Einar Johansen's Norwegian roots run deep. He remembers his nine brothers and sisters skiing to a two-room school house three miles from their farm, but the Nazi invasion and World War II brought hard economic times to Norway.
Those hard times brought him to Minneapolis in 1951 where he caught on with a crew of homebuilders. As he built a new life in America, though, he fretted over losing his Norwegian identity.
Not to worry. Johansen's boss and the foreman sang in the Norwegian Glee Club of Minneapolis. There were plenty of other Norwegian speaking guys in the chorus and it turned out to be a good way to help Johansen learn English.
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Sixty years later, Johansen is still singing with the group. Saturday night, he'll join other Norwegian glee club singers from around the Upper Midwest for a performance at Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis. There'll be an orchestra, soloists, a visiting men's chorus from Oslo and a mass chorus of more than 200 male voices.
Every two years Norwegian glee clubs gather for a song festival. The Minneapolis group is hosting the gathering this year. Johansen, 85, says the youngest vocalist is in his 60s and two are in their 90s. They rehearse once a week.
"Fellowship means just about as much as the music these days," he says. "The music keeps us together."
The group's bylaws specify half the songs are sung in English and the other half in Norwegian. The men sing hymns and Norwegian folk songs among other selections.
Johansen, a widower, father of two daughters and a grandfather, isn't a fan of most popular music. "If you know five notes and three words you can repeat them for half an hour and make yourself a millionaire."
A second tenor, he says he feels great and will sing as long as he can.
Singers, he notes, "are a different breed of cat...seems like they have a different attitude. I've never seen an angry man sing. And if you're a singer you don't get angry."
If you go
Sangerfest 2014 Grand Concert
Hosted by the Norwegian Glee Club of Minneapolis, the concert features 200 voices from Norwegian men's choruses across the Midwest.
Where: Ted Mann Concert Hall, University of Minnesota West Bank campus, 2128 Fourth Street South, Minneapolis.
When: Saturday, June 14, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Tickets are $20 and on sale at tickets.umn.edu