The United States Postal Service has issued a stamp honoring the father of Country music, Jimmie Rodgers, the man who taught the world to yodel.
The stamp is a 13-cent stamp, but the Postal Service has upped the letter rate to 15 cents.
Yodeling has always had its ups and downs.
Item: George Gobel yodles.
Item: The Dionne Quintuplets yodeled.
Item: Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink, the greatest operatic contralto of our century, yodeled.
Item: Three years ago, at a hafl-hearted honkey-tonk bar, I borrowed a man's guitar and broke into song. Friends had told me I had a million-dollar ingredient in my voice - a yodel. My yodel, I am told, was fine. It was the million-dollar check that bounced.
The Oxford Companion to Music defines yodeling as "the common in Switzerland and the Austrian Alps, of singing without words and in doing so, passing often from the normal voice to the falsetto. The effect is very gay."
To say that to yodel is pass from the normal to the falsetto voice is to say that Dante's jaunt through the Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise was a well-earned vacation.
The normal voice, when it knows it's about to become a yodel, is not quite a normal voice. Jazz vocalist and yodeler Leon Thomas doesn't really seem to be talking about the "normal" voice when he says "the deper you breathe, the more power you have in your lungs; the deeper you breathe, the deeper you think." Other yodelers just say they are apprehensive as the normal voice approaches the yodel.
Besides the barrier between the normal and falsetto is formidable. It took me a year of long, loud showers to pass throught it.
When most people go from the normal to falsetoo voice they slide. Sliding is not yodeling. Yodeling is hitting a home run.
A note comes piaching up your throat, crack goes your larynx and your voice sails over the centered fence. Swiss yodeler Hans Curjel says his yodels link him "with the more simple and primeval epochs of the human race."
David Bronson, a Washington printmaker, was just crossing the West Virginia state line at dawn when he heard this on his car radio:
"Jesus, Jesus set me free
Yodalayhee, yodalayhee, yodalay-eee hee!"
The announcer said the song was "Jesus put a Yodel in My Sould." Bronson sent away for the record and found, like so many of us, that his life had seen irrevocably changed. By Wanda Jackson.
Wanda Jackson, a big country star of the '50s and 60s, has been yodeling since she was 7. Back in the '30s all the Western swing bands had women, and for one purpose: to yodel. Seven years ago Wanda Jackson became a born-again Christian and started singing the gospel. But it's hard to keep a yodel down.
"My husband said I sould sing a gospel song with a yodel," Jackson recalled. "I thought he'd flipped his lid. It didn't seem like the right thing to do. God might not like it. But I prayed about it. 'Lord, if You can use a yodel song, lead me.'"
Worship, however, is quite accustomed to the yodel. The first cut on Pharoah Sanders 1969 album "Jewels of Thought" (Impusle) is "Hum-Allah-Ham-Allah-Hum-Allah." Leon Thomas does the vocals alternating the words Prince of Peace with a throat yodel. Rolling Stone touts that yodel as "amazing," which is a rather weak adjective to describe a vibration deep as a river and powerful as thunder.
When local fashion designer Susan bush heard Thomas yodel she thought, "the man had three throats. It was incredible. It was mystic."
Thomas explained how he discovered his yodel to Rolling Stone, "In 1965 or '66, I heard Pygmies yodel for the first time, on a record in the Columbia Masterworks series . . . It changed my whole perspective. The oldest music we've found out so far is the Pygmy, and right now what I'm doing is using them as a major frame of reference in all my new explorations."
Annalise Pirchner, a secretary at the Austrian embassy, has been yodeling before she can even remember. "Oh, I was singing since I was 3 and probably yodeling then. I still yodel sometimes. It's nothing serious."
Maria von Atcigen, whose husband works at the Swiss folklore group, 35 strong and very active. She occassionally lets out a yodel as she cleans house, as well as when she's skiing.
Books have been written about the Alpine yodel, most of them German. Von Atcigen gives a taste of the complexity: "The yodel in eastern Switzerland is different from the yodel in central Switzerland.Men yodel in the East, a slower yodel, and they harmonize like a barbership quartet. In the central part women yodel, and do it with songs. And the Austrian and Bavarian yodels are different, too."
And the differences are not to keep the tourists happy. People in the Alps don't yodel for tourists. They yodel for themselves.
"Where my father has a farm there's a cross on a hill and in the evening many farmers will pray, and in their prayers are a type of yodel."
Hans Curjel, in a pamphlet on yodeling, writes that the yodel was first used by herdsmen to summon their flocks or to call distant neighbors, and "in early times yodeling was also used to exorcise evil spirits."
We who yodel often overestimate the marketability of our magic. Unfortunately, yodeling makes the pop charts only every 100 years. In 1829 and 1830 Swiss yodelers wowed London and Paris. In the 1920s and '30s Jimmie Rodgers made yodeling so big that when the Dionne quints made a movie in 1938, the five 4-year-olds donned cowgirl outfits and yodeled. George Gobel yodeled from the start of his career - as a country western singer.
In the late 1950s, Kurt Jaensch and his brother-in-law tried to make Alpine yodeling big. "We cut the 'Anyone Can Yodel' record and made records like the 'Yodeling Santa Claus' but we never sold too many," Jaensch remembered. "We did have a lot of fun."
Comedian and "Hollywood Squares" regular George Gobel made quite a reputation as a boy soprano in church back in Chicago. Then his voice cracked and he's been yodeling ever since. First as a yodeling country and westerns inger, but, alas, you won't find Lonesome George in the Country and Western Hall of Fame.
Still, he says, "During my act sometimes I get up on my toes and let out a yodel. People always laugh and then applaud. To them yodeling is old-timey and corny, like tap dancing."
A good yodel can make you happy as a hairball in a Koren cartoon. But many people are suspicious of what they can't do, and a yodel is free, wild and inimitable. Too primitive a joy for this sophisticated world.
And yet we, and yodeling, survive. In Cleveland there is Scotty the Window Washer. A local bar gives him a how yodeling survives, with nice, neighborly support. In Switzerland, folklorists recently discovered a yodeler with tremendous volume, range and technique. They recorded his virtuosity, but otherwise left him and his yodel unspoiled.
He was a game keeper in the Alps. He still is.