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Tamaqua men's choral group sang for President Taft

Published July 07. 2012 09:01AM

By jim zbick

@$: Maennerchor, which literally translated means "men's chorus" in English, is the name given to German social clubs, primarily in the northeastern United States, and in Pennsylvania particularly.

The earliest forms of these clubs where "singing societies" that perpetuated traditional choral music, both German and German American culture, providing Gemuetlichkeit (good fun and fellowship) for new immigrants. In the early 20th century, both Tamaqua and Mauch Chunk featured Mannerchor clubs.

Many of the clubs still function today as a restaurant and bar, serving German cultural foods and beers.

In late June of 1912, the Tamaqua Maennerchor made some local history when it became the first singing society from Tamaqua to have the honor of singing for a U.S. president. On July 1, the Tamaqua group joined thousands of other society members associated with the Germanic culture, for a great Sangerfest (singer festival) in Philadelphia.

Most of the groups were associated with the Germanic culture, and the music for the sangerfest was usually of German composers. Prizes including the coveted Kaiser Trophy, were awarded for the best group or groups.

The President and Mrs. Howard Taft were the guests of honor and the New York Tribune noted the event.

"As the President and his wife entered the 'vast auditorium, erected expressly for the occasion, the chorus of 6,000 trained male voices, the pick of the leading German singing societies in the East, sang 'The Star Spangled Banner,'" a reporter for the Tribune stated.

The President then addressed the crowd.

"The public taste which you have cultivated in such associations as this, and in your presentation of the compositions and sings of the great masters, have educated the public at large and, what is even more important, have widened the means of making happiness," he remarked.

"The pursuit of art by the many, with the unit of the family, under conditions in which good comradeship is made the chief incident, is the custom that we have borrowed, and this liberalizing and broadening of our family and social pleasures are due to the influence of those of our citizens who continue and maintain in this country the delightful customs of their Fatherland."

The President then told of the rich traditions being shared by the German people through their singing societies.

"There are many Philistines who hold lightly the practice of many arts which they are not familiar, but they are blind and do not realize that the cultivation of each branch of art only widens the opportunities for the enjoyment of life, and adds an additional resource for the promotion of happiness," Taft said.

The Sangerfest can be traced back to 19th Century Europe. It was popularized in part by university students who chose the art form to make political statements.

European emigrants brought a less politicized version of the tradition to North America and by the early part of the 20th Century, sangerfest celebrations were drawing sangerbunds (singer groups) that numbered in the tens of thousands. When Newark, New Jersey announced the 21st National Sangerfest to be held on July 14, 1906 in Olympic Park, 25,000 people showed up to hear the music, many arriving on chartered trains.

The Etude, a U.S. magazine dedicated to music but which also featured articles on history, literature, gossip, and politics, covered the Philadelphia Saengerfest in its Sept. 1912 issue.

"The grand scale on which the recent Saengerfest in Philadelphia has been carried out has recalled to many the tremendous efforts put forth at the World's Peace Jubilee in Boston, 40 ago," it stated. "Patrick Gilmore, then a young man of 20 or so, was responsible for the inception of the idea and for its carrying out.

"The World's Peace Jubilee commenced on Monday, June 17, 1872, and Boston continued to be deluged with sound until July 4, when, with a final orgy of concerts this unique and colossal assemblage of music-makers came to a jubilant end amid the firing of cannon."

It was under this rich canopy of history, that the Tamaqua group and President Taft arrived in Philadelphia for the 1912 celebration.

Due to a rise in anti-German sentiment during the years of World War I and World War II, some German singing festivals were canceled or suspended. But even today, the sangerfest tradition survives in states with a high German population, including Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

Lancaster, Pa. is an area where the tradition endures. In 2006, that city hosted its 49th Sangerfest.

Along with singing for the president of the United States in 1912, the Tamaqua Maennerchor enjoyed another red letter date two years later. On Labor Day of 1914, the club paid the last installment of $5,000 on its hall located on Schuylkill Ave.

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