About Us

Mass-Choir 2012 in Vancouver, BC

Mass-Choir at the last Sängerfest 2012 in Vancouver, BC, hosted by the AVC Melody Choir

Background

The Sängerfest tradition in Germany goes back many centuries. Richard Wagner gives us good examples of this tradition in his ‘Meistersinger’ opera, which tells the story of a highly competitive song festival in Nürnberg in the 17th century, and his opera ‘Tannhäuser’ takes us back to the legend of a ‘Sängerkrieg’ at the Wartburg in Thüringen during the 14th century. German speaking immigrants brought this song festival tradition across the Atlantic, and the first half of the 19th century saw a rapid expansion of singing societies and festivals in all of the major cities along the Eastern Seaboard, such as New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Within decades there were song festivals down the Ohio Valley, further west in places like Milwaukee and then across the continent, as the West was slowly opening up. With the westward movement of settlers and immigrants, it did not take long for the Sängerfest tradition to reach the West Coast. There was a big Sängerfest in San Francisco in 1852, the Gold Rush Sängerfest, and within decades there were over 50 German Singing Societies in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas.

The Nord Pazifischer Sängerbund

Developments in the Pacific North West were not far behind. New singing societies were established in Portland (1858), Spokane (1883), and Victoria started their Germania Choir in 1861. But the opportunity to form a regional Sängerbund did not come about until the last decade of that century, when Portland hosted the first big Sängerfest in the North West. That event inspired the start of five more choirs within the decade: Walla Walla, Tacoma, Seattle, Everett and Bellingham. The decision to form this new Sängerbund was finally made at  a festival meeting in Bellingham in 1901: Seattle was given the first official Sängerfest for 1902; Walla Walla competed for the second one; and Portland was determined to get the 1905 Sängerfest to coincide with the Pan American Exposition to be held in Portland during that year.

The Golden Years 1902 - 1913

There are very good reasons to call this period ‘The Golden Years’. The highlights of the first Sängerfest included a parade through Downtown Seattle, the Grand Concert with Orchestra, Soloists and the Mass Choir, as well as the Prize Singing for the individual choirs, in addition, of course, to a variety of evening entertainment. Just look at the headlines of The Morning Oregonian from July 29, 1902: Sang With the Band “Die Wacht am Rhein” – Walla Walla Gets Next Annual Meeting – Tacoma Wins Song Prize. The Morning Oregonian seems to have been especially impressed by the parade. To quote some of their observations: ...leading the parade were patrolmen ... on meddlesome steeds ... the band struck up “ Die Wacht am Rhein” ... the enthusiasm of the marchers bubbled over and hundreds of lusty voices joined in singing the fatherland’s national hymn ... the Portland and Spokane Societies were attired in long brown dusters with soft brown hats ... the Whatcom Concordia members carried white umbrellas which they twirled rapidly ... provoking bursts of applause ...  the Tacoma Sängerbund in brown uniform with peaked cap, carrying canes ... nearly 5000 men were in line, and the display attracted the attention of many thousands of Seattle citizens. Also mentioned in the report was that Tacoma had won the singing competition. The prize, a two foot beer stein, was promptly filled and passed around to start the evening festivities.

The only sour note was a comment that the parade had to be cut short to make sure the singers would get to the Concert on time.

All in all, a remarkable and extravagant event that inspired the other members of the Sängerbund to stage a series of lavish festivals with extraordinary musical presentations and unprecedented community support and involvement. Over the next 11 years there were 8 more song festivals. After Seattle, there was Walla Walla, Tacoma, Portland, Spokane and Everett, before the second cycle started again with Seattle and then Walla Walla in 1913. Each one of the hosts, of course, was determined to stage the best and biggest Sängerfest. The pride and competition among the choirs assured the ongoing growth and success of the Sängerbund, and created a growing appreciation by the audience and the host cities of being a part of this tradition.

No one in Walla Walla in 1913 could have imagined that anything could ever happen to derail the next scheduled Sängerfest. But, this cultural tradition came to an unforeseen and sudden end, damaged beyond imagination – and `The Golden Years` were over.  

The rebuilding Years 1925 – 36

It took years to rebuild the leadership in the choirs and the confidence to stage the first Sängerfest again after the decade of turmoil. Some of the smaller choirs like Everett and Walla Walla were unable to regain their membership. It was Portland who took the lead in 1925, gathering a much smaller group of choirs to launch the restart again. And indeed, it was a very successful Sängerfest, most of all as it gave the choirs the resolve and determination to continue with their beloved tradition. Next was Tacoma (1927), Seattle (1929), Portland (1932) Spokane (1934), and back to Tacoma again in 1936. It was a gradual rebuilding process, but a very enjoyable process as it brought the choirs together again, to enjoy their singing, to meet their old friends again and to be proud of the Sängerfest traditions.

But then – and unlike lightning that never strikes twice at the same place – history struck and repeated itself, and the song festival, that was scheduled to follow Tacoma, never happened.

Since 1952

This time it took 16 years before the Sängerbund could gather their confidence to start the old tradition one more time. Only Portland, Spokane and Seattle were left, as Tacoma was unable to rebuild their organisation. Fifty years after hosting the first ever Nord Pazific Sängerfest in 1902, Seattle took the lead one more time in 1952, starting the tradition that reaches all the way to our Sängerfest today.

The three choirs started out in 1952 with big hopes and realistic expectations, and by 1960, with the addition of the Vancouver Alpen Club Choir, the Sängerbund was able to present a most impressive return to festival singing. Who could forget that evening at the old Seattle Opera House (and there are still some among us who clearly remember that evening with the big Orchestra, the beautiful Solo Voices and the impressive Mass Choir). The next Sängerfest was in Vancouver (1962), and with the addition of Vancouver the momentum of the Sängerbund activities shifted gradually north of the 49th parallel. Numerous choirs were formed in B.C. during the sixties and seventies, largely due to the huge immigration wave during the preceding decades, and not surprisingly, more and more song festivals were hosted north of the 49th parallel. In total there have been 25 festivals since 1952. There were four each in Seattle, Portland and Spokane. North of the 49th there were six in Vancouver, two in Victoria and   another two in Nanaimo. In the Interior, there were two in Kelowna and one in Prince George; all in all, a healthy and dynamic sign of the Sängerfest tradition in the Pacific North West.

A few things have changed over this time period. For example: the two day musical extravaganza of the Great Concert – Individual Choir Singing has changed to a concert format with individual presentations followed by the Mass Choir; the prize singing was introduced again in the mid sixties and dropped again a few years later; the huge immigration wave went through a natural cycle returning the Sängerbund to eight choirs, as in 1902; and Yes, our aging voices are maturing – like aging wine.

While many things may have changed, the central essence of the Sängerfest has not and never will change, that is: to bring like-spirited choirs together; to enjoy singing - in your own choir, with the mass choir and during the celebrations and festivities afterwards; to meet old friends again and to make new ones; and, to proudly be part of this century old German Tradition.

Willi Ternes, MGV Lyra
Vancouver, BC

History MAP of the Sängerfest

History Map 2015

 

Information

 

Logo

 

Chairman of the Event Committee:

Horst Zimmermann
email: click here

 

Tickets for the Event:

Rudy Milz
email: click here

 

Musical Director of the Event:

Ben Ewert, M.Mus.
email: click here

 

Webmaster:

Jochen Petersen
email: click here

 

Song Festivals:

1902 Seattle
1903 Walla Walla
1904 Tacoma
1905 Portland
1907 Spokane
1909 Everett
1911 Seattle
1913 Walla Walla
1925 Portland
1927 Tacoma
1929 Seattle
1932 Portland
1934 Spokane
1936 Tacoma
1952 Seattle
1954 Portland
1958 Spokane
1960 Seattle
1962 Vancouver
1965 Portland
1967 Victoria
1969 Spokane
1972 Seattle
1974 Spokane
1977 Vancouver
1980 Portland
1982 Vancouver
1984 Kelowna
1987 Seattle
1990 Vancouver
1993 Spokane
1996 Nanaimo
1998 Prince George
2001 Victoria
2003 Kelowna
2005 Portland
2008 Vancouver
2010 Nanaimo
2012 Vancouver