Zero ta­lent is re­quired

Min­nesota Beer Choir com­bines love of suds and sing­ing.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living - By KIM ODE

WIELD­ING ales and stouts, lagers and porters, the as­sem­bled throng of ci­ti­zen-singers leaned into the cho­rus of The Wild Rover, an old Ir­ish drink­ing song.

“And it’s no, nay, never!

No, nay, never, no more!”

By the sec­ond verse, pock­ets of har­mony were heard as some voices broke into alto and tenor, bass and so­prano.

By the third verse, the pa­tio at Flat Earth Brew­ing Co. in St. Paul, Min­ne­ap­o­lis, the United States, with its me­dieval-ru­ins vibe, rang with full-throated chords sung at direc­tor Adam Rein­wald’s mug-swing­ing tempo.

“And it’s no, nay, never! No, nay, never, no more!

Will I plaaayyyy the wild rover­rrrr, no never, no more!”

Beer Choir was in ses­sion.

The event is ex­actly as billed. In the words of the of­fi­cial theme song: “The Beer Choir is the choir that sings while drink­ing beer.”

It con­venes about every three months – this was the third time – de­pend­ing on when co-founders Rein­wald and Paul Wil­son can jibe their sched­ules with a brew­ery able to host sev­eral hun­dred cho­ris­ters. A Face­book page, Beer Choir Twin Cities, is the best way to stay in­formed.

For Rein­wald and Wil­son, mu­sic rep­re­sents (var­i­ously) a means of heal­ing, an es­cape from chaos, a path back to ba­sics, a whole lotta fun.

“There’s a phys­i­o­log­i­cal re­sponse to sing­ing to­gether,” Rein­wald said. “Af­ter a while, your heart­beat moves in time with your neigh­bour’s.”

Sens­ing that he’d veered into choir-geek­dom, he quickly added: “And there’s beer!”

Strangers into friends

The idea be­gan three years ago. Michael En­gel­hardt, a com­poser and con­duc­tor in St. Louis, was noodling about ways to get more peo­ple sing­ing to­gether. He’s also a cham­pion of craft beers and, cou­pled with a mu­si­cally pop­ulist streak, came up with the idea of sing­ing while drink­ing beer.

Even­tu­ally, he con­nected with Rein­wald and Wil­son, who needed lit­tle per­suad­ing. They sched­uled the first Beer Choir Twin Cities at St. Paul’s Sum­mit Brew­ery. More than 500 peo­ple showed up.

The sec­ond event in April at Min­ne­ap­o­lis’ In­bound BrewCo, at­tracted 400 singers. Last month’s sing at Flat Earth drew about 300.

That may sound like crowds are ebbing, if you can say that about three-fig­ure turnouts, but they’re just be­com­ing more man­age­able, Wil­son said.

While the Twin Cities chap­ter is not the first Beer Choir, it’s con­sid­ered the flag­ship of the 17 chap­ters across the coun­try be­cause of the turnout, Rein­wald said.

Rein­wald and Wil­son have known each other since they sang to­gether at St. Olaf Col­lege. “If we’d had a baby when we first met each other, that baby could now drink!” Rein­wald said, crack­ing up Wil­son.

They pur­sued dif­fer­ent ca­reers; Rein­wald is as­sis­tant con­duc­tor of the Na­tional Lutheran Choir, Wil­son is a wealth man­age­ment ad­viser. But they kept sing­ing to­gether for sev­eral years in Can­tus, among the top male vo­cal en­sem­bles in the coun­try.

How­ever much they joke about the adult bev­er­ages in this gig, they’ve long been mo­ti­vated by an­other goal: help­ing peo­ple feel like they be­long to a group, and turn­ing strangers into friends.

Sing with gusto

Par­tic­i­pa­tion has not been a tough sell in a state known as “the land of 10,000 choirs.”

Ac­cord­ing to Cho­rus Amer­ica, a na­tional ad­vo­cacy group, Min­nesota has more than 100 in­de­pen­dent pro­fes­sional, com­mu­nity and youth choirs, plus thou­sands of school and church choirs. Put an­other way, more than 450,000 Min­nesotans – about one in eight – sing in at least one cho­rus.

“I tell peo­ple that sing­ing is re­quired to live here,” said Jean Ram­low of Golden Val­ley, at her first beer choir with her friend Suzy Travis of Ed­ina. Ram­low sings in other com­mu­nity choir events, but Travis was a new­bie. “I’m a bet­ter drinker than I am a singer,” she said. “But I can sing with gusto.”

Not a note had been sung, but they’d been chat­ting with Michael Kara­man of Ply­mouth, at his third Beer Choir and, as a mem­ber of the Twin Cities a cap­pella group Kan­torei, a trained singer.

“I like to har­monise spon­ta­neously,” Kara­man said, but his rea­sons for sing­ing with suds are so­cial. “You get to meet new peo­ple over a beer, in an open en­vi­ron­ment.”

What brought Marje Nitz of North St. Paul to her first Beer Choir? “Mu­sic, and alcohol,” she said, laugh­ing. She’d grown up sing­ing, but never quite in th­ese cir­cum­stances. “This seems like a pub­lic quo­rum for fun.”

Ev­ery­one had been en­cour­aged to down­load the Beer Choir Hym­nal, as­sem­bled at the na­tional level by En­gel­hardt. There are orig­i­nal and tra­di­tional songs, Ger­man rounds and English chanteys, and a clas­sic riff on Do-Re-Mi (“Dough, the stuff that buys me beer. Ray, the guy who serves me beer.”)

Wil­son and Rein­wald might throw in a lit­tle Bea­tles or ask singers to make up new words to nurs­ery rhyme tunes. When a bridal bar crawl hap­pened upon the April ses­sion at In­bound, they led an ex­tem­po­ra­ne­ous ren­di­tion of Chapel Of Love.

High school choir direc­tor Richard Car­rillo, Men­dota Heights, is sold on the idea.

“Mu­sic is a huge part of my life, but do­ing this as a ran­dom ex­pe­ri­ence is a blast,” he said. “Mu­sic brings peo­ple to­gether, and this is the epit­ome of that.”

A tribal ex­pe­ri­ence

For founder En­gel­hardt, Beer Choir is just the first it­er­a­tion of a much big­ger idea.

His vi­sion is that choral sing­ing finds its way into other “tribes” of peo­ple, mov­ing beyond beer drinkers to, say, cof­fee sip­pers, yo­gis, fill-in-the-blankers – “all in an ef­fort to ful­fill what I be­lieve is my pri­mary mis­sion: Bring choir to the peo­ple.”

Baby steps. For now, so many chap­ters are ap­ply­ing for mem­ber­ship un­der the um­brella of the na­tional Beer Choir that he’s tem­po­rar­ily hit “pause” on the process.

And, for any­one con­cerned about singers climb­ing into their cars with bari­tone on their breath, many at the Flat Earth ses­sion wore T-shirts urg­ing: “Sing re­spon­si­bly,” which is a clever way of say­ing: Don’t be stupid.

Af­ter all, Wil­son said, Beer Choir is meant to be “a respite from the chaos” that can be daily life.

Which sent Rein­wald on a rem­i­nis­cence of days im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the Sept 11 at­tacks, when he found him­self head­ing for Brit’s Pub in Min­ne­ap­o­lis.

“When times are tu­mul­tuous, I want to be with other peo­ple. I want to sing with my friends. We’re all look­ing for hu­man con­nec­tion.”

Then came the jokes.

“At Beer Choir, you know you al­ready have two things in com­mon with some­one you’ve never met,” Wil­son said.

Added Rein­wald: “Zero ta­lent is re­quired, but par­tic­i­pa­tion is es­sen­tial.” – Star Tribune (Min­ne­ap­o­lis)/Tribune News Ser­vice

(Back row from left) Everett Vass, Sara Welle, Kris Kautz­man and Krista Cost­ing sing along dur­ing a Beer Choir Twin Cities get to­gether in St. Paul, Min­ne­ap­o­lis. — Pho­tos: TNS

Rein­wald (right), co-founder of Beer Choir with St. Paul mayor Chris Cole­man.

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