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Several hundred singers will gather in Fredericksburg for SaengerFest, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Arion Maennerchor and to celebrate the joy of singing. Photo by Phil Houseal

SaengerFest on September 27 at the Farm Bureau Hall on Equestrian Drive off Hwy 87 South. Also performing: Bill Smallwood Big Band, Cadence Cloggers, and the Old Munich Duo. The public is invited from 1:30 to 5 p.m. There is no admission charge. For more information, call 669-2104 or 997-9371.

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by Phil Houseal
Sept 17, 2008


In Texas we love our fests, celebrating oddities from mosquitoes to watermelon thumps to spam-o-ramas. Next week, Fredericksburg is host to SaengerFest, when several hundred "Saengers" will hit town simply to sing.

The honor comes to the community to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Arion Maennerchor, a local German men's choir that was founded in 1908.

According to Dieter Kemper, president of the choir, members of the Texanischer Gebirgs Saengerbund (Texas Hill Country Singers' Association) will arrive from neighboring towns for a day of singing and fellowship.

"We just like to keep the tradition of German singing alive," said Kemper, who credits early immigrants for starting the tradition in this area.

Each group will perform two songs. During the afternoon, the choirs will combine with songs in turn by the women, the men, and the massed mixed choir.

Gillespie County used to be home to 20 German singing clubs, and according to Hermann Sons Choir president Heinrich Boenig, Fredericksburg still boasts two: Arion Maennerchor (Arion Men's Choir) and Hermannsoehne Gemischter Chor (Hermann Sons Mixed Choir). The groups perform two annual concerts, on the first Sundays in May and November.

"We are amateurs and we don't always sing correctly, but that's why we have a director," Kemper said. "We only have rehearsal one evening a week, but we come together just for the joy of singing."

Why? Long-time member and local historian Kenn Knopp lists his reasons.

"First of all it is about the beautiful music," Knopp said. "We don't hear beautiful music anymore. We sing Beethoven, Bach, Wagner, arias from opera, and waltzes. Then it is about everybody participating and harmonizing. And when you have a director like Mark Hierholzer, who is so gifted and spirited, you are happy to sing."

For Hierholzer, it is also about doing something of value for the larger community.

"Human beings together in a room to sing - simply for the joy of singing - is terrifically important," Hierholzer said. "We need to come back to this for the health of our culture."

Hierholzer notes the cultural contrasts can be "startling" when attending these gatherings.

"It is an interesting feeling to get out of your car, after hearing whatever music you listen to, and you walk into this place and you feel like you have been transported 100 years back in time."

Adding to that feeling of going back in time is the pomp and ceremony. The event begins with members of each Bund parading to the front the hall, carrying their flags to the accompaniment of march music, with streamers from a century of festivals flying from the staffs.

If you miss this particular fest, do not fret. Kemper makes the point that devoted German folk singers do not require a formal event in order to practice their hobby.

"Germans always like to come together to sing these songs," he said, "even if it is just under a tree, with a stein of beer."