The History of the Sheboygan Concordia Singing Society
Concordia Singing Society
Gesangverein Concordia was organized by a group of men on February 9, 1860, only seven years after Sheboygan was chartered. Their primary goal was to cultivate and foster German Lieder (Song). This rich heritage has sustained the organization to date. It has become one of the oldest German singing groups in Wisconsin. Melodies of our ethnic past have brought added enjoyment to many in the Sheboygan area and beyond.
The first Sangerfest (Singing Festival) was held in Sheboygan in October, 1861. Professor Kröhnke, first director of Concordia, and Mr. Belitz were the conductors of the fest. Clubs attended from the Town of Wilson, Kiel, New Holstein, Manitowoc, Plymouth, and Two Rivers. Initially, rehearsals were held in private homes of members of the group. After two years, Professor Kröhnke left and was succeeded by William Nehrlich as director. A property was purchased on Ontario Avenue to erect a hall for rehearsals. When the Civil War broke out, many members were called to defend the Union. The ensuing four years were trying times for the young organization. Under Mr. Nehrlich’s leadership, the hall had to be expanded. The rapid progress of the choir enabled it to make its initial public presentation on February 12, 1874, with Sigmund Romber’s elaborate production of “Lied von der Glocke.” After a very successful tenure of 15 years, Mr. Nehrlich was followed by John Schmidt, Sheboygan’s pride, and an unusually versatile musician. He devoted his musical energies to the men’s choir and raised their musical quality. In 1887, the Concordia Singing Society became affiliated with the Northwest Sängerbund (Singer Federation), and the same year a quartet represented Concordia at the concert in Freeport, Illinois. The second fest was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1889, where the choir performed under the direction of Mr. Schmidt. In 1892 the Eastern Wisconsin Sängerbund was organized in Sheboygan, (forerunner of the current Wisconsin Sangerbezirk [Singing District]), and its first Sangerbund was held here the same year under the direction of Mr. Schmidt. When directing became too demanding, he passed the baton to a very proficient music teacher, Professor Theodore Winkler, in December, 1892. Soon the male and female choirs were combined, and the chorus participated in both Sängerbund fests. Concordia also staged a special Christmas Day concert for many years.
At Concordia’s golden anniversary in 1910, Romberg’s “Lied der Glocke,” was again the crowning presentation. Four founding members, W. Nehrlich, L. Krause, A. Bertram, and P. Krist were still living at the time. Professor Winkler guided the group’s destinies through very difficult times - two World Wars and a depression - during his 54-year reign as director. In honor of its great director, the group instituted the Professor Winkler Concordia Vocal Music Scholarship in 1978, and has awarded a scholarship to a qualifying high school senior from the Sheboygan area annually.
Concordia Singing Society was awarded the distinguished Zelter Plaque by the Federal Republic of Germany during its Centennial Celebration in 1960. It was the first choral group outside of Germany to receive this high honor, for 100 years of perpetuating German song. In January a concert was presented, followed by the anniversary banquet in February, and in July the Wisconsin Sangerfest was held here in Sheboygan.
Besides the regular annual activities, Concordia has hosted choirs from Mühlau-lnnsbruck, Austria, in October, 1978; Leichlingen of Germany in May, 1980; and the Sprockhäveler Kinderchoir at Christmas of the same year. Musikverein Malmsheim, a German brass band, presented a very successful Tricentennial concert in Sheboygan in 1983 to honor the 300th anniversary of German Immigration to the United States.
The Wisconsin Sängerfest was held here in Sheboygan in 1985 to honor Concordia’s 125th anniversary, and in September a joint concert with the Columbus Männerchor (Men’s Choir) of Ohio was presented. In 1986 the Sheboygan choir traveled to Ohio to perform at the Columbus Oktoberfest.
Gesangverein Concordia flew to Germany in 1990, 1995, and 2008. The choir members performed in various cities, renewed old friendships, and made new ones. In May of 2013, Chorgemeinshaft Hausen-Poppendorf (Choral Community of Hausen-Poppendorf) visited us her in Wisconsin. This continues a tradition of mutual visits and joint concerts with our German Counterparts. The two choirs have been trading visits for the past 25 years. The city of Esslingen may be Sheboygan’s “Sister City”, but Concordia’s “Sister Chorus” is the Chorgemeinshaft Hausen-Poppendorf.
Donald Guske served as director for 35 years. He is the son of Ewald Guske, a former director, honorary president, and active member for 74 years. His motto was "they can't sing without me". Don continued this tradition. Under his able directorship, Concordia has been very active and has presented consecutive yearly concerts. Concordia placed first in the years 1983 and 1985 with its excellent performances at the Kommers, an annual Wisconsin contest of German choruses.
In March of 2014 Mr. Guske was succeeded as director by Mr. Frederick Strassburger who brings a wealth of experience and talent to the position. An accomplished musician and composer, he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL and a Master’s Degree in Music and Liturgy in 1987 from the University of Notre Dame.
The 157 year-old tradition of the Sheboygan Concordia Singing Society is not only in the joy of singing, but also in song - to keep alive part of the German ethnic heritage and culture, to be enjoyed by present and future generations.