PUGET SOUND ALPHORNS

"Alphorn enthusiasts of Puget Sound"

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Alphorn Playing this Summer!

Several of us will play alphorn in the area during summer, depending on our availability and the weather. Check the "Alphorn enthusiasts of Puget Sound" Facebook group for announcements.

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The Alphorn

Its name means "horn of the alp." We know of the "Alps" as the high mountains found mainly in Switzerland. In Switzerland, an "alp" refers to a high elevation pasture. Long wooden horns were used by herdsmen on an alp to signal to each other and to their animals.

For some reason, the terms "alpenhorn" or "alpine horn" are preferred by English speakers, but "alphorn" is the term generally used where these instruments have their home: Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Someone once commented that the term "alphorn" sounds sketchy if the "h" isn't pronounced and one hears "al-porn" 😊 Just remember, the word division is "alp" + "horn." And don't forget to pronounce the "h" in "horn."

Alphorns are just long conical tubes made out of wood, often spruce, grown at higher elevations where slower growth produces higher-density wood with better acoustic properties than lower-density wood. It takes upwards of 80 hours to produce one alphorn using traditional methods. Alphorns produced using state-of-the-art CNC routers take far less time and are correspondingly less expensive.

Alphorns have no keys, holes, valves or slides. Their note range is limited to what is called the natural tone series. You can think of an alphorn as a very large bugle! Bugles also have no keys, holes, valves or slides. Besides traditional "bugle calls" it is not possible to play most common melodies on a bugle. The same is true for the alphorn.

Alphorns come in various lengths; the two most common lengths are around 12 feet, 3 inches with a fundamental pitch in F, and around 11 feet, 6 inches with a fundamental pitch in F-sharp (or "Fis" as F-sharp is called in Switzerland). Fis (F-sharp) alphorns are most commonly played in Switzerland. F alphorns are most commonly played outside of Switzerland. We play F alphorns.

Our Story

The first members of Puget Sound Alphorns began playing together during Edmonds Senior Swingers' Holiday Concert rehearsals in Autumn 2023. One of the trumpet players, Gary Martin, had recently returned from a summer trip to Switzerland with a beautiful Swiss alphorn. A few years earlier, Gary purchased an Austrian-made alphorn. The orchestra director (Tim) has continued to play alphorn. Other alphorn enthusiasts followed, and now we are a growing group of players from all around the Puget Sound area.

Header Photo courtesy of Sharon O'Brien.
Amie Stewart and Gary Martin playing alphorn duets at Brackett's Landing
near the Edmonds ferry terminal.
April 19, 2024