Photos of readers

Today we get to see reader Joe Dickinson, a fly guy who has contributed many photos to this site. He sent us two photos and the commentary below (indented). Be sure to send in one (or at most two) photos of you engaged in something interesting.

OK, I’ll bite.  Here are two photos capturing my favorite pastimes. I have been an amateur horn player for about 70 years.  Your readers may wonder “What kind of horn?”.  They likely will think of it as the “French horn”, but there is nothing French about it. It is, in fact, the “One True Horn”.  Other favorite activities include camping/hiking, travel and photography.

The first picture is me playing my alphorn (just a straightened out horn made of wood) at a campground in Kodachrome Basin, Utah.  Note that “Kodachrome” could be a sly allusion to the photography thing.

For travel, we have me above 16,000 feet in Tibet playing a ceremonial conch shell purchased at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa.  Two photos justified by two very different horns.


  1. Charles Sawicki
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Unless that alphorn comes apart, it would be more troublesome to transport than the javelin I used to haul around the country. Also a lot easier to damage.

    • Joe Dickinson
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      It breaks into three parts and goes in a case more-or-less the size of a set of golf clubs. Nevertheless, it was interesting to carry something shaped rather like a bazooka through security check points when colleagues and I played for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah not so long after 9/11.

  2. rickflick
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Not a usual hobby. Quaint though.

  3. John Conoboy
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Joe you may be the only person ever to play an alphorn in the Utah desert.

    I picked up a conch shell in Tibet, but I can’t get a bit of sound out of it. A friend who lived in Nepal for a while had no problem getting a toot out of it.

    • Joe Dickinson
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      Actually, we had an alphorn quartet in Salt Lake City though I can’t say for sure if any of the others ever played in the desert.

      The Tibetan conch horn is pretty much a one note thing, although a colleagues amazed locals by hitting an octave above that fundamental. For those unfamiliar with the harmonic series, a horn of a given length has a fundamental pitch and can only sound a second pitch a full octave higher, then a third note a fifth above that, a fourth pitch two octaves above the fundamental, etc.

  4. Jenny Haniver
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I love alphorns.

    Earlier this morning, I came across a video on how to make musical instruments out of vegetables. There is even a Vegetable Orchestra. They attach mikes to some vegetables but they carve others into instruments, such as a carrot horn — carrots are versatile for use as horns, flutes, and recorders. So if you’re ever laid up at home but want a little music, not an alphorn, just go to your fridge — grab a carrot, a bell pepper, and a paring knife, whatever’s at hand.

    • merilee
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      Love the veggie orchestra concept.

      Southern Utah and alpenhorns, too.

    • Joe Dickinson
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      I haven’t tried any commercial veggies but have made and played many kelphorns. On California beaches, it sometimes is pretty easy to find kelp more-or-less 12 feet long, the length of a conventional orchestral “French” horn or a standard alphorn.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted August 18, 2019 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

        I hadn’t heard (of) kelphorns; now I find videos on youtube. Very cool.

    • Posted August 19, 2019 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      That’s neat. I’ve passed it along to a dear friend who is both a professional cellist and into crafts and novelties.

  5. Michael Fisher
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    The two little feet at the horn end are cute, I found an interesting [non umpahpah] bit of alphorn tune below – improvised, jazz notes & a touch of dissonance. I think outdoors. Spacetastic!

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      Around 3 octaves in that piece I think

      • Joe Dickinson
        Posted August 18, 2019 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        Yes, three octaves is a standard range. There is a fundamental yet an octave lower, but seldom used. The dissonant notes most commonly used are the seventh partial, a rather flat Bb, and the eleventh partial, sort of between F and F#.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      Spacetastic! it is. That’s really wonderful music. Glad that you found and posted the video. However, from what I’ve heard, traditional alphorn music isn’t oompah music. I find it plaintive and very beautiful. Such a warm tone. But it can oompah all right if called on.

      • merilee
        Posted August 18, 2019 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

        Lovely sound, except for the flatulent bits.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted August 18, 2019 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

        I toured YouTube looking for a piece that grabbed me & I picked that one because it’s definitely [IMO] Miles Davis influenced – around or just before his Silent Way or Bitches Brew album [both 1969] masterpieces, sans the farts. There’s a lot of ‘space’ in it – the long echo & the sparseness suggests loneliness & chilly vistas. It’s ideally a solo instrument alone or a featured solo in a small chamber orchestra of varied instruments – that’s how it seems to me without looking at how it is used. But…

        Some other tunes I listened to were in enclosed spaces or recorded close in to the horns with two or three horns taking parts – one setting the beat with bass notes [ompah]. Didn’t like those at all because it showed up the limitations of the instrument & minimised its strengths.

        The alphorn yearning beast needs space like a drum kit does 🙂

        • Joe Dickinson
          Posted August 18, 2019 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

          For a totally traditional alphorn sound, try this site: Uf de Bänklialp, Alphorn- Quartett. I’m told by Swiss friends that this is virtually an unofficial national anthem.

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted August 18, 2019 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

            Thank you Joe, that’s very interesting – the ‘folk’ or ‘classical’ or ‘traditional’ alphorn quartet arrangement.

            It seems to be a very controlled, formalised system of expression that plays to the strengths of the instrument & uses RULES. It reminds me of a vocal quartet actually with one singer taking the bass & the other three playing a melody almost identically or perhaps in some sections coming in at different times & building the sound & the intricacy. Here’s an example that works the way I describe in 3/4 & 6/8 – some interesting ‘changes’ going on:

            • Joe Dickinson
              Posted August 18, 2019 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

              One nice thing: it’s easy to fake the harmony parts. Thanks to the natural harmonic series, there are (almost) no wrong notes. Only one rule: if someone has the the written D (fourth line), go for G (any octave). Otherwise, everything is cool.

              • Joe Dickinson
                Posted August 18, 2019 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

                Oh, and Michael Fisher, thanks for a really nice example of the true alphorn sound. Out here in California, I’m missing my Utah Colleagues.

            • Jenny Haniver
              Posted August 19, 2019 at 2:04 am | Permalink

              That’s lovely.

          • Pierluigi Ballabeni
            Posted August 19, 2019 at 2:34 am | Permalink

            ” I’m told by Swiss friends that this is virtually an unofficial national anthem.”

            No way! It can not be an unofficial national anthem since it is unknown in the non-German speaking areas of the country. Some German speakers tend to forget that Switzerland is not a German speaking country but a multilingual one and that different linguistic areas have differente cultures and traditions. I grew up in the Swiss Alps without ever seing or hearing an alphorn (except very rarely on TV).

  6. Posted August 18, 2019 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Great to see you, Joe. Multi-talented and much appreciated by this reader.

    Btw, does everyone know how to pronounce ‘conch’? It definitely isn’t CONCH, as in LUNCH. The CH has a K sound.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      I would say there isn’t a ‘how to’, it can be -ch or -kh depending on locale & the first half of the word varies too – some efforts more nasal than others [like speaking with flu]. And some really emphasise the AH in cAHnK [a lot of nose action]

      Mirriam-W has little speech buttons for the word [singular & plural]. The Cambridge English dictionary claims -ch is Brit English & -K is US English, but I’ve heard Americans pronounce it both ways.

  7. Frank Bath
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Great to see an alphorn.
    When I was very much younger I remember my father convincing me that a photograph of an alphorn poking through a chalet window had a man on the other end enjoying a long cool smoke.
    I’ve been fascinated by them ever since,

  8. Liz
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Love, love, love this. I was always more into the string instruments. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Posted August 19, 2019 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Great sound. I heard one in the Alps once, but only barely. They told me afterwards that the acoustics of the valley were not good for the horn.

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