“Wherever people sing, you can happily settle...”. Germans are flocking to join choirs.

Photo of the Philharmonic Choir in Cologne
© Philharmonischer Chor Köln / CC BY

Choral singing has been experiencing a real revival in Germany over the past few years, reversing many years’ decline as the age profile of choir members rose and the younger generations were not coming through to replace them. The revival in the choir scene can be attributed to trends in the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden, where singing a wide variety of different music as part of a group in a relaxed and convivial setting is a long-standing tradition.

In the 19th century, Germany had a thriving choral landscape. Major choral works were being composed, folk song enjoyed great popularity, and many people were members of choirs. Under National Socialism, however, choral music acquired negative overtones, with the result that by 1945, there were fewer and fewer people wanting to sing in choirs.

Many types of choirs

Today, Germany once again boasts an enormous range of choirs, representing enormous diversity both of members and of musical style. 2012 marked the 800th anniversary of the foundation of one of the world’s most famous boys’ choirs, the celebrated Thomanerchor (St. Thomas Choir) of Leipzig, while in Berlin, , with its loose membership, provides entertainment in pubs and in underground stations. , of which roughly a third belong to the , a body steeped in tradition.

There are basically two types of choir; on the one hand there are professional choirs, in which trained musicians sing for a living, such as opera and radio choirs; and on the other hand there are amateur choirs in which people come together for the sheer pleasure of singing with others in their spare time. These include mixed choirs, with the usual range of female soprano and alto voices and male tenor and bass voices, male voice choirs, female voice choirs and children’s choirs. And they sing a very diverse range of music, from traditional choral works to current pop music. Gospel choirs are also very popular.

Many choirs with a classical repertoire regularly work with amateur orchestras and put on concerts. Singing in an a capella choir is especially demanding; it essentially means singing without instrumental accompaniment, so every voice has to be particularly good and must have a clear sound.

Singing promotes your health

One experience common to all singers is that singing as part of a choir has a positive impact. It boosts your energy and your social skills, because you have to step back and always listen to the other singers. And research has established that singing even boosts the immune system: it promotes the production of a substance called immunoglobulin A. Being actively involved with music also triggers the release of endorphins. In other words, singing makes you happy.

Asked why they sing in their university choir, students from Düsseldorf gave many different answers but all agreed that singing as part of a choir was not only fun, it was also good for the mind and the soul. And you’re in good company, surrounded by like-minded and friendly singers. Poet Johann Gottfried Seume acknowledged this more than 200 years ago, when he famously said ‘Wherever people sing, you can happily settle. Wicked people have no songs.’

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