By Maria Cook
John Griffith, 78, of Michigan, has been playing wind instruments since he was 10 years old. He began with the trumpet and later graduated to the euphonium before discovering the alphorn in 2002, when he and his wife, Christine, founded a traditional German band called Ein Prosit.
Griffith quickly fell in love with the unique instrument.
“My wife demanded that I have an alphorn,” Griffith said. “She’s a piccolo player.”
In 2007, Griffith took his wife’s advice and bought an alphorn. In 2009, he organized the first Midwest Alphorn retreat, an annual event which brings alphorn players together for four days of what Griffith describes as “total immersion” in the alphorn. Dr. Peggy DeMers, of Sam Houston State University, is the retreat’s main instructor.
“I just had an idle idea to get alphorns together,” Griffith said.
Now, the Midwest Alphorn Retreat tours the nation, playing venues from museums to breweries. For the past two years, it has delighted guests at the Carmel Christkindlmarkt, giving performances throughout opening weekend.
Approximately 15 alphorn players regularly play with the group. Seven performed Nov. 17 in Carmel on the Christkindlmarkt’s opening day.
For Griffith, performing is all about staying true to the sentiment he shares with his wife (music for life; for life music) and spreading interest and love for the alphorn
“The alphorn is an instrument that has never been used to call men to arms. It’s an instrument of peace,” he said. “It’s been around for thousands of years, and there are many myths about how the alphorn came to be. When you play the alphorn outdoors, you play out, the sound caresses through the trees, and then nature gives it back, with a slight echo. You just fall in love with the alphorn, truly.”