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April 25, 2007

A gathering of singers

Evansville Courier & Press (IN):

With so few hills in Evansville, leave it to the hotels and stadium to be alive with the sound of music Friday and Saturday night. More than 1,500 singers from 65 German singing clubs across the country are bringing their national festival the 59th Saengerfest town, culminating four years of planning by Evansville's 107-year-old Germania Maennerchor. Suddenly, "Germania Maennerchor" (German men's chorus) won't sound so strange to non-Rheinlander ears. Hotels will be filled with the likes of Dallas Frohinin Sing Society, Saengerchor of Omaha and Schubert Lyra Chor of Chicago.

Evansville hasn't been this German since 1911, when business and industry declared a holiday so 90,000 people (nearly 40 percent of the city's 69,000 residents were of German ancestry) could attend a German Day parade led by Indiana's governor. As for Roberts Stadium, it's seen a lot in 50 years, too, from "Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars" to "American Idol" stars, from Elvis Presley to Garth Brooks.

Now comes a cross between a giant beer hall (minus the beer and lederhosen) and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. "It will be awe-inspiring," promises Glenn Boberg, who is co-chairing the Saengerfest with fellow Germania member Paul Bockstege. "It'll send chills down your spine." "It's like listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir," says Bockstege. "Multiplied!" adds Bockstege.

While it's not exactly a competition, Friday's concert will feature clubs from various districts coming together as 75- to 300-member choirs. But on Saturday all 1,500 singers will sing as one. The conductor and orchestra, composed of area musicians, will be on stage, the huge choir above them in chairback seats at the closed-end of the stadium. Incidentally, don't expect folk costumes. Singers will wear their club uniform (jacket, slacks or dress) Friday and black and white attire Saturday, including bow ties for the guys.

Ninety percent of the singing from traditional folk songs to classical music such as Beethoven's An die Freude from Symphony No. 9 will be in German, but program booklets will contain an English guide.

Germania members persuaded the North American Singing Society to "relax" its songlist for Saturday, which is why you'll hear "Die Rose" (The Rose, popularized by Bette Midler), sung in German. Also, there's the first major presentation of an original piece, "Der Fischer" (The Fisherman). Germania singer John Michael O'Leary set Goethe's whimsical poem to music; it's the tale of a fisherman who falls under the spell of a mermaid, wades into the sea and is never seen again. The women from the mass chorus will do "Falling in Love Again." And for the finale, the 1,500 voices will rise up in "Let There Be Peace on Earth," a 1955 song that has become a worldwide anthem for peace.

Some choirs want to lodge together because their club members hail from the same region of Germany. "They like to party and have fun together." While Germania's 60-member chorus of men and women is down to one member (Anna Marie Bruner) born in Germany, Bockstege says some clubs have numerous native-born Germans. One Chicago group is predominantly Austrian.

Aside from hotel hospitality rooms, many of the 1,733 attending Saengerfest from at least 11 states are expected to visit Germania Maennerchor, 916 N. Fulton Ave., where the dark wood, folk murals and stained glass windows are largely unchanged since the building's 1913 completion. Overseas guests will include the German and Austrian consulates to the United States and a dozen visitors from Mainz, Germany, making a sidetrip here during their visit to Louisville, Ky., which is Mainz' sister city.

Posted by acapnews at April 25, 2007 8:26 PM