Beer choir in New London: 'It's not weird at all'
NEW LONDON -- In a well-churched state like Minnesota it's no surprise that singing in a choir is a celebrated activity. Combine that with the state's growing hometown breweries and it only makes sense, sort of, that "beer choir" has become a thi...
NEW LONDON - In a well-churched state like Minnesota it's no surprise that singing in a choir is a celebrated activity.
Combine that with the state's growing hometown breweries and it only makes sense, sort of, that "beer choir" has become a thing to do.
Its local popularity was evidenced by the large crowd last week at the monthly beer choir session at the Goat Ridge Brewery in New London.
When the group held its first beer choir last December, there were about 40 singers in attendance.
This year there were about three times that many people hoisting glasses of "beer from here" and singing with gusto as musicians played Christmas songs for the special holiday version of beer choir.
"It gets bigger every time. I'm just so amazed," said Marti Carlson, who plays the box drum in the band.
Started in 2014 by choral composer and conductor Michael Engelhardt, Beer Choir LLC is based in St. Louis, Missouri, with chapters rapidly spreading across the country.
The national website says the number of new chapters requesting to join are so great that applicants shouldn't expect a response for a couple of months.
With the motto "sing responsibly," the national organization defines beer choir as a social event led by local choir directors where all singers are welcome and where the micro and craft beer community is supported.
There's an official beer choir songbook which can be downloaded for free from the national group's website, www.BeerChoir.com , that includes traditional songs one would expect, like "Beer Barrel Polka" and "What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor?" as well as traditional songs like "Danny Boy" and "Wild Rose of Texas."
There's also the "Beer Choir National Theme Song" with the self-defining lyrics of "Beer choir is the choir that sings while drinking beer," repeated over and over with an occasional "bottom's up" and "cheers" thrown in.
Brian Pearson, a retired New London-Spicer band teacher who plays multiple instruments in the band, organized the beer choir at Goat Ridge. He also created an addendum to the book that includes a large section of church hymns and a growing list of popular songs Pearson has rewritten to reflect a beer theme.
The song "Sweet Caroline," for example, becomes "Sweet Beer of Mine."
He's currently working on rewriting the Beatles song, "All You Need Is Love" to "All You Need Is Beer."
While many of the regulars in the New London chapter are very good singers, being able to sing is not a prerequisite to participate.
"We just sing, we don't care how you sound," said Eric Erickson, who sang for years in the National Lutheran Choir in the Twin Cities and now helps lead the beer choir at Goat Ridge.
The Goat Ridge Beer Choir feels like a combination of improv comedy and a hearty singalong, which is a little different than some metro beer choir chapters that apparently spend considerable time practicing parts during their beer choir sessions.
"I don't want to rehearse like it's a choir," said Pearson. "I just want to sing."
He said one participant described the local beer choir as a "schizophrenic experience because one second you're singing 'Amazing Grace' and the next second you're singing one of the silly songs."
Pearson also said it's "not weird at all" to drink beer and sing church hymns at the same time.
The event attracts a crowd with a wide range of backgrounds including people in their early 20s and in their late 80s.
Carlson said she enjoys the "variety of people" who come each month. "It doesn't matter if they're in a church choir or not, they love to sing," she said.
"When people come they seem to be in a good mood and ready to have fun," said Sherry Pearson, also a retired NLS music teacher who plays keyboard in the band along with her husband, Brian Pearson.
Most of the band members, and many of the participants, are accomplished singers in their local church choirs. There's usually a Lutheran pastor playing guitar in the band and more than a few clergy singing.
While there is certainly a glass or two of craft beer consumed during the hour-long beer choir sessions at Goat Ridge, the brewery's house-made sodas are also popular during beer choir and the crowd is encouraged to "drink responsibly and sing responsibly," said Brian Pearson.
He said there's nothing wrong with good folks having a beer or soda in the local brewery and singing their hearts out.
Martin Luther probably did the same thing, he said.
The beer choir typically meets at 8 p.m. the third Friday of the month, but in January it's scheduled for the third Saturday.
Participants are advised to check the Goat Ridge Facebook page for updated beer choir schedules. They're also advised to come early to get a seat. Last week many people were standing while singing - and having a great time doing it.