From the city to the country, from grinding synthesisers to plucking guitars; we may have stuck to the same religion as last week, but you probably couldn’t get much further from dubstep than yodeling.
Here’s the audio from today. I can’t include the songs on these podcasts for legal reasons, but they’re all up on the interwebs so just follow the links in this post.
Yodeling refers to a certain kind of singing, involving extended notes that rapidly and repeatedly change in pitch by alternating one’s normal voice with falsetto. It originated in Central Europe in the Middle Ages, but most of us today know about it via the USA, where it was picked up in the 20s and was incredibly popular through to the end of the 40s.
It was, and is, mainly used as a vocal technique within the broader genre of country music. Now country music is most popular in rural areas, and rural people tend to be more religious than urban folk, so it didn’t take long for American country-yodeling songs to appear espousing explicitly Christian themes. Wanda Jackson – the Queen of Rock herself, who once dated Elvis – went through a country gospel phase in the 60s and 70s, and we played a song of hers named ‘Jesus put a Yodel in my Soul‘ on the show today. (She is still around, and at 74 is still doing the concert circuit – last year she appeared on Letterman with Jack White). That song has been covered many a time, and has even made it back to Europe, bending the direction of cultural influence back upon itself.
But some Christian country singers today are still letting rip with the yodels, despite its lack of mainstream popularity. Much like the Christian dubstep producers, they see their yodeling as praising and worshipping the Lord. OpenBible.info has a page of verses related to yodeling, including Ephesians 5:19, “Address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” In such a way these singers can link yodeling directly to Christian worship. In the lyrics of Betty Orshaw and The Lonesome Road Ramblers, “He’ll make you feel like yodeling and he’ll fill your heart with love.”
Beth Williams is a Christian singer-songwriter from Texas, and today we played her song ‘Yodelin’ in Heaven.’ She sees her career as a Music Ministry, spreading the message of Jesus Christ through her songs. She plays in churches as well as normal venues, blending preaching and personal anecdotes with her music. On her most recent album, a deep male voice reads out Bible passages between each song, which act as introductions to the themes that she explores in her lyrics. ‘Yodelin’ in Heaven’ was written in dedication to Beth’s deceased mother, and the verse beforehand (1 Corinthians 15: 51-52) discusses how the dead shall be raised at the end of time; this motivates the subsequent lyrics which showcase Beth’s happy anticipation at the prospect of meeting her mother again, such as “There’ll be huggin’ in heaven.” Referring to Bible verses similar to that quoted above, she says on her website that “yodeling done unto the Lord is yet another form of praising God.”
Another song I really wanted to play today was a Disco Saints cover of ‘Range in the Sky’ by The English Brothers. The original is fairly middle-of-the-road country music, but the Disco Saints (a Christian electronic group) really emphasise the yodeling to create something incredibly catchy. The main lyric is “I can yodel with my friend Jesus.” To quote the video description, WWJY? Check it out!
I also found this blog post, which uses the up-and-down oscillations of yodeling as a metaphor for the oscillations that Christians experience in their own faith. Just as yodelers alternate between their ‘chest’ and ‘head’ voices, this Christian ‘yodel effect’ refers to the “reality of our own frequent alternation between the flesh and the Spirit on so many of our personal decisions, dictations and directions.” I’m not sure if the analogy will catch on in a big way, but it is certainly novel.
Finally, just to ensure I am presenting a near-complete image of the cross-overs between Christianity and yodeling, I have to link to this disturbing video taken from a German film, wherein an animated crucified Jesus dances and yodels. Please don’t watch it.
Islamic hip-hop next week! 10.30am on 2SER 107.3.