Untours Cafe

Ellen Peter's pictures of Alphorns moves me to muse about this Swiss Alpine instrument. First of all just a bit of background information. The alps (small "a") is not the Swiss word for mountains;

it rather refers to the high meadows where the farmers take their cows to graze during the summer.

On these meadows, huts are built, in which some of the community's farmers live. These settlements are so isolated that communication is difficult. Presently the alphorn is thought of as a musical instrument; but it was invented to communicate a message.

Some notes played could take the place of a really difficult hike in order to talk face-to-face. A certain melody might mean, for example, "keep your eye open for such-and-such cow, a critter that we've been unable to find." Another aspect of the isolation of the alps is that these meadows are too inaccessible as a place from which the cows' milk can be marketed; so the Swiss make cheese in one of the summer huts at a particular alp (meadow) where a given herd of cows grazes.

(Untourists gather in front of one of the storage huts where cheese is stored. Note the stones on which the hut rests....they build them that way so that rodents and other critters cannot get in.)

One of the few guided events Untours offers is a trp to see cheese made to a high 'alp" (some of you may have been to "Magisalp," "Stockalp," or"Griesalp"). The farmer who milks the cows (several farmers' cows share an "alp") weighs the milk of each cow periodically during the summer so that he can calculate the proportion of the total milk that belongs to a given farmer.

Mrs. Cheesemaker with Ellen's neice...

Then in the fall before the cows are taken down to the village where the farmers live an event must take place.

To signal (rather to ceremonialize) the end of the cheese making season the cheese is divided among the farmers in proportion to the milk each farmer's cows have given during the season. One of the events which is on our Swiss calendar of events lists every September is the "Kaseteilet" festivities whic celebrate the dividing of the cheese: yodeling of course; and feature is always Alphorn music--an open air concert.The Alphorn is not a good concert-hall instrument; it sounds best at an out-of-doors concert like the one at this divding-of-the-chese festival.

The most beautiful Alphorn concert I have ever heard was one played about one kilometer away to entertain a group of hikers being guided by moonlight to the Rigi above Lake Luzern. If there is a groundswell of requests from Untours Cafe, I will consider writing a blogg about this hike. Hint: read "The Most Beautiful Sunrise in the World" chapter five of Mark Twain's "Tramp Abroad" to discern how I talked about 15 Untourists to acompany me on this long hike.
(thanks to Cafe members Eleanor Fleming, Marlene Hench, Patti Mollenhauer, for letting me mooch their photos ---all up on their pages on the Cafe -- along with Untours' staff Ellen Peters, Cathrin Baumbauch and Marilee Taussig for additional photos and help. )

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