Tooting Your Own Horn

Dennis toots an alphorn for the first time

We visited Davis Creek Regional Park, just north of Carson City, but not just to hike (which we’ve been doing a lot of lately). No, we had a special reason for going on this particular day. We wanted to drop in at a rehearsal of the Alpine Cowherds, of the Eastern Sierra Horn Society. In this case, “horn” means alphorn (or alpenhorn). You rarely even see one of those, much less hear them played. And more rarely still do you have a chance to play one yourself.

Alphorn Curiosity
Alphorn Curiosity

But you can do just that, thanks to these hornifiers, who practice regularly in outdoor locations in the Reno area, including this park. They welcome you to come and watch or, if you’re game, to put your own lips to the horn.

Today, there was a group of 4 alphornists (alphorners? alphornies? alphornians?) meeting to practice. These are huge, ungainly horns that have a rather pleasing, if clumsy sound, especially when played as an ensemble. A little boy who came along with his parents was quite fascinated and remarked that the horn sounded like a cow. One of the horn-hooters told him that in fact they were originally used to call cows by bellowing out what sounded like a cow moo. (They also were made originally from a single piece of wood, though that’s rarely the case anymore.)

After they had played a while, they brought out another horn, and asked if we wanted to try. Being the musician in the family, Dennis couldn’t resist having a blow at it. He was offered a choice of mouthpieces (both unused and sealed in sanitary bags, to prevent the spread of the virus).  The first one he tried wasn’t very satisfactory, but the second one produced a much better sound.

After he had honked away for a few minutes to get the hang of it, they invited him to join the ensemble in playing a tune.  He received the invitation with some trepidation, but couldn’t resist the challenge. So, with sheet music perched on his horn, he began the sonic sally. The first tune they played was rather simple, and he managed to keep up okay. But the second was trickier, and the third trickier still, so he got lost more than once. But for an alphorn virgin, he didn’t do too badly — evidently not, because he was invited to come back and wail with them again. Maybe the next time we come around, whenever that is.

So his debut as an alphorn player is now in the books. Makes us want to write a new bucket list so we can put it on and cross it off.

The Sierra Alphorn Players hold open rehearsals at Davis Creek Regional Park. Check their Facebook Events for their schedule of open rehearsals and other events. If you are interested in tooting your own horn, just send them a message on Facebook. They are eager to share their passion and have plenty of alphorns to share.

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