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The Song That Changed Your Life

Yodeling by Lana Willocks

This story is on the shortlist for The Song That Changed Your Life challenge. 

Video source: Youtube

When Grandma asked me to come with her to a cowboy poetry and yodelling show at a garden centre near a prairie hamlet it’s fair to say my expectations were low. I’d left Alberta at the age of 18 and shrugged off the prairies carelessly as I moved to the west coast, and then to Thailand, where I’ve lived ever since. But Alberta beckons me back for brief summer flings from time to time, and here I was, sitting in the shade of a garden tent with small audience, being yodeled to.

Yodelling’s probably the most giggled-at music genre. Makes you think of the Von Trapp family’s exuberant “o-laydee-o-di-layee” song in ‘Sound of Music’ or a heartsick 1950s cowboy staring into a bonfire. Not a Serious Art. But as the music started pouring through this tent full of delicate blooming flowers, I was in for a surprise.

The main act was Eli Barsi, a vision of wholesome beauty in a turquoise neck scarf and cowboy hat with a smile as wide as a wheat field. While Ms Barsi was yodeling away I hung on her every twangy sound as her voice rose and fell, smooth as an oil well pump. She sang of endless blue skies and dreamin’ on bright sunny hillsides. When she launched into an old Wilf Carter song, picking gracefully at her guitar and crooning, ‘Oh carry me back to the plains of Alberta...’ followed by a piercing “yodeleh, yodeleee”, a strange little strain formed in my throat.  

I’d long left home but I guess bits of my soul were still clinging to those big skies and sage-scented meadows, lingering in the plains along with the ghosts of my ancestors, who had first laid eyes on this lonesome landscape some 100 years before. The yodeller’s voice carried me on a journey back into the known. 

After the show I went over to tell Ms Barsi how much I’d enjoyed her show. About half a sentence in, my throat strain started burbling and hot tears sprung from my eyes. “Your songs make me homesick,” I croaked, and quickly stepped away in the cringing shame and weirdness of this unexpected emotional release.  

 After a decade of wandering far but not really tuning in, after years of fuzzy static on my inner radio, it had hit me suddenly: my heart's true tribal beat is a yodel.

Lana Willocks is from Calgary, AB.

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