Nordöstlicher Sängerbund History
Since the founding of the NÖSB in 1850, this triennial festival has been a tribute to the history of German choral music in America, and over the years, this proud tradition has fostered and preserved German music and song in this country.
The year 1844 is notable for the first "Sängerfest" - called ”Musikfest” in those days. This event was instituted in Philadelphia with the Männerchor of that same city along with the Baltimore Liederkranz. It was repeated by these same societies in Baltimore in that same year. Three similar festivals followed in 1845 and 1846.
It was, however, the year 1850 which stands out as the historical beginning of the Sängerfest held in Philadelphia June 15th to the 18th. At that festival, seven cities, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Newark, Boston, Reading and Bethlehem were represented, comprising of 15 societies. They officially founded the Nordöstlischer Sängerbund on Sunday, June 16, 1850. It was their desire to arrange annual Sängerfests. The second festival was planned for Baltimore in 1851, to be followed in New York in 1852, in Philadelphia in 1853, in Baltimore in 1854 and the sixth in New York in 1855. During the third fest in New York, the event was distinguished by the establishment of ”Preissingen” or "Choral Competition".
Two of the oldest societies in existence today are the Arion Gesangverein of Baltimore, founded in 1850 - which had the distinction of singing at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1863, when President Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address - and the Washington Sängerbund, founded in 1851. Its members stood at the bier of the slain president Lincoln in the rotunda of the Capitol in April 1865 and sang Ferdinand Hiller‘s composition of Goethe‘s impressive poem: "Gesang der Geister über den Wassern" (Song of the Spirits over the Waters).
Over time, the custom of annual festivals became difficult to manage. In 1854, it was decided to hold the Sängerfests every other year. After a gap of eleven years, during which a Sängerfest could not be arranged, the current practice of a festival every three years was adopted.
Preparations for the Ninth Sängerfest in 1861 were underway when the Civil War broke out. Many German-Americans answered the call to the colors. Among the notable German-Americans who distinguished themselves during the Civil War was Major Carl Lentz of Newark, New Jersey. He went on to become the highly esteemed president of the Nordöstlicher Sängerbund for 30 years.
The first post-Civil War festival in 1867 was attended by 2,390 singers - representing 83 societies. At the six-day celebration in Philadelphia, almost 3,000 singers representing 105 organizations found their way to Fairmount Park. It was on this occasion that the first formal constitution was drawn up and adopted.
At the 16th Sängerfest in Newark, in 1891, there were 135 societies and 4,000 singers. The 19th festival in Brooklyn in 1900 was not only the Golden Anniversary of the Sängerbund, but also the first occasion of a singing contest for the new "Kaiserpreis", donated by the German Emperor. This festival was attended by 174 societies and 6,000 singers. Permanent custody of the Kaiserpreis was eventually won in 1912 by the Junger Männerchor of Philadelphia. It is on display at the German Society of Pennsylvania. U.S. Presidents who have attended the festivals include Theodore Roosevelt at the 20th in Baltimore in 1903 and William Howard Taft at the 23rd in Philadelphia in 1912. For that Festival, a special Sängerfest Hall was authorized by Mayor Rudolph Blankenberg, Honorary Sängerfest Chairman, and designed and built in record time to accommodate an audience of 9,000 and 6,000 singers.
The entry of the United States into World War I in 1917 caused a cessation of activities for a number of years. A commemorative service was held on Memorial Day, 1919, in Cypress Hill Park in Brooklyn, at which representatives of a number of Eastern cities took part. The Sängerbund became active in collecting funds on behalf of the Quaker Feeding Program for German Children and the 25th festival was held in Brooklyn in 1921.
A meeting of the Board of Directors in New York in 1935 authorized the admission of ladies' choruses, the auxiliaries of constituent societies. The 30th Festival at Baltimore in 1938 was to be the last before the storm of World War II. The next Festival, the 31st and our most memorable N.O.S.B. Centennial, was held at the Convention Hall of Philadelphia in 1950. This was followed in 1954 by a successful Festival held in Jersey City and thereafter by subsequent festivals in New York City and Philadelphia. In 1961 the Sängerfest was for the first time held in Washington, DC, our Nation's Capital. By that time the Sängerfest took place every three years. While the number of participating choruses and singers in recent years has gone down, the spirit and tradition of triennial Sängerfests continues. The festivals used to extend over long weekends. In 2018, for the first time, it was scheduled as a one-day event, a move that was welcomed by the choruses and singers and joyfully celebrated with a concert and banquet on Saturday, June 2 at the Cannstatter Volksfest Verein in Philadelphia, PA.