American country-music crooners like Jewel may regularly incorporate “yodelay-hee-hoos” into their stage acts, but according to Swiss native Elsbeth Gugi, this almost hypnotic vocal art form is as authentically European as lederhosen and edelweiss. “Yodeling has been practiced by people in the Alps to communicate from mountaintop to mountaintop since prehistoric times,” she explains. “It’s a sound that comes from the heart. When you feel great you just want to let it out, and yodeling is a great way to do that.”
Gugi should know. She started yodeling while working on a New Zealand dairy farm soon after turning 18. “Whenever I met someone and they found out I was from Switzerland, they’d ask me to yodel,” she recalls. “Finally I asked my mother to send me tapes of people yodeling that I’d listen to while milking the cows. And because it was just me and the cows most of the time, I wasn’t worried about trying it out myself.”
After studying opera in Vienna, which she didn’t particularly like, Gugi went on to train in the art of cabaret at New York City’s Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. “I spent a long time after that performing cabaret and jazz and didn’t yodel much at all,” she says. But then 15 years ago Gugi relocated to Oakley (just east of Park City) where, not surprisingly, she found more demand for yodeling and European folk songs than cabaret. She’s now a fixture at the Bavarian-inspired Goldener Hirsch Inn (Deer Valley Resort’s Silver Lake Village, 7570 Royal St, 435.649.7770,goldenerhirschinn.com), where on Sundays during the après-ski hours she plays the accordion, leads sing-alongs, and, of course, yodels.
“I mix a little cabaret in my act, too,” Gugi says. “I love yodeling, but I don’t know anyone who’d want to listen to it for three hours.”