Norwegian group never stops singing
Members of the Normennenes Singing Society of Chicago are holding their next concert/party in Northbrook Dec. 7.
Normennenes Singing Society of Chicago concert/party
7 p.m. Dec. 7; cocktails at 6 p.m., dinner at 8 p.m.
Allgauer’s Restaurant, 2855 N. Milwaukee Ave., Northbrook
For reservations, call Hazel Peterson at (847) 675-2086 or visit www.norwaysings.org
Updated: December 5, 2012 9:34AM
It’s not often that a singing society stands the test of time for nearly 150 years.
But the all-male Normennenes Singing Society of Chicago — a chorus where most of the singers have roots in Norway — has done just that. The society recently celebrated its 142nd anniversary.
“We’re a continuous singing organization, in other words we never stop during the wars or the depression or anything else,” Society President Thor Fjell said.
A group of Norwegian immigrants founded the Society in 1870. Normennenes means North men in Norwegian. The Society is part of the umbrella organization Norwegian Singers Association of America.
“In Norway, all male choirs are a big, heavy, very old tradition,” said 78-year-old Jerry Jensen, the society’s membership chair who lives in Mount Prospect.
Like most of the other 14 singers, Jensen has family ties to Norway. His grandparents emigrated from the country.
Other singers in the group are either second- or third- generation Norwegian or have some other connection to the country such as being the spouse of a person of Norwegian descent.
This kind of chorus in America is rare, Fjell noted. “Not too many ethnic choruses are around anymore because of lack of immigration.”
At one time, for example, in the 1950s and 1960s, the society had 100 members. In those days immigrants were “just flooding our shores,” Fjell explained. However, by the mid-1960s, the quotas for a lot of Northern European countries “got zapped,” he noted.
Compounding the membership problem is the fact that Norway is a very attractive place to live, Jensen notes. The country has the highest standard of living in the world and it controls of most of the oil under the North Sea, he said. “There’s really no reason for people to emigrate from Norway.”
As a result, as the singers of Normennenes age, it has become important to recruit new members, Jensen stressed.
Norwegians are a strong ethnic group who stick together, Jensen said. “We have a lot of fun at our choir and we’re very strong and very serious about our heritage.”
The society generally holds two to three big parties each year where the highlight is the 45-minute concert followed by a dinner. The next one takes place Dec. 7 at Allgauer’s Restaurant in Northbrook.
At the concert, choir members sing traditional Norwegian folk songs. It could be a love song to a woman or a song about missing one’s home, Fjell said.
The Normennenes singers, however, don’t shy away from a good old- fashioned American tune either. They sometimes sing “Shenandoah” or “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky.”
In addition to parties, the group tries to perform at least monthly during their season (September through May) at nursing homes and occasionally at churches, Fjell said.
The men have gone on tour in Norway several times and have played host to some Norwegian Singers Association of America conventions.
Every few years, the society comes together with other choruses of the Norwegian Singers Society of America during an event known as Sangerfest. The result is sometimes concerts of about 250 singers, Jensen said.
You don’t need to be of Norwegian descent to join the group. No audition is required and you don’t even need a singing background.
“With people’s time being so short, if they have an interest, we’ll teach them,” Fjell said.