Fri, Jul 29, 2005 - Page 14 News List

The Swiss will blow you away with alphorns

By Meredith Dodge  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Alphorn Ensemble Engiadina is in town for Switzerland's national day.

PHOTO COURTESY OF GERMAN CULTURAL CENTER

If you're going to imagine a stereotypical Swiss person, you may think of someone with an alphorn, due to all the Swiss connotations that it possesses. So tonight in Taipei, alphorn fans and Swissophiles will be given the rare chance to witness the alphorn in action when the Alphorn Ensemble Engiadina plays at the German Cultural Center.

The alphorn (also known as the alpenhorn) is a long, narrow wind instrument that curves up and flares out at the end. The wooden instrument was developed nearly 2,000 years ago by Celtic tribes living on the northern slopes of the Alps and was used to calm the dairy cows at milking time and to signal the twilight, when shepherds would bring their sheep in for the night.

The alphorn came to be an important part of alpine culture and was a mainstay of meetings and festivals. Craftsmen used to look for trees curved at the base from which to carve their alphorns, but nowadays the base is made from a separate piece of wood. With a simple design and time-tested dimensions, the alphorn is capable of producing powerful, reverberating notes with a range of three octaves, despite its lack of lateral holes. Although alphorn music is characterized by long, arching tones, some players are capable of amazing virtuosity.

The Alphorn Ensemble Engiadina hails from St Moritz/Engadin in southeastern Switzerland. The group was put together informally in 1988, playing now and again at parties. The six-member group, which includes a tourism board director, two policemen and three retirees, solidified in 1992 and became affiliated with the St. Moritz summer and winter resort.

Today the ensemble plays for television and film production. They even hold their own annual Alphorn Day in Engadin. They have made trips to Vail, Colorado, where they played at the 2000 World Cup Ski Racing, and to Asia, making stops in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City and now Taipei.

Trade Office of Swiss Industries Deputy Director Enrico Pianta met the group's leader Hanspeter Danuser when the two were working for Swiss tourism in Dubai, UAE. "I knew that the group had been invited to the World Expo in Aichi, so I got in touch and asked them why not stop in Taipei ? we would be very happy to have them hear and be able to give Taipei a little hint of Swiss culture and heritage," he said. The ensemble's visit is perfect timing because Switzerland's national day is just around the corner on Monday.

Swiss National Day was created in 1899 to commemorate the Rutli Oath, Switzerland's founding act. In the summer of 1291, representatives from the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden joined together to found the Swiss Federation. The day is traditionally celebrated with communal meals, patriotic speeches, singing, gymnastics and of course alphorn playing.

Besides their 7pm performance at the German Cultural Center tonight, the Alphorn Ensemble Engiadina will be playing at Taipei 101 for the Swiss Alphorn Festival tomorrow at 2:30pm, which also includes an activity for audience members to try out the alphorn. Both performances are free. The group will also take part in the invitation-only Swiss National Day Celebration at the Far Eastern Hotel tomorrow night.

The German Cultural Center is at 12F, 20 Heping W Rd, Sec1, Taipei (台北市和平東路一段20號12樓).

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