to tell you there’s this big four-year college degree, but yodeling takes a love of music, dedication and perseverance,” he said.

Nowadays, Albinus yodels throughout the four nights he entertains at Hofbrauhaus, whether he’s inserting a ay-ee-ooo into a rendition of The Chicken Dance or yodeling German classics.

He can’t yodel the whole performance, he said, because yodeling strains the vocal cords.

Raleigh, the Western square-dance caller, had trouble finding someone to teach him to yodel while growing up in Dayton - so he taught himself using recordings.

He calls, or gives directions to dancers, several times a week throughout the region, incorporating yodeling during songs such as the Disney classic It’s a Small World and the old country favorite Oh, Lonesome Me.

“Instead of singing the words to It’s a Small World, I would just yodel,” Raleigh said. “It’s my trademark. Yodeling sets me apart from anyone else.”

Even though yodeling might be seen as a dying art, at least several young people in the area hope to keep it alive.

A few members of the Columbus Kinderchor, a German choir for youngsters, have dabbled in yodeling.

Ava Riggs, 8, and a friend took home second place in the informal yodeling competition last month at the Columbus Oktoberfest. Although she has learned only one or two songs during the past few months, she plans to further her knowledge.

“It’s got that up-and-down part, and I don’t do that much in my singing,” said the third-grader from French Run Elementary School in Reynoldsburg.

Plus, she likes that yodeling allows her to use her “really loud voice.”

Loud, Stewart said, is a must for yodeling.

“You can’t yodel quietly. You have to put it out there. You use it to sing across mountains.”

___

Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com

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