The arrival of warm weather in Minneapolis marks a new beginning for "singing season," a nod to the past when thousands of people flocked to Minneapolis parks to sing together for the fun of it.
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Back in the day, from the 1920s through the 1950s, the city park singing events, especially at Powderhorn, attracted lots of people, said Minnesota Community Sings organizer Betty Tisel. "An average of 10,000 people per sing, sitting, standing singing together." And she's hoping for a big turnout this Saturday evening at Powderhorn, too.
Unlike the old days, when community singing was first promoted by the government as a way to rally reluctant Americans to enter World War I against Germany, organizers says there is no agenda behind the modern day gatherings.
After the war, community singing survived and grew in Minneapolis. The city park board and the Minneapolis Tribune newspaper sponsored competitions and neighborhood parks could win banners and trophies based on judges' evaluations, according to another Minnesota Community Sings organizer, Brett Hesla. "Secret judges were hidden among the crowd and they'd score on attendance, and enthusiasm, and then, in later years, also deportment."
The quality of the singing, Harry Anderson remembers, was not judged.
Anderson, who's 95 years old, remembers the original community sings as though they were yesterday: "Thousands of people singing, some of them maybe not the best, but you never knew it because it sounded wonderful. When you have several thousand people singing, you can't hear any bad ones, they're all good."
Anderson's memory of the old days is vivid because his father, Harry Anderson, senior led community sings in Minneapolis parks every summer weeknight for more than 25 years, and Harry often went along.
The huge crowds, especially during the '20s and '30s, can be explained in part because there was no television, booze was illegal, and the Great Depression made almost anything free popular.
"People would take the opportunity to do something instead of stay home," he said. "Go out and have some fun, see some friends, and it didn't cost a dime."
There don't appear to be many or maybe even any recordings of community sings from the old days, although Minnesota Community Sings organizers do have examples from events in the past few years.
One thing that hasn't changed: Minneapolis was, and remains, a city of immigrants. Today, many of them are from Africa or Spanish-speaking countries, and the songs being considered for the sings reflect the change. Jose Antonio Machado, a native of Puerto Rico who works with Minnesota Community Sings, is expanding the event's repertoire for the newcomers.
"It's not a threat to welcome immigrants, but rather a way to enrich ourselves our lives," he said. "So this community sing is great, because we'll be singing music literally from all types of cultures."
IF YOU GO:
Five community singing events are scheduled for the summer, four in Minneapolis, one in Rosemount. The first event will be at Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis on Saturday, May 18 and it begins at 5:30 p.m., rain or shine. Participants should gather on the south shore of Powderhorn Lake near the community center. A $5 donation is suggested. Download the flyer in English and in Spanish.
• July 12: Robert Trail Library, Rosemount, at 2 p.m.
• June 18: Wabun Picnic Shelter, at 7 p.m.
• July 16: Wabun Picnic Shelter, at 7 p.m.
• Aug. 20: Wabun Picnic Shelter, at 7 p.m.
• Details at Minnesota Community Sings website
Powderhorn Park Locator Map: