By Shelley Goldbeck, DTM
I learned of “Yodel Girl”, Miriam Dreher’s passing (https://www.myalternatives.ca/airdrie/obituaries/2021-dreher-miriam-louise) and remembered having had a great interview with Miriam for the Alberta Cowboy Poetry Association’s September 2019 newsletter, Barbwire Dispatch.
It seems the best way to honour her is to share that interview here.
Miriam Dreher, ACPA member, has yodeling in her genes. Her great-grandfather was born and raised in Switzerland where yodeling was so much a part of their culture. He emigrated to the USA to avoid conscription to the German army.
When Miriam was a child, her dad made crystal radios. She would sit on his knee with one earpiece and he with the other so they could listen to the Grand Ole Oprey. They often heard yodelers. Her mother and grandmother played guitar and both grandparents, the fiddle. During long cold winter months they filled many nights with their music.
Her dad taught her to yodel, in fact, he told people “she could yodel before she could talk and ride horseback before she could walk.”
From then on she never stopped yodeling, whether rounding up cattle, sitting on the house bench, at school concerts or Sunday jam sessions with neighbours. She got a guitar at age nine, her “lifeline” to learn the chords and yodel “her way”.
The yodel is designed to carry across a pasture or valley. As a child she used her yodel to call in the cows. They’d hear the call, head for home and the horses would follow. No round-up required! She also used her yodel to be found by her dad in a blizzard!
In the late 50’s Miriam moved to Calgary where she worked in promotions and films for a local television station. During an interview with one of the DJ’s he suggested Miriam enter the Calgary Stampede Talent Contest. She was surprised to take second place. The following Sunday she was invited to a barbecue where she was asked to yodel with the band. She spent the rest of the week travelling with the band to barbecues, seniors residences and shows in Calgary as well as out of town.
One memorable moment: at a campfire at a guest ranch near the mountains, whenever she would yodel, the coyotes would howl back at her. She thought that was hilarious!
A couple years later she attended a music convention in Saskatoon, where she got awards for top Canadian yodeler, favourite artist and favourite entertainer. From there she was invited to Branson, MI to the International Convention where she won her first international yodeler award. For three more years, she won both Canadian and International yodeling awards. In 2007 she won International Platinum Award for yodeling (comparable to the Gold medal at the Olympics). She began teaching others to yodel around this time.
One fateful day, she discovered a yodel club in Calgary. One of the Swiss participants told her about their Yodelfest convention in Switzerland where hundreds of yodelers converge. She attended a concert in Calgary with 25 or more yodelers with no mic or back up music. “It was spine tingling.”
Leveraging her skills she’d acquired working in television, she decided to hold a pilot concert in Airdrie named Yodelfest. Much to her surprise and delight, the show sold out in no time. The show became so popular she had to move it to a larger venue to accommodate the busloads of seniors that would purchase their tickets six months in advance! One of the highlights for Miriam is meeting various Swiss dignitaries that came specifically to see her Yodelfest. Every year tickets sold out, with lineups at the door, hoping to grab unused tickets.
Giving young performers opportunities to do sets in her shows paid off handsomely. Here are just some successes: two-time world champion accordion player who now has a masters in music and travels all over the world. One lady went on to win three Canadian yodel awards. Two young ladies recorded in Nashville and another became Alberta’s Rising Star.
The last year of Yodelfest was dedicated to RCMP members who lost their lives while on duty. ACPA member Robbie Robertson, former RCMP officer, was there in full dress uniform. Robbie recited his original poetry about the forming of the Northwest Mounted Police, precursors to the RCMP.
Putting on a large show is a great deal of work. Eventually Miriam couldn’t continue but she has great memories of those 11 years.
Miriam auditioned for Senior Star Search and came first three times. The last time she was given an all-expense paid week at the Niagara Falls Convention Centre. Canadian television star, Gordie Tapp was one of the judges. Upon hearing Miriam hold her yodel note for at least a minute, he said, “You must have lungs like bowling balls!
In 2013, Miriam received the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee medal. Along the way she has received dozens of music awards. She has had the privilege of opening for many professional artists including George Hamilton IV, Baxter Black, Riders in the Sky, Red Steagall, Roy Rogers, Jr. and more.
An old cowboy at a poetry gathering once told Miriam that as a young man he rode when they were bringing cattle from Texas to Canada’s railway in the late 1800’s. With large herds of 30 to 50 thousand head, yodeling was sometimes the only way cowboys could communicate with each other. Cowboys also yodeled to keep the herds calm at night. So if you were wondering what yodeling has to do with Cowboy Poetry and Music, now you know.
And now you know a little more about our very own Yodel Girl. Congratulations, Miriam on your amazing life achievements. As you said, “not bad for an 85 year-old!”
By Miriam Dreher
As I gaze across the valley with the mountains so high My heart starts rejoicing to a yodeling lullaby The birds in the treetops seem to join me with a song A song of such happiness to a yodeling lullaby. Chorus: Yo ho lady dee dee(x3) Yo ho lade dee oh It echoes from the hilltops to the valleys far below Where the flowers are blooming and the one that I love so He has changed my life completely with such happiness within Oh won’t you come and join me to a yodeling lullaby. So come and gather around me, leave your cares far behind. Join me with a cheerful yodel to a yodeling lullaby Now the sun will always be shining, blue will be the skies Keep a smile on your journey to a yodeling lullaby
Miriam lost an adult son a few years ago and had long awaited meeting him again. Her wish has been granted. Rest in Peace, Yodel Girl. Thank you for your inspiration.