Bryan Seith, the director of the Rockville Chorus, whole-heartedly supported the idea of taking the Chorus to Rockville’s Sister City Pinneberg, Germany.  Bob Nelson, a member of the tenor section of the Chorus and a Board Member of the Rockville Sister City Corporation (RSCC), had led the discussion about the trip for several years.  In 2007 the Chorus sang for Rockville’s 50th anniversary celebration of the Sister City relationship, and members met visitors from Pinneberg.  When Bryan Seith was selected in 2008 by the National Endowment for the Humanities as one of 25 teachers from around the country to study J.S. Bach in Germany for four weeks, and he visited Pinneberg to initiate a musical exchange program, all of the essential elements of inspiration came together.

In addition, the Chorus had received an invitation from a German Chorus, “Haste Töne” in Dinslaken, to participate in the first-time Ruhr Valley Choral Festival Ruhr 2010.  Chorus members Rotraut Bockstahler and Lorne Garrettson did a masterful job of organizing a two phase trip to Germany. Rotraut, a member of the RSCC, planned the visit to Pinneberg and Lorne, whose nephew Gary Garrettson lives in Dinslaken, planned a Chorus visit to the Ruhr Valley to participate in their Day of Song. Over a year of detailed work finally came to fulfillment on June 1, 2010 when the Rockville Chorus left via a Rockville Senior Center bus for Dulles Airport and a rewarding tour of Germany.  A total of 29 singers and supporters met in Dinslaken on June 2nd to start a truly amazing adventure.

The planning was not without trepidations. The first concern was cost.  The problem was resolved by the purchase of a group ticket arranged by Lorne and the proposal to stay with host families in both locations. The stay at host homes turned out to be for many the highlight experience of the trip.  The second concern began when the Chorus received a large (over 150 page) book of music for the Ruhr Valley Day of Song. The songs covered nearly every music genre with texts in English, German, Latin and Italian. Some music was familiar, but most was new to us.  During the 2009-2010 Chorus year rehearsals were devoted to learning a few of the songs and hopefully enough German to get by.  The third concern came when we learned that three choruses (Dinslaken’s Haste Töne, Fredrikstad’s Stabburkoret from Norway and the Rockville Chorus) would perform at a joint concert and would exchange music for a joint performance. The songs would be from each group’s repertoire and the other two choruses would learn them.  Thus we added Norwegian to our list of pronunciations to learn! The fourth concern was an accompanist since our regular accompanist was not available.  Bryan proposed a student, Sanfan Hung and Chorus member Joli McCathran proposed her musician son-in-law, Ryan Brechmacher. Both were able to make the trip and added musically with stellar performances.

On June 2nd the group arrived at Düsseldorf where we were met by hosts and a bus for the drive to Dinslaken. That afternoon consisted of meeting the Norwegian and German choruses, touring the city of Dinslaken and attending a reception to meet our hosts. The Mayor of Dinslaken presented the two visiting choruses with a plaque representative of the Ruhr Valley.

June 3rd was a holiday in Germany. Most of the visiting chorus members toured the Duisburg port, the largest inland harbor in northern Europe at the junction of the Rhine and Elbe Rivers.  The day was sunny and warm as were most of the days we spent in Germany. A dress rehearsal for the joint concert was held that afternoon.

On June 4th the group toured Oberhausen whose attractions included the Gasometer and a large modern mall. The view of the Ruhr Valley from atop the Gasometer was breathtaking, and we viewed many industrial and mining facilities that have been converted into cultural and performance centers.   The concert at the Dinslaken Civic Auditorium, Kathrin-Türks-Halle, was held that evening. Each chorus sang a collection of songs and at the end, all three joined in singing a song selected by each of the choruses. A large and appreciative audience listened and wanted more.

Saturday, June 5th, was the Day of Song. In the morning, various groups including a youth chorus with some children of our host families, sang in the town center and other venues in Dinslaken. At noon, all three choruses met and sang at the town center. That afternoon we traveled by bus to Schalke Stadium, the Veltins football Arena in Gelsenkirchen, for a dress rehearsal, dinner and the televised evening concert.  Organization for the rehearsal, dinner and concert was most impressive. About 6,000 chorus members from 14 countries were seated on the infield for the rehearsal and concert.  We were assigned a leader who led the three choruses from Dinslaken to infield seats and outside to our assigned tent for dinner.  Under the overall direction of Steven Sloane, the concert consisted of the 6,000 chorus members and over 60,000 attendees singing a musical program stretching from classical to rock, folklore to jazz, popular to sacred.  An international group of performers included American vocal artist Bobby McFerrin, the Bulgarian opera singer Vesselina Kasarova, Belgium’s popular choir Scala & Kolacny Brothers and the acapella band Wise Guys from Cologne.  As described by one Chorus member, it was an “out of body” experience.

The next day we traveled by bus to Pinneberg, met our host families of the Deutsch Amerikanische Gesellschaft Rockville-Pinneberg (DAGRP) at the town center and then performed an evening concert at City Hall with two local groups, the Damensingkreis and the Pinneberger Männergesangverein. On Monday morning, June 7th, the Mayor of Pinneberg held a reception for us and afterwards we walked to the Pinneberg Rosengarten to view the Rockville-Pinneberg Sister City plot and the Rockville Rose.  We enjoyed the remainder of the day on our own with our host families.

On Tuesday we met at the Bahnhof and our hosts took us by train to the hanseatic city of Lübeck, the birthplace of Thomas Mann.  We discovered a wonderful old city of narrow streets, home to the best marzipan in the world. We toured St. Mary’s church (Marienkirche) and were invited to perform after lunch.  After a delicious lunch we returned to St. Mary’s to sing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.”

On Wednesday we took the train to Hamburg, bringing our concert attire for a performance to be held after midday services at St. Michael’s Cathedral (Hamburger Michel).  St. Michael’s is a truly beautiful church done in white and gold with three magnificent organs.  Our performance was well received and after lunch we toured the Hamburg docks and took a boat around the harbor. The architecture was very modern with a common ship motif. A warehouse on Hamburg’s waterfront is being transformed into the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, a very ambitious undertaking.

On Thursday we visited a magnificent Arboretum near Pinneberg, enjoying lunch in their café. That evening members of the DAGRP held a pot luck dinner and the Chorus regaled them with a couple of our favorite tunes. The music was enhanced by accordion music played by one of our hosts.  A highlight of the evening meal was excellent grilled wurst paid for with a contribution by our RSCC.

Much of Friday was unscheduled free time for us and we enjoyed activities with our host families.  That evening we performed our final concert, a joint concert at the famous baroque church at Rellingen with the Pinneberg Youth Orchestra. The Youth Orchestra, under the direction of Maike Mechelke, was truly marvelous.

On Saturday, June 12th, sadly we said goodbye to our host families and Pinneberg.  We arrived at Dulles that evening and buses from the Rockville Senior Center took us home, tired and happy after a wonderful experience.

We cannot say enough about our hosts and host families, who took excellent care of us. It was a treat and privilege to live in the host family homes. They gave us a place to sleep, fed us, drove us to the events, and displayed unbelievable hospitality. The Sister City relationship between Rockville and Pinneberg stands strong.  We would like to thank the organizers and members of the DAGRP, especially Angelika Schulze and Margrit Ziegler, for the excellent program they put together and for their heartwarming generosity.  We would also like to thank the RSCC for their generous support and financial contribution.  Danke!

Adapted from notes taken by Board Secretary Hilbert Hubble

Komer Na is a Norwegian song about Spring

1.  If you hear a guitar by the bouse where your live

It is I who is passing by and bidding farewell

2.  It can often be hard to hold such as I

It is good sometimes to find shelter

3.  This shows all things here on earth

Soon the last tones will come from my guitar

Chorus:  It comes now, it comes now, Spring comes now

Soon the horses head will point and that is the way I must go

It comes now, it comes now, Spring comes now