Roland loves to play the alphorn. We asked him how he came to this extraordinary hobby and what to consider when playing an alphorn.
Roland, when did you start playing the alphorn?
“My first wife’s ex-husband has his own workshop making alphorns. I met him 19 years ago and he often played something in nature. Since I’ve always loved the solitude and silence of the mountains, playing music in nature brought out special emotions in me. He didn’t need much persuasion to have me try it – although I had forgotten how to read musical notes from childhood. That was what gripped me! Shortly afterwards, I bought my first alphorn made of fir wood and registered for an alphorn course in the mountains. After only one week the whole beginner group could play a simple song, even following musical notes.”
How long did it take you to play the first sound?
“The first notes are pretty easy to learn. Whether they sound nice is another question. This requires intensive and above all regular practice. I practiced for about 1 hour a day, and once a week I went to one of the numerous Swiss Alphorn Clubs. As with everything you do, you need motivation and passion to play the alphorn. The peculiarity is that you lose the tone very quickly if you don’t practice regularly. The muscles of the lips have to be trained so that they are flexible and fit exactly onto the mouthpiece. This is the only way to produce a strong and even tone. I was able to play my first song on my own after about 3 months. As an Uber driver-partner, I can divide my time for practice freely, which gives me great pleasure.”
Where did you get your alphorn and where was it made?
“This is a special story: I was once again in the Grisons mountains in solitude when suddenly a girl (at that time about 21 years old) appeared. She asked me if she could play the alphorn with me…. which we did. It turned out that she is a trained carpenter and had built her own alphorn. She told me about the craft of alphorn making, especially about the different kinds of wood that can be used. She used the local Swiss stone pine, a rather soft wood, which gives the alphorn a wonderfully soft tone and also smells very good. I ordered my alphorn from her on the same day, and have been in love with this instrument for about 10 years now. It is unique and there are only about 10 alphorns in this design in all of Switzerland. I certainly would never sell it!”
What are the different types of alphorn?
“There are basically 8 different standard lengths of alphorns. Since an alphorn is a natural instrument, its length also defines the basic tone or tuning. Horns are available in lengths between 2.45 m and 4.05 m. In Switzerland, the length has been set at 3.47 m, which corresponds to the keynote “f#”. Usually the alphorn is made up of three parts for easier transport. Traditionally, different types of wood are used. Nowadays, alphorns are also made of plastic, but they don’t sound like wooden horns.”
How do you combine your hobby with your driving activity?
“I prefer to play my alphorn when the sun is shining and I wake up in the morning knowing that today is a nice day to play. As I can choose my own driving hours as an Uber driver-partner, I have no problems in combining my hobby with driving.”
What advice do you have for those interested in playing alphorn / beginners?
“As I said, you also need a high level of motivation, fascination and passion combined with hard work to learn how to play the alphorn. I definitely recommend attending an alphorn course. There you can find out whether playing the alphorn can become a new passion. Another advantage is that you can play on borrowed instruments without having to buy your own.”
Where can you play the alphorn?
“Of course you can play the alphorn almost anywhere. Due to their size and sound intensity, small rooms are of course not particularly suitable. Since you can take it everywhere despite its size (divided into three parts), it is especially recommended to play in nature where the sound can really unfold. The alphorn sounds particularly beautiful when a natural echo is produced, e.g. at a mountain lake, in front of a rock wall, in the forest or even in a church. The echo is massively damped in snow. But why not a serenade in the middle of the city, e.g. for my Uber passengers?”
How much does an alphorn cost?
“Depending on the type of wood, design and quality, an alphorn in Switzerland costs between CHF 3’500 and CHF 4’300. In addition, I recommend a padded transport bag, which costs around CHF 250.”