Many dialects sing with one voice

Photo courtesy of Norwegian Singers Association of America

Photo courtesy of Norwegian Singers Association of America

Molly Andrus
Norwegian American Weekly

The Norwegian Glee Club of Minneapolis is pleased to present Sangerfest 2014. In conjunction with the Norwegian Singers Association of America, the Glee Club is hosting over 200 singers and 10 choruses, as well as the Copper Street Brass Orchestra and Soloists. As the special guests for Sangerfest 2014, Mandskoret “Bislett Bad & Rundkjøring” will be coming all the way from Oslo.

Audiences are invited to enjoy a variety of traditional Norwegian and American music from June 12 to June 14 at the University of Minnesota’s Ted Concert Hall. They won’t want to miss the Parade of Choruses Concert at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday or the Grand Concert at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday.

As the Norwegian Glee Club gears up for this spectacular event, many are reflecting back on the rich history of the chorus. Scandinavian Singing Societies in America date all the way back to the 1870s. The Glee Club has been around since the 1912, and has played a large role in Minnesota’s Norwegian-American community.

President Herb Nelson believes that singing is crucial in preserving one’s cultural heritage. “Singing tells and keeps the old stories alive; hence, it is and will continue to be a large participant in the culture,” he says.

  Photo: Barbara Horten  Members prepare for the Grand Concert in St Charles, Ill., in 2012.

Photo: Barbara Horten
Members prepare for the Grand Concert in St Charles, Ill., in 2012.

With over a century of history, it is only natural that the Glee Club has seen many changes throughout the years. Despite evolving membership, some of the members have stuck with the Glee Club for quite some time!

The longest-membership award for a current member goes to Bjorn Hagen. He has been singing with the Norwegian Glee Club for 62 years, ever since he joined in 1952.

Born and raised in Oslo, Hagen moved to the U.S. in 1947. Sponsored by his father, Hagen joined the Glee Club as a young man. The membership was much different back then than it is today, he notes. “We were young, we were tough, and we had a lot of fun,” Hagen remarks.

Hagen has especially fond memories of director Frederick Wick, who also served as director-in-chief of the Norwegian Singers Association of America. According to Hagen, Wick saw something in Scandinavian music that would help to keep the Norwegian heritage fresh in the community.

When Hagen first joined, about three-quarters of the members were immigrants. He remembers Wick commenting that the group was made up of 32 different dialects and asking “How in the world can I make it into one voice?” Hagen simply replied with “Good luck!” but notes that somehow Wick managed to unite them.

Throughout his long career, Hagen has established many friendships and held every job imaginable within the club. He has seen the number of Norwegian choruses dwindle and watched the percentage of American-born members rise. Now there are only seven or eight members who were born in Norway. In fact, some of the members use the experience to learn the Norwegian language.

Another long-time member is Bjorn Lasserud. Also born and raised in Oslo, Lasserud moved to the U.S. in the 1960s. He didn’t know many people in America when he first arrived with his family, but two years after his immigration someone suggested he join the Glee Club. Lasserud joined immediately and has been a member ever since. He believes that the Glee Club has helped to preserve his Norwegian heritage both in his community and in his own family.

“The friendship, the singing, and everything else is fantastic,” Lasserud remarks, looking back on his 50 years of membership. One of Lasserud’s favorite aspects of the Glee Club is traveling all around the country and singing in front of large crowds.

Both Hagen and Lasserud are looking forward to Sangerfest this year with the great current director, Carsted Slostad. It will be the first time since 2002 that Minneapolis hosts this event.

Nelson is excited to welcome everyone to Sangerfest 2014. He is proud of the Norwegian Glee Club in continuing its mission “to share our Scandinavian Heritage with the public and to have good fellowship amongst the members in doing so.”

Despite a long history, “the spirit and the purpose has not changed,” says Nelson. This year’s spectacular Sangerfest will only help to increase the spirit of the Norwegian American community!

This article originally appeared in the May 30, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.