Monday, May 5, 2008

Crazy Americans at Tour de Romandie

What luck! The Tour de Romandie pro cycling race just happened to be held at the same time and in the same area as our Alphorn lessons, in the french area of Switzerland. With two days of lessons fresh under our belts, and our newly-purchased Alphorn itching to be played, we woke up Saturday morning ready to do a different kind of "cheering" for the pro cyclists.

We put on our cycling clothes, Jeff strapped on the backpack containing the Alphorn, and we proceeded to bike from the town of Sierre up the mountain to a village called Vercorin, the location of one of the King of the Mountains points banners.

Along the way up we stopped at an overlook and did a little practicing. Wanted to make sure we remembered how to play before we got around a lot of other race spectators! Plus it's just a nice way to enjoy the view. Jeff demonstrated just how easy it is to lift the carbon fiber horn into the air while playing... Can't do this with a traditional wood one...
Once we got to the top of the mountain, we found a perfect spot where we could see the pro cyclists approaching from way down in the valley. So we did a little more warming up there while cooling down from the bike climb.
While we waited for the pros to arrive, I biked down there to the end of the road before it curves around the hill, to see how it sounds while Jeff played Alphorn from our viewpoint. I was amazed by how well I could hear it so far down there... how it echoed off the surrounding mountains. Just as the Alphorn was originally intended to do, of course...
We got lots of questions and attention from the other spectators who were also standing around waiting for the racers to come through. Of course, the questions were either in French or Swiss German so a lot of the time our answers were to smile and nod, just as almost every day in our lives here (!) We did get to use some of the French we learned in high school, which was fun, even though it mostly just consisted of phrases pertaining to where we live and where we're from... People seem to always be surprised to find that we're American, playing their Swiss National instrument. We are told all the time that we are "more Swiss than they are"!

Luckily the racers soon showed up to take the attention off of us for a while...

They were obviously very focused on the KOM banner coming up around the corner, but some couldn't help but turn their heads toward us when they heard the sound of the Alphorn...In general it seems the Swiss spectators are on the quiet, reserved side. There may be a hand-clap at the moment that the racers pass by, but sometimes they seem to enjoy just watching silently. So we did our best to balance out the silence with our combination of Alphorn and cow-bell ringing. Crazy Americans? Well, if that means enthusiastic, loud, cheering spectators, then I guess that's what we are!
Allez Allez Allez! Bravo!!!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bringing it all together ...

We've just returned from a wonderful long weekend in the French-speaking Alpine village of Nendaz. The 2-day Alphorn course offered us an opportunity to reconnect to one of our first passions in life and the one that brought us together back in 1987: music. It also offered a chance to connect this passion to our love of the mountains and surprisingly, to our love of sport. (More on the last one later!) We felt very fortunate to have studied music as kids and later in college - it certainly helped in our ability to learn this traditional Alpine instrument. After a few hours of lessons, we were able to make music on the Alphorn -- and in a spectacular setting. We recorded some video on the second day of the course, so please envision yourself enjoying a glass of wine while sitting on a sunny terrace in the Alps hearing the following:

We felt such a strong connection to this instrument that we found an Alphorn maker with a shop just a couple hours from Nendaz, visited him Friday evening, and actually bought two carbon fiber Alphorns. On Saturday we biked part of the Tour de Romandie professional bike race mountain stage with an Alphorn on my back, with the plan to play it as the peleton cycled by. This lead to one of the most interesting and exciting blending of passions, tradition, technology, sport, nature, languages, culture, and people. What a fantastic experience!

More on our new Alphorns and the crazy American couple playing the Alphorn at the Tour de Romandie in the next post!


Thursday, May 1, 2008


Musical greetings from Nendaz (ok, "musical" may be stretching it after the first day, but oh well we're enjoying it so far!),
Becky and Jeff