West Virginia is no stranger to mountain music, though the variety heard this weekend in Fayette County was a bit different.
Sunday afternoon, overlooking the New River Gorge, 10 Alphorn players held a recital at Adventures on the Gorge, playing new songs created for the occasion and some older favorites.
The group, the Appalachian Alphorn Adventure, was organized by local resident Monica Hambrick last year.
Hambrick, originally from Texas, first picked up the Swiss mountain instrument while studying at West Virginia University.
"I love being outdoors, I love nature, but I also play French horn," Hambrick said. "The Alphorn is a really good compromise for that."
Tired of playing by herself, Hambrick created the local Alphorn conference last year with this year's event drawing in players from Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and one from Switzerland itself.
For the local Alphorn enthusiast, the Gorge is the perfect geography for playing the large instrument.
"It's designed to be played in the mountains," Hambrick said. "What's so great about the Gorge is you can get really good echos, you can play back and forth with other people and you don't have to hike that far."
According to Hambrick, the famous mountain instrument was designed to play across large distances.
"Shepherds were often lonely and bored, so they would make these instruments and play them back and forth across the valleys to other shepherds on the hillsides," she said, adding that they were also used to call in livestock.
With the instruments being made from a wide variety of hardwoods, their shape was also destined from the mountainsides from which they came with the Alphorn's distinctive curve originally due to the bend of a tree that was growing on steep terrain.
"They also make carbon fiber ones, which sound great but don't look as nice," Hambrick said. "They can get wet and they can pack down really small to travel."
The weekend's group also got to practice in the instrument's first role, calling to one another on Saturday from different overlooks around the Gorge.
The group also practiced for the recital as a group, with music written specifically for the weekend by Laura Nelson, the weekend's main instructor and decorated Alphorn player.
She worked on the pieces before the weekend, but Nelson told the audience that she needed help naming the new tunes, with some of the new original pieces being named for local landmarks such as trails and local towns.
Though this weekend's event featured players with a background playing the Alphorn, Hambrick said that the events are open to everyone interested in the instrument.
"Even if you're a complete beginner, you are welcome to come," Hambrick said, adding that she has a few rentals available and that she hopes more people will pick the unique instrument up.
More information about the weekend and future events can be found at www.alphornadventure.com.
— Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @mattcombsRH