British Columbia

B.C. man's alphorn brings joy — and Swiss history — to the Okanagan

For Beat Heeb, playing the alphorn along B.C.'s Okanagan Lake takes him back to his boyhood roots.

Beat Heeb plays the alphorn, a rustic communication tool once used by herdsmen in Switzerland

Beat Heeb, 68, plays the alphorn he brought home from Switzerland by Okanagan Lake. (Alya Ramadan/CBC)

For Beat Heeb, playing the alphorn along B.C.'s Okanagan Lake takes him back to his boyhood roots.

The Peachland, B.C., resident came to Canada in 1976 from Lucerne, a German-speaking lakeshore city in central Switzerland.

He says he fell in love with the long horn's sound during childhood.

"When I was a little boy … they [the alphorns] were very, very popular," Heeb, 68, told CBC's Alya Ramadan about his first time hearing one. "We [the siblings] were seven children, so we walked up the mountain ... and up there was an alphorn player."

In an earlier time, the musical instrument, made of pinewood and bamboo, was used by shepherds working in the Alps as a communication tool — often used to call cows from the pasture into the milking barn.

WATCH | Beat Heeb plays the alphorn by Okanagan Lake in Peachland, B.C.

Peachland, B.C., resident plays the alphorn by Okanagan Lake

2 months ago
0:43
Beat Heeb, 68, brought the four-metre long instrument home from Switzerland. 0:43

Heeb bought his first alphorn for $8,000 during a six-month stay in Switzerland in 2004. 

"I went to visit my friend in Switzerland, and he played on his back balcony at two o'clock in the morning, and the sound was just amazing. I said, 'I want to play too.'"

Before making Peachland home six months ago, Heeb gave musical performances with his four metre-long horn at weddings and other celebrations in Vancouver and Whistler.

Thanks to his friend's connections, Heeb was invited by the Swiss government to play the alphorn at the World Expo's Swiss Pavilion in Yeosu, South Korea for two months in 2012.

He jokes that his tutor once told him playing the instrument could help stave off Alzheimer's "because your brain has to really think all the time." 

To get the best out of the instrument, Heeb says it's important to play the alphorn while in a good mood. (Alya Ramadan/CBC)

Heeb's free musical performances on the waterfront have made some fellow German-speaking neighbours feel a little nostalgic.

"It's beautiful — there are not many people that play that instrument anymore," Georg Heimlicher said, remembering his days as a boy living in Basel, Switzerland.

Heeb says his music and the unusual instrument have been catching on.

"They love it … some people say, 'wow, it's [the] first time I've seen an alphorn.' They've only seen it [in] movies like The Sound of Music," he said. "It's very rewarding that people can actually see it." 

Heeb's alphorn near Okanagan Lake. (Alya Ramadan/CBC)

LISTEN |  CBC's Alya Ramadan interviews Heeb on the nostalgic sound of the alphorn in Peachland:

An old European tradition has found its way to Peachland's waterfront. 5:40

With files from Alya Ramadan and Daybreak South

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