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Bringing the Swiss Alps to the Sierra Nevada: The Sierra Alphorn Players

Wooden horns almost ten feet long rest on the ground outside, while people in a line hold up the mouthpieces of each horn to play.
Cole Payne
The Sierra Alphorn Players practice various tunes during their rehearsals, from centuries-old classics to more modern melodies.

Eight musicians stood on a tree-lined hill in Davis Creek Regional Park as snow fell. They held one end of their nearly 10-foot-long horns in their hands, while the bell rested on the ground. The players put their lips to the mouthpieces of the traditional Swiss Alphorns and blew. A powerful melody then echoed throughout the campground. There was no conductor as they played. The musicians relied on each other to keep the tempo.

For the Sierra Alphorn Players, the rocky mountains of Northern Nevada and California make a perfect spot to play the alphorn. Lindsey Jones and his wife, Brandi, founded the group and co-own Silver and Brass Music Shop. Together, they led the rehearsal.

Lindsey said his favorite part about playing the horn is surprising others out in nature.

A group of people sits and stands, huddled around a picnic table in a forested area.
Cole Payne
The Sierra Alphorn Players enjoying warm mulled wines after their rehearsal.

“They come over and they ask us all kinds of questions, and it's not immediately apparent looking at the horns that they even come apart,” he said. “So we're 10 miles in the backcountry in the wilderness, just playing our horns into a lovely alpine valley and listening to the echoes, and people see us at a distance and are just completely amazed and confused.”

In June, the University of Nevada, Reno’s Lake Tahoe campus in Incline Village will host a seminar about the alphorn’s history. Sponsored by Alpen Song, the three-day event will teach attendees about the instrument’s past and how to play melodies more than 200 years old. Renowned alphorn players will facilitate discussions and lead rehearsals.

One such artist is William Hopson, who teaches at The Swiss Alphorn School in Switzerland and has performed at concerts throughout Europe.

Then in October, the Sierra Alphorn Players will put on the Tahoe Alphorn Experience. For four days, attendees will learn to play the alphorn as a group. On the fourth day, players will take the tram up to Palisades Tahoe High Camp with their horns to produce a symphony.

Both events will feature concerts, field trips, and chances to bond with fellow players. Lindsey Jones said that beginners are more than welcome.

“As far as this event goes, we're 100% encouraging people to come. If you want to learn to play, if you just want to come and try it out for the duration of the event, that's totally fine, too,” he said.

A person stands outside with a long wooden musical horn on his shoulder.
Cole Payne
Cole Payne
Chris Clarkston, the group’s newest member, poses with his alphorn slung over his shoulder.

Swiss native Hedwig Mueller-Dawson, who has lived in Reno since 1978, watched the rehearsal at Davis Creek Regional Park. Alphorns and yodeling were large parts of her childhood, and she still yodels to this day. She compared seeing the alphorns in Nevada to an American seeing a football star in another country.

“I must say it touches my heart,” Mueller-Dawson said. “It just gets back to the roots of where I came from.”

The Sierra Alphorn Players invite anyone to attend their weekly rehearsals at Davis Creek Regional Park. Lindsey Jones even mentioned having spare alphorns for people to try.

Chris Clarkston, the group’s newest member, has played the French horn since middle school. However, he always wanted to try the alphorn. He met Lindsey and Brandi Jones while getting his French horn repaired at their shop. He was quickly recruited into the group, sarcastically joking he was “swindled in.”

The group is an escape from his job as a veterinarian, but also a source of community, Clarkston said.

“I think live music like this really brings people together,” Clarkston said. “There's so much history in it that is so fascinating. It's an art form that we really want to continue.”

Cole Payne is a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism. The story was produced in partnership with the school’s Lake Tahoe News Project.

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