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It started in the mountain pastures in northern Europe, or maybe Brazil or, who knows; calling in the animals from the pasture or field for milking, feeding or perhaps because a storm was coming. Referred to as "Cow Calls" in areas where dairy was or is a way of life. Goat calls would be shorter tones in a moderate pitch and, well, goat-like. Cow calls are longer tones at a deeper pitch and more, you know, cow like. Today's urban calls are just as interesting and include mostly calling in your dog, cat, or horse if you live far enough out of town.
Research shows some classical pieces have used the Cow Call theme. As a city kid who moved to rural Pennsylvania and working with local, small Dairy farmers to "learn the ropes" of country life, I heard several neighbor farmers call their cows and noticed the differences in tone, length of the tone and the overall call. Some had a more joyous overtone while others were a bit more business like. When I tried calling the cows in or just getting there attention it did not work since they did not know my voice or my purpose. I guess it is the same if I called your dog or cat. They know your voice.
I have been listening to and practicing a tune that Jehile Kirkhuff (see jehile.com) played called the Norwegian Cow Call. After doing a Google search for cow calls I found the whole concept of the melody much more interesting. Several items mentioned that a fiddler often learned these calls and perhaps used them for helping to call in the flock or made them into a dance tune.
The world of Old-Time Fiddle tunes and history is much more involved than I thought, and I have been learning more about this world daily since 1977. I remember an article in which Mark O'Connor said he would choose the old-time fiddle style if he had to pick just one style. The more I dig in to it the more I can see why. I never get bored with this world since it includes most all the music of planet earth before the industrialized, profit motivated boys moved into town.
Now as I practice this Norwegian Cow call I can have visions of green mountain pastures, cool breezes, wide open spaces, and clear mountain brooks flowing without added industrial or urban residue.
Life is good again.
Click to hear NorwegianCowCall.mp3.
For more information on Ed Berbaum, his Jehile projects and his own work, contact any of the following: