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Singing helped keep German language alive

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Das deutsche Lied  (German song) bound the early settlers together, kept their language alive, and was a constant companion through good times and bad. This love of music came with the emigrants from Germany to Texas.

Just imagine what the music must have been like on the trek up from the coast to NB during the tragic year of 1846 when so many emigrants died and were buried along the way. “So nimm denn meine Hände” (So take my hands) was a popular and highly emotional song sung at funerals. It is still sung occasionally at First Protestant Church funerals and it is heart wrenching.

Classical music from composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Strauss, and Mozart came across the sea, but Volkmusik arose from the heart and soul of the people.

Singing societies were prevalent in Germany and it was only natural that the first Sängerbund (singing society) in Texas was organized in New Braunfels five years after the first settlers arrived (1850). They named the society Germania, followed by Liedertafel and then Concordia.

Hermann Seele’s home (corner of Seele and Sanger Sts.) was the location of the first Sängerfest in 1853. Having no building at that time, an open area was cleared for a round dance floor and the soil was compacted and roofed over with wagon canvasses borrowed from the teamsters. Long branches covered the shelter and around the dance floor tables and benches were built for the guests. Singers were invited throughout the state. By 1855 Seele had built a brick Sängerhalle on his property on the banks of the Guadalupe River. Many singing, dancing, and dramatic productions were held here.

Over the years, singing has been an important part of NB society. Early educator Curt Schmidt was a strong believer in keeping the German language alive through singing folk songs. In the 1960s Louise Dietz taught sixth graders German at Carl Schurz Elementary and I taught them folk songs brought from Germany – love songs, military songs, drinking songs, fun songs like “Schnitzelbank”.

“Ist das nicht ein Regenschirm?” (Isn’t that an umbrella?)

“Ja, das ist ein Regenschirm” (Yes, that is an umbrella)

O.K., it doesn’t make sense, but on and on they sang.

Curt Schmidt also began the practice in the elementary schools in the 1930s and 40s of having Friday afternoon auditorium classes. All of the children in the school sang from the “Golden Song Book.” This was Schmidt’s favorite songbook and the songs were from around the world, Christmas songs, and historical songs. Come on, I’ll bet some of you out there could still sing “Solomon Levi” and “The Spanish Cavalier” at the same time.

These auditorium classes evolved into little school Sängerfests of their own sometimes know as the May Fete. Elaborate musical productions were put on for the most appreciative of all audiences – the parents.

One of my favorite stories that I heard about those early May Fetes at Carl Schurz School went like this: After weeks of practice, the May Fete was scheduled to be performed outside on the football field with parents in the bleachers. (The first Unicorn football field was behind Carl Schurz School). All was ready for a magnificent production of first through sixth grade performers. But what happened? The night before, the field was fertilized with horse manure and then watered down. Well, the show must go on, but it’s very hard for children to act like everything’s OK when it isn’t.

The truth is that music was and always has been an important part of New Braunfels lifestyle. Wurstfest, the Comal County Fair, church choirs, Community Chorale, the schools, CAT Theater, Brauntex, Mid-Texas Symphony, and the Community Band all keep the old love of music part of the present.

The emigrants brought this love from Germany.

“If music be the food of love, play on” Wm. Shakespeare from “Twelfth Night”


Herman Seele's home, site of the first Sängerfest in 1853, is shown on the left in this drawing and the Sängerhalle on the right.