In our constantly changing society, how does an organization survive for 120 years? Well, if it’s a German singing group, like Forest Park’s Harlem Maenner und Damen Chor, moderate amounts of beer and wine help keep the gang together.
The choir’s rehearsals are positively festive and contain a generous helping of Gemutlichkeit (that’s friendliness); and, this year, the group will be sharing their love of German Christmas carols at Centuries & Sleuths bookstore during the Holiday Walk.
The chorus is not only Forest Park’s longest-lasting club, it predates the village itself. The Manner Chor began singing at a Harlem saloon in 1890. The Dammer Chor started in 1910 and the groups merged to form a co-ed chorus in 1991. They continue to practice their singing every Tuesday night at the Eagles hall.
Peter Herdeg, the group’s president, grew up near Zurich, Switzerland. He came to the US in 1966 and first encountered the chorus in the mid ’70s. He was having a beer at the VFW bar, when they talked him into singing.
The chorus has long been part of the fabric of Forest Park. In 1965, they held the village’s first Oktoberfest. The festival grew in size over the years but, by 1992, the chorus members were tired of running such a large operation. They continue to host a scaled-down Oktoberfest at the Grove, the week following Ribfest.
They are always a fixture at Forest Park festivals, selling brats at Summerfest and refreshments at the Fourth of July. The group depends on money raised at fests to meet its modest budget. In the past, they sang and operated a beer tent at Germanfest on the North Side of Chicago. Peter said they went through over 290 barrels of beer this year, alone.
In addition to singing at festivals and giving an annual concert, the group has entertained seniors at the Altenheim and Community Center.
The Forest Park group has 21 active members, but Peter wishes they had more. He said that a love of music is a perquisite, and knowledge of German is optional. The chorus chooses German, Austrian and Swiss songs that are lively and audience-friendly.
At their latest rehearsal, members relaxed their vocal chords with beer and spiced wine, before Director Dennis Costanzo arrived. Accompanying the group on piano, Dennis put them through their paces. The lodge hall was filled with lilting German music, the singers swaying to the waltz rhythm. “Once again, verse two,” Dennis commanded, “Let’s hear the consonants.”
Consonants and more will be heard at the bookstore, during Holiday Walk: the group is sharing the space with a medieval singing group, the Pippens. The only song the two choirs know in common is “Rudolph the Red Nosed-Reindeer.”
I always liked that line about how the other reindeer wouldn’t let Rudolph join in their Gemutlichkeit.
Those interested in joining the chorus can call Peter at 630-545-1041.