In 1885, Indianapolis was a growing and busy city of about 20 square miles and a population of 105,000 people. Ten men, recent immigrants from Germany, were desirous of promoting songs of freedom in their new home city and nation. They founded the Indianapolis Socialisticher Saengerbund, which was the beginning of the Indianapolis Saenger Chor.
To better understand the rich history of the present-day Saenger Chor, we must look at its roots and the role music played in the democratic spirit of those early German immigrants and their singing societies.
In 1848, revolution was rampant in Germany. Thousands and thousands of young Germans fled the revolution, which was stifling freedom and tearing the Fatherland apart. As a result of this influx of Germans to Indianapolis, it wasn’t long before they had a larger influence in the development of Indianapolis than any other nationality (the Irish coming in second).
These young new German-Americans in Indianapolis made their influence felt in many ways. They were idealistic, hard-working and law-abiding. Many of them were known by their political beliefs in the doctrine of Weltverbesserer (World Reformers).
German club life (Vereinsleben) began in 1851 with the founding of the Indianapolis Turngemeinde, dedicated to physical fitness. Music was the social art of the century and an indispensable ornament of every German celebration. In this tradition of merging cultural idealism with the traditional ideas of American values, this freedom of expression was a breath of fresh air to these German immigrants. In this friendly environment, German club life flourished and thrived in Indianapolis.
In 1854, the Indianapolis Maennerchor was founded. The first German Saengerfest (songfest) was held in Indianapolis in 1858. The Indianapolis Liederkranz was founded in 1872. The Indianapolis Saenger Chor (see above original name) was founded in 1885 to celebrate through song the freedoms of America and the labor movement. (It is a bit unbelievable to visualize that in 1900 there were over 100 German choirs in Indianapolis.)
After the Civil War, former members of the Turngemeinde re-organized and formed the Indianapolis Turnverein. Both they and the Indianapolis Maennerchor shared rooms at the Mueller Hall, 27 S. Delaware St. So by 1885, when the Indianapolis Socialisticher Saengerbund (Saenger Chor) was founded, there was a rich German music tradition in the city.
The roster of the original founders is as follows: Carl Hoffman, Conrad Riess, Julius Bahl, Christian Bahl, Henry Kuerst, Max Schwarzer, Carl Haupt, William Kraas, August Westdoerfer and Gottlieb Leuckhardt. We can only surmise that these men found in their music a vehicle for their political ideas and social awareness in an era of emerging social conscience.
The first rehearsal was held in the kitchen of Joseph Bahl’s home on S. Missouri St. Mr. Henry Karch, their first director, supplied his violin as they could not afford a piano. Their first concert was in the fall of 1885.
They prospered and it was not long before they were able to rent a small room from the German-American School on E. Maryland St. Later they moved to the old Valhalla Hall in the 400 block of E. Washington St. Shortly after the turn of the century, they moved to a suite of rooms at 49 ½ S. Delaware St. (their home until 1942). In November, 1941, the choir was incorporated in the State of Indiana as a non-profit corporation.
In 1923, the singing society severed its political sounding name and became the Indianapolis Saengerbund. Those were the days of what is now referred to as the Red Scare. Any title, word or label suggesting socialism made people nervous. So the organization’s name was changed with the Secretary of State.
In 1928, a ladies chorus was formed and performed separately and also with the men’s chorus.
The choir progressed and grew even during the Depression years. Toward the late 1930’s dark clouds began to settle over Europe. With tragedy looming, words and titles again became significant. The ladies choir was merged into the men’s choir and application for a name change again was presented to the Secretary of State. In 1942, the name was changed to the Indianpolis Saenger Chor. The same year, 1942, the Saenger Chor purchased their own building located at 1248 N. Park St. (Park and 13th St.). During the years at this location the address was changed to 521 E. 13th St. The Saenger Chor stayed at this location for 60 years. (The original purchase note for $8,500.00 was retired after just four short years in 1946.) In 2002 the Saenger Chor sold the property.
In 2007, the Saenger Chor purchased its current home at 1824 West 15th Street. A former dental lab, this property was gutted and completely re-done. There are many more projects yet to be completed in our new home – a work yet in progress. We are very happy with our new facility and hope to be here for many years to come.
The years, 125 years in 2010, have brought many changes, in building, in membership, but not in the Saenger Chor’s character or spirit. The Club is no longer made up of only those of German descent. Our choir’s membership is composed of people who love to sing. General membership is made up of people from all walks and backgrounds. We invite anyone who loves music and enjoys singing to become a part of us. As the 21st Century continues, The Saenger Chor’s position in the Arts Community becomes more secure. In addition to our choral activities, the Saenger Chor fully funds two (2) scholarships/internships at Butler University’s School of Music. We participate in community activities to highlight choral music, its performance and the instruction of choral singing. We are designated as a PUBLIC CHARITY by the IRS and enjoy the tax status of a 501(c)(3) entity. All donations to the Saenger Chor are tax deductible.
The Saenger Chor performs two (2) formal concerts a year, Spring and Fall. We perform at many other venues throughout the year, to include nursing care facilities. Almost monthly, we have a fund raising dinner. Guests are always welcome. We would truly appreciate your participation in any of our events.
Come in, enjoy the Gemütlichkeit, and get a free beverage in your birth month.If you have not done so, please send in your dues for this year. Cost is $20.00 for a single membership and $30.00 for a family membership.
INDIANAPOLIS SÄNGER CHOR, INC.
P.O. BOX 44110, INDIANAPOLIS, IN 46244
1824 West 15th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202
317-637-CHOR (317)-637-2467 Saengerchor@att.net