Germanophiles unite in this 100-year-old choir

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Every Monday evening, a group of seniors gathers at St. Paul’s Evangelical Church to drink beer and sing German folk songs. For them, singing isn’t just a hobby  — it’s a way to keep their German heritage alive.

For one hour a week, the 32 members of the Dallas Frohsinn Singing Society sing renowned pieces by composers like Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang A. Mozart and Franz Schubert with energy and passion.

“It’s my heritage,” says Fred Secker, a neighborhood resident who joined the Frohsinn 12 years ago. “It makes me feel good because my grandfather and grandmother spoke German. I think I’d be lost without it.”

Singing talent isn’t a prerequisite to join the Frohsinn choir. These German crooners fervently follow the lyrics and notes on their sheet music while Christian Schoen, their choirmaster and organist, teaches them how to intonate their voices. His praise punctuates their efforts.

“Very nice. Actually, it’s more than nice. It’s wundervoll,” Schoen tells the group during practice.

The Frohsinn choir is not a new group. It originated in the early 1900s when Hans Kreissig, the first music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, became music director of the Frohsinn. Since then, the German choir’s membership numbers have fluctuated.

“Back in 1945, there were probably five members in the Frohsinn,” recalls Jozsef Fodor, the group’s president.

The name “Frohsinn,” meaning “cheerfulness” in German, clearly captures the mood of the choir. Its members are clearly less concerned with perfecting the pieces — some of which aren’t easy to sing — than with enjoying their time together.

“It’s good when you see these people that are kind of isolated come all together at once. They sing some songs they can relate to when they were young,” says Gertrud Thurston, a Frohsinn member.

But the weekly practice also isn’t for naught. The Frohsinn annually perform traditional German folksongs during Oktoberfest and Saengerfest.

The pieces they sing reveal themes of the motherland — themes that evoke a range of emotions among the Frohsinn singers who have a common heritage but varied experiences.

Choir member Arthur Blanchard was in the German army during World War II. He studied German and is still fluent today. Others were born in Germany and determined to maintain their German heritage after they immigrated to the United States. Schoen was born in Germany but left too early to have mastered the language.

“I really don’t have the heritage that the rest of these people have. I need to learn my history,” Schoen says.

“I look forward to Monday nights.”

In the future, Fodor hopes to keep the group strong in an effort to preserve the German community’s heritage in Dallas.

“We were immigrants in this country,” he says. “The common link is the German language.”

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