Stories

Men's Choir Absolute Aural Thrill

Written by Rose Pelone Sisson for The Republic, Columbus, IN - Nov. 17, 2007

A mystery, magnificent song, and a surprise were part of my experience during a Sunday afternoon concert in the chapel of Four Seasons Retirement Center in Columbus as I listened to and enjoyed a musical presentation by the Maennerchor of Indianapolis. Maennerchor is the German word for "menís choir" and this particular group claims to be the oldest continuously performing menís choir in the United States, having been founded in 1854.

Over the time period of its existence this choir of German heritage has faced the question of whether or not to sing in English or to continue in German, especially when the United States was at war with Germany. American people of German descent had to ask themselves whether they should preserve, or how they could preserve, their ethnic identity under these circumstances.

On this particular Sunday in 2007, only two of the thirteen songs during the concert were sung in German.

One of these, Gretelein, Wach Auf! was about calling a girl to wake up because it was time to go feed the chickens. Even if you didnít understand the German words in this song, the sound of hungry chickens calling was vocalized by individuals in the choir and the sound was easily recognizable.

There was no chance that anyone other than the German girl in the song was asleep in church this day though, as the opening number was a rousing rendition of Stouthearted Men. Make no mistake about it, the magnificent male voices of the twenty-member choir resonated throughout the chapel room which was filled to capacity with listeners and their song brought all of us quickly to attention.

When the choir presented the second of the two songs that were sung in German, there was a personal surprise for me. German is a language of which my understanding is limited as it was perhaps for others in the audience, so we were told that it was a love song. In contrast to the opening number, this song brought with it a feeling of quiet serenity.

The name of the young woman in this gentle serenade is Rosemarie, not a very common name. I was very pleasantly surprised hearing it as it is my own name, and this was on a day which was special to me because it happened to be my birthday.

Other songs varied from religious to secular, and included works from famous composers such as The Omnipotence (Franz Schubert) and Brothers, Sing On! (Edvard Grieg) Near the end of the hour the audience was invited to join in singing with the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

A nice touch was added to the concert as a female soloist who works with the people at Four Seasons retirement center had been included in the program. We appreciated her strong and beautiful voice.

The pianist who accompanied the choir also played a solo, making us aware that music is indeed a universal language regardless of your place of birth.

This concert of magnificent song was an outstanding feature of my day, but a mystery remained. I havenít quite figured out how I came to be invited to this performance. I had received an attractive invitation in the mail which was not part of a mass mailing; it was addressed to me personally. Upon further inquiries to Four Seasons Retirement Center the mystery has not been solved, but I am grateful to my unknown benefactor for arranging for me to be included in this very special event.

Rose Pelone Sisson is a writer for the African American National Biography project of Harvard University in collaboration with Oxford University Press.