Since they arrived in America, Germans have always continued their love for their customs, bringing all their traditions from the Old World and making
themselves right at home with them here. And a Sängerfest or Singing Festival, whether male, women or mixed, is a tradition that is still very much enjoyed on a summer afternoon every year in June, in Cole Camp Missouri. Thanks to Neil Heimsoth, who is devoted to the preservation of the German language, especially the Plattdüütscher Vereen (Platt Deutsch or Low German) where he serves as President, he realizes that the Sängerfest is another way to make that happen.
So twenty six years ago, Heimsoth invited a few German friends over for a Sängerfest, and it has continued every year since. On June 10th, 2017 the air in Cole Camp was filled with the sounds of the Cole Camp Gemischter Chor, the
Deutscher Männerächor of St. Louis, the Kansas City Liederkranz, the GAST Sänger from Tulsa, the Cole Camp Damenchor, Cole Camp Männerchor and the Liederkranz Singing Society of St. Louis. For those of you who need a little help with the German, a Sängerfest is a Singing Festival, a Chor is a chorus, the Männerchor is a mens chorus, the Damenchor is a women’s chorus, the Gemischter is mixed, as is the Liederkranz as well. The St. Louis Liederkranz is the oldest mixed German singing group west of the Mississippi River and will celebrate its’ 150th Anniversary in 2020.
Just prior to the Sängerfest activities a wreath was placed at the beautiful
Immigrant Memorial across the street from the festival, in honor of all of those families who had come from Germany and settled in Cole Camp. Then it was “let the singing begin!” with Wagner’s entrance march Tannhäuser played. As has become traditional in most German-American events both the German National Anthem Deutschlandlied and the American Star Spangled Banner were sung first. After a few opening remarks by Herr Neil Heimsoth, the beautiful afternoon continued to be filled with the music the Germans had loved and sung for years. Friends greeted each other, the
towns residents stopped by to sit a while and listen, and the whole event was the same as a local church picnic except one thing… the sound of music that filled the air. There were folk songs and traditional songs, classical songs and even a beautiful rendition of Wie gross bist du or ‘How Great Thou Art”. Topped off by Dankeschön und auf Wiedersehn or “Thank you and Farewell” by all of the groups, and finished with “America the Beautiful” with the entire audience both young and old joining in.
The only thing left to do was enjoy some great German food, homemade desserts and beer, wine and schnapps. The Loehnig German Band, which had given us a little sneak peek performance earlier,
followed dinner and provided some great dance music to round out the day. There was nothing missing. It felt like a day like no other and yet was filled with traditions that were as old as the surrounding hillsides. Those ancestors memorialized across the street had to be smiling down somewhere, and were probably singing right along.
All of the groups participating, plus two more from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and another from Kansas City, Missouri, are part of the St. Louis District of the Nord Amerikanischer Sängerbund or North American Singers Association. For more information, see their website where we learned “It quickly became evident that due to the great distances between cities in the United States, it was nearly impossible to get the widely-scattered choruses together at one annual Song Festival. As a result, rather than a nationwide association, in 1850, in Philadelphia, the Eastern choruses formed a singers’ union. As a result there were two singing society unions: the Nord-Amerikanischer Sängerbund, in the “West,” and the Allgemeiner Deutscher Sängerbund von Nordamerika, in the East. At that point a controversy erupted over whether the names used were proper for rival, regional organizations! The Western societies changed their title to Erster Deutscher Sängerbund von Nordamerika or First German Singers’ Union of North America. The other organization changed to Nordöstlicher Sängerbund von Nordamerika or Northeastern Singers’ Union of North America. Further associations included the New England Singing Association; the New York Choruses founded the New York State Singers Association; the Texans formed the Texas Singing Association; the Northwestern states formed the Singers Association of the Northwest and the Pacific Singers Association covered choruses in the California area. Since then, the various regional singing associations have held their own Song Festivals.”