Sing For and About America, Part Two

Before taking another step forward:  go back and read Part One.

Thanks. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .>> > > > . . . . . . . . . .>>>>>>

After moaning and groaning about how poorly we are in introducing our children to the “American Songbook” as what should be an essential part of their education,  let us look at a remarkable European choral group that has made its interest in folk music and folk culture the most prominent feature of its work and the purpose for its existence.

I was not even aware of the  existence of this choral group,  nor was Native Daughter Billie (my long-suffering wife),  until nearly two years ago when a childhood friend and Confirmation Class mate sent her from Germany a CD done by the group and titled “Sing Along, America.”  Interestingly, the group was founded in Stuttgart in 1959 (and is still located there), the year of our wedding in the City Hall of this great metropolis.  So this is the fiftieth anniversary for all of us.

The “Onnen Chor” was founded by Gerd Onnen.  Today his son Manfred is the group’s maestro and also a soloist, as is Catherine Onnen. It has expanded its repertoire of vocal music in about 60 original languages (just consider that!) and over 350 titles. In its aptly-named “Boundless” collection,  these languages/cultures are represented:  Malaysia, Latin American, Ireland, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Spain, USA, Turkey, South Africa, England, Wales, Israel, Mexico, Russia, Switzerland, Iceland, Australia, and Scotland.

The subtitle of the “Sing Along, America” CD says (in German) “From the Dakotas to Broadway,  A Glimpse at the Musical History of the USA.” In terms of historical time,  the songs on this CD, with one or two exceptions, cover a period from the antebellum (pre-Civil War) South to the 1970s.  It represents,  as a liner note puts it,  these genres of music:  Folklore, Country, Spiritual und Gospel, Blues, Film, Musical.  The original name given to the group was “Folklorechor Stuttgart,”  and it annually has an extensive series of concerts in Stuttgart halls and theaters.

I have listened to the complete disk now two or three times and continue to admire the quality of the performances and the variety.  I was unfamiliar with a few of the selections,  but most I knew quite well.  The Stephen Foster song (he is represented by three compositions) “Old Folks at Home”  (“Way down upon the Sewanee River”) is rendered in contemporary “Standard English” rather than the original Negro dialect,  such as is found in the songbook of my youth (“The New Brown Book”):  “‘Way down upon de Swanee Ribber, Far,  far  away,/  Dere’s wha’ my heart is turning ebber, Dere’s wha’ de old folks stay.”

In contrasting styles and modes, the last six selections are all from films or musicals:  “Tea for Two,”  “Moon River,”  “Beauty and the Beast,” “Where Do I Begin,”  “Somewhere,” and a medley from “Hair.”  I also enjoy the bumptious beats of such mid-range pieces as “Tavern in the Town,”  “Cotton Fields,” and “Oh Happy Day.”

Should you wish to find more about my interest in the “American Songbook” and how I discovered and responded to finding that copy of “The New Brown Book” in Western North Carolina,  you might wish to find and read the eighth column I did for “The Sandspur,” which appeared in the August 6, 2006, issue.  It is titled “Music essential to American melting pot.”

If there is enough interest I can “post it” on this site.

Hope you will have a great Independence Day weekend!

RJR

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10 Responses to “Sing For and About America, Part Two”

  1. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Send it on Raymond!
    Have a wonderful Independence Day weekend!

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