In October of 2011 I organized a weekend concert tour in Germany with a group of Sacred Harp tourists from the United Kingdom. Our trip itinerary included touring a medieval city and UNESCO world heritage site, looking in at an erstwhile Cistercian abbey which is now a prison, sampling local sausage in country inns in northern Bavaria, and—last but not least—assisting at two singing schools in Würzburg and Frankfurt taught by New York City-based singing master Aldo Ceresa—a good friend of mine.
Sacred Harp singing schools in the land of Bach? It all started in early 2010, when Ms. Jutta Pflugmacher contacted me to inquire about the prospect of bringing shape note singing workshops to Germany. Ms. Pflugmacher, who had lived in the U.K. during the mid-1990s and had encountered shape note music there (in the context of some of the early all-day singings held in the U.K.), had been reintroduced to the music at Northern Harmony concerts in Switzerland. She believed that shape note music could be a success in the German-speaking world.In early 2011, local organizer Keith Macdonald (who ultimately assumed the role of chief organizer on the German side) and I discussed how and where we might hold Sacred Harp singing schools in Germany. We ultimately agreed to hold two all-day singing schools (each with an introductory demonstration singing) in the towns of Würzburg (a university town in Northern Bavaria) and Frankfurt (a major town in west-central Germany and the home of Germany’s largest international airport). Thus, in late October 2011, Aldo, Ian, Jacqui, Cath, Judy, Helen, Ted, Dave and I found ourselves in the German countryside, where we visited and sang in the famous pilgrimage church in Franconia, Northern Bavaria of Maria im Weingarten, Volkach, toured the medieval city of Bamberg for an afternoon, and acted as “ringers” at the singing schools. We were joined in Würzburg and Frankfurt by Alison Mitchell Zunklei, a singer from Alabama who now lives in Germany, and Fynn Titford-Mock, an English singer who was also living in Germany at the time.
At the Würzburg singing school we had roughly 30 attendees, including singer Harald Grundner with an entourage of singers from the local weekly Sacred Harp singing he founded in Bremen, Germany.
At the end of the Würzburg singing school, a local friend of mine and I conducted a guided tour of the town for the attendees, and we then all went for a meal together. The next morning saw the British group packing up for an early start to drive to Frankfurt for the second all-day singing school.
Germany—just as other places in continental Europe where Sacred Harp singing has gained a foothold in recent years (Poland, France)—is a country with its own rich indigenous linguistic, cultural, musical, and religious heritage. Sacred Harp singing is clearly a foreign import in these places. This distinguishes Germany and Poland from the U.K. and (arguably) Ireland, where there are natural points of connection with the British/Celtic origins of many of the tunes and with the religious poetry of the Sacred Harp.
Nevertheless, Jutta Pflugmacher may be proven right. Already in January 2012, the local group of singers in Bremen, Germany hosted roughly 30 singers (including me) from Ireland, Poland and the U.K. for a weekend of singing and fellowship at their singing space in Bremen—a World War II bunker.
Some of the German singers attended the Irish Convention in Cork in March 2012, along with many British singers. Dozens of singers from all of the European singing communities are planning to attend the U.K. Convention in September, Camp Fasola Europe (held the following week near Gdansk, Poland), as well as the Polish Sacred Harp Convention which will immediately follow the European session of Camp.
Through reciprocal travel between the various European Sacred Harp communities European singers are forming relationships while helping to support each other’s growing singings. These inter-European relationships mirror the personal and community ties created between singers in across the United States in the 1980s and 1990s when southern singers traveled out of their home regions to support new singings in distant parts of the United States and members of new singing groups began traveling to the South and to each other’s singings. It is an exciting time for Sacred Harp in Europe. Come sing with us!