Washington Saengerbund History
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Washington Sängerbund
~ founded 1851 ~

Updated: March 31, 2009

Our History

Washington Sängerbund 1862 Early in 1851 a few young Germans, who had previously sung with the choir of the Concordia Church, 20th & G Sts., N.W. Washington, D.C. decided to organize a German Singing Society. They were planning to participate as a German chorus in the Second Song Festival of the Northeastern Sängerbund which was to be held in Baltimore, Maryland in June of 1851.

The group formed and elected its first president, Julius Viedt. Following an invitation from the members of the new singing club, Mr. Charles Walter of Baltimore accepted the musical directorship and set the date for the first rehearsal for April 12, 1851 at the German Hall on 11th Street, N.W. between F & G Sts in Washington, DC. But, as it turned out, in those days travel was not that easy and Mr. Walter was unable to attend due to inclement weather. In a letter he explained; "I am sorry for not appearing last night. But I thought I better stay home since I didn't think a rehearsal would get together in this kind of weather. I am happy about your intentions and I will become a member, if chosen as the new director or not. Please go ahead and schedule another rehearsal next Wednesday, April 20,1851 at 8:30 in the evening at the German Hall." This date marks the first rehearsal of record of the Washington Sängerbund.

The Sängerbund never went to the Song Festival in Baltimore in 1851 because the director felt that the group was not ready. In the following years, however, they began participating in those Song Festivals of the Northeastern Sängerbund and brought home prizes and awards on several occasions. Its first success in the then popular singing competitions came in July of 1869 in Baltimore when it won the first prize, a grand piano which it triumphantly brought home to Washington.

During its first 50 years of existence, the Washington Sängerbund grew to be recognized as the stellar singing group in Washington, D.C. and along the entire Eastern seaboard. It performed at many notable occasions and before many dignitaries. The Washington Sängerbund is mentioned in the early history of the United States when during the Civil War in July, 1861 German district soldiers stood at the Great Falls on the Potomac River to guard the local water supply utilities. One of the first two casualties was Henry Ricks, an active member of the Washington Sängerbund. And in 1865, after President Lincoln´s death, the Washington newspaper Columbia carried an article on April 22 which stated, "The Sängerbund furnished an honor guard at the head of the bier of the dead President. Suddenly the men from the Sängerbund sang through the silence "Gesang der Geister über den Wassern" by Franz Schubert.

By 1901, at its 50th Anniversary, the Sängerbund had a total of 3,179 members, including 398 active singers, 2,754 passive members and 27 honorary members. By 1929 bad economic conditions and the prohibition caused the Washington Sängerbund to cease operations. It even lost its Sängerbund Hall at 314 C St., N.W. which it had built and moved into on December 19, 1893. But in 1934 a new singing organization by the name of the Maennergesangverein Washington was founded. After three years the Maennergesangverein realized that the original charter was still on record, changed its name and the Washington Sängerbund was reborn. While the Sängerbund had always been a men's chorus, the ladies in 1936 decided to form their own singing society which was to exist for almost 30 years as the Washington Sängerbund Ladies Chorus. In 1967 they eventually decided to join the men to become a mixed chorus.

In 1981 the Washington Sängerbund published a 200-page hard-cover book describing its first 125 years. Frank H. Pierce III and his wife Nancy, both members of the Washington Sängerbund, did extensive research to cover many details of the Sängerbund's role in our nation's capitol of Washington DC reaching back to the days before the Civil War. The book is still available for purchase.

2005 Spring Concert at Natl. Building Museum The Nordoestlicher Sängerbund serves as an umbrella organization for German-American choruses in the Mid-Atlantic region and holds a Song Festival (Sängerfest) every three years in a different city. As a member, the Washington Sängerbund has hosted this Song Festival three times: in 1960 at the Uline Arena, in 1973 at the Sheraton Park Hotel and again in 1988 at the Washington Hilton Hotel. In 1993 it also organized a National Song Festival in Washington, DC with participating choruses from as far away as Germany, the West Coast and Canada. The grand finale was an outdoor concert presented on the west steps of the Capitol with chorus and orchestra.

In May of 2009 the Nordoestlicher Sängerbund will gather for the 50th time to hold its Sängerfest and, once again, our Nation's Capital Washington, DC has been selected as the location for this historic event. The Washington Sängerbund will be the host chorus and extends invitations to singers from all over the US, Canada and Germany.

Today the Washington Sängerbund continues its long tradition of preserving German music and German Culture in the Washington Metropolitan area with numerous concerts and musical performances during the year, often in conjunction with other groups such as the choruses of the German School in Potomac. Its repertoire consists of music in the German language and rehearsals are held weekly on Monday at 7 pm under its musical director Mariano Vales. In addition the Sängerbund sponsors other social activities such as an annual "German Fasching - Costume Ball", brings authentic German flavor to several local Oktoberfests, or plays host to visiting choruses from Germany.

Alwin Wenzel provided the history above, based primarily on the History of the Washington Sängerbund by Frank Pierce, published in hard cover.
The book is available at $25.00 incl. shipping. If you are interested in purchasing a copy, please send an email to wenzelaj@yahoo.com

Because some visitors to our web site have questions related to their family history or other historical research, you may wish to know about several web resources and other resources in the Washington, DC, area. Teacher's Journal of Rosa Barkanda Augustine (http://www.tcarden.com/tree/ensor/TeachersJournal.html) describes area history and names many of the residents of the German Orphan Asylum. The German Orphan Home no longer exists, but the German Orphan Home Foundation was renamed in 1999, its property sold, and its mission revised. Since the sale of that property, the Washington Sängerbund no longer holds events at Knobloch Hall on the grounds of the German Orphan Home. Die Vereinigte Kirche/The United Church (http://www.theunitedchurch.org) has been located since 1835 at 20th and G Streets, N.W., and is the site for an annual Christmas Concert by the Washington Sängerbund. Prospect Hill Cemetery (http://www.oocities.org/prospecthillcem/), located at 2201 North Capitol Street, NE, Washington, DC is the final resting place of many prominent German-Americans.

Web site design by: Carol Traxler
caroltraxler@yahoo.com and wenzelaj@yahoo.com