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Alphorn blowing in Bavaria: between tradition, craftsmanship & passion

Whether it’s the classic traditional dress or leisurely curling – there’s a whole selection of customs in Bavaria that carry the lifestyle of days gone by into the present. These also include the state’s musical traditions and specifically playing an alphorn. This is a brass instrument that is mainly popular in the alpine region. Brass instrument? Yes, as although it is made out of wood, the way it produces sound categorises it under brass instruments. We reveal more about how the alphorn is made and where you can have a go at playing one yourself in the following.

A popular instrument in Bavaria

According to the passed-down tradition, the popular alphorns are supposed to have been originally used by herders as a signal for communication. A painting in South Germany’s oldest wooden chapel, St. Anna in Allgäu, also portrays a herder together with this kind of long brass instrument. Today the alphorn is extremely popular beyond groups of herders too. Regular meetings are organised in Bavaria not least due to this fact. For example, more than 300 alphorn blowers, whether it’s soloists or ensembles, meet to play music together at the annual Allgäu Alphorn Blower Meet. By the way, did you know? The Allgäu Alphorn Meet is already taking place for the 60th time in August 2018. No less interesting is the fact that the longest alphorn made from one piece entered into the Guinness Book of Records in 1982 came from Bavaria. The 20,67 metre long instrument can be seen today at the workshop where it was made Alphornbau Biermaier in Berchtesgaden.

Craftsmanship for professionals

The process with which the alphorn is made also uses the classic technique of manufacturing a pipe out of wood – a craftsmanship that only a few specialist instrument makers master in Bavaria. The alphorns can only be made out of suitable tree trunks, preferably spruce. Once the two tree trunk halves have been hollowed out, dried out and then wrapped, the instrument’s mouthpiece is put on. The bent downwards shape of a spruce that had grown crooked used to be used for this and they could usually be found on Bavarian mountain slopes. This curvature was so important as it was responsible for the bell at the end of the instrument and therefore also the alphorn’s final sound. Today the process is often standards using a CNC process – even the alphorn industry is not afraid of modernisation. The instrument’s wooden bells can still be finished with paintings to suit your personal taste.

Alphorn blowing made easy

Besides all the theory, alphorn blowing is of course mainly about practice. Making the offer to try out and learn playing music on this instrument yourself in Bavaria all the more interesting. The Landhotel Alphorn in Ofterschwang offers special courses for this, whether it’s a short introductory course for beginners or a whole alphorn week for advanced. One special highlight is also the alphorn course on Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze. To experience all aspects of the Bavarian way of life, there is then a separately organised stop at a mountain hut with hearty Bavarian specialities afterwards with the Zugspitze event in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.