A Swiss Yodelling Series: "Jüüzli" of the Muotatal
by Hugo Zemp
color, 126 min, 1986/1987
A 2-DVD set of four films
Swiss-German with English subtitles
These four films present a variant of an alpine singing type characterized by the swift alternation from chest voice to head voice, known since the nineteenth century under the German name of "yodel." In the Swiss German dialect of the Muotatal, a small valley in the Pre-Alps of central Switzerland, the local version of yodels is called Juuz (pronounced "yootz"), or in its diminutive form Jüüzli. Traditional yootzing is characterized by a specific local voice technique performed in the context of work and socializing, in contrast to yodelling at stage performances by singers whose voices are trained according to the esthetic of the Swiss Yodelling Association.
Yootzing and Yodelling (color, 49 min, 1987) - watch a preview
Performances of the local musical tradition and the official folklore are shown in their social contexts. We can see on the one hand peasant activities such as mowing, transporting wooden logs, milking and calling cattle, as well as people sitting together at home or in the local inn and on the other hand, a folk festival featuring wrestling and alphorn playing and the yearly concert of the local yodel choir. Singers of both styles discuss the differences between their practices.
Head Voice, Chest Voice (color, 23 min, 1987) - watch a preview
Innovative graphic animations with sync sound visualize the features of both musical structure and performance technique related not only to traditional local voice characteristics but also to the polished yodelling of a renowned soloist performing at yodel festivals. The film also shows the connections with instrumental music, such as the small alphorn and the diatonic accordion. This documentary is a very rare example of elements of musical structure and performance being explained through visual means (another example is the filmmaker's The Song of Harmonics).
The Wedding of Susanna and Josef (color, 25 min, 1986) - watch a preview
Four manners of yodelling and yootzing take place on the same day. The "Yodel Mass", written in Swiss German dialect by the composer Jost Marty, is conducted by the director of the yodel choir in the church organ loft. Following that is a traditional local yootz arranged for the yodel choir — also performed in the church as a Bach choral would be — which, in a way, makes the profane become sacred. At dinner in a restaurant, a locally well-known traditional yootzer family performs for the wedding party. In the evening some villagers can be found in another inn performing not for an audience this time, but for their own pleasure. The wedding party also appreciates local customs such as large cowbell ringing, whip cracking and diatonic accordion playing to accompany dancing.
Glattalp (color, 29 min, 1986) - watch a preview
Walking up to the summer alpine pastures is a yearly event that both people and cattle look forward to! Cattle calls, yootzing in the stable while milking, calling an alpine blessing through a milk funnel, yootzing together in the evening in the alpine chalet: these are elements that many local people like to see, elements that reflect the idealized past of this "people of herdsmen", as Swiss people like to call themselves. At the end of the film, an unexpected message reveals that real life was not as idyllic as it seems. It is a rare case of a film revealing its "making of" (years before the extras in DVDs became popular).
“Knowing how many television films have been made concerning yodelling as folk entertainment and how neglected the topic has remained from a documentary standpoint, one feels obliged to give special thanks to Hugo Zemp for his outstanding work.” — Max Peter Baumann, Ethnomusicology, 34(2), 1990
“There is a world of difference between documentaries where music is presented in its social sense on the one hand, and filmed presentations of research about notes and tones on the other. It is the great value of both Head Voice, Chest Voice and Yootzing and Yodelling that both aspects are covered in such a well composed way that one fails to realize how unusual this marriage actually is.” — Robert Boonzajer Flaes, Visual Anthropology, 4, 1-7, 1991
“These four films constitute something of a tour de force in exemplifying four approaches to "filming music" within the parameters of a single stylistic philosophy.” — John Baily, Cahiers de Musiques Traditionnelles, 4, 1991 (published in French)
Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Nanook Prize, Bilan du Film Ethnographique, France, 1986 (Glattalp, The Wedding of Susanna and Josef)
Mention, Pärnu Visual Anthropology Film Festival, Estonia, 1988 (Head Voice, Chest Voice)
Mention, International Festival of Scientific Films, Palaiseau, France, 1989 (Head Voice, Chest Voice)
Prix du Patrimoine (Patrimonial Prize), Bilan du Film Ethnographique, France, 1987 (Yootzing and Yodelling)
Study Guide in PDF (coming soon)
Read Hugo Zemp's articles
Filming Music and Looking at Music Films, Ethnomusicology, 1988
Ethical Issues in Ethnomusicological Filmmaking, Visual Anthropology, 1990
Visualizing Music Structure through Animation: The Making of the Film Head Voice, Chest Voice, Ethnomusicology, 1990