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Beer Choirs combine love of suds, singing

The Beer Choir Twin Cities belts out a tune June 29 at Flat Earth Brewing Co. in St. Paul, Minn.
The Beer Choir Twin Cities belts out a tune June 29 at Flat Earth Brewing Co. in St. Paul, Minn. Minneapolis Star Tribune

Wielding ales and stouts, lagers and porters, the assembled throng of citizen-singers leaned into the chorus of “The Wild Rover,” an old Irish drinking song.

“And it’s no, nay, never!

No, nay, never, no more!”

By the second verse, pockets of harmony were heard as some voices broke into alto and tenor, bass and soprano.

By the third verse, the patio at Flat Earth Brewing Co. in St. Paul, with its medieval-ruins vibe, rang with full-throated chords sung at director Adam Reinwald’s mug-swinging tempo.

“And it’s no, nay, never! No, nay, never, no more!

Will I plaaayyyy the wild roverrrrr, no never, no more!”

Beer Choir was in session.

The event is exactly as billed. In the words of the official theme song: “The Beer Choir is the choir that sings while drinking beer.”

It convenes about every three months – this was the third time – depending on when co-founders Reinwald and Paul Wilson can jibe their schedules with a brewery able to host several hundred choristers.

For Reinwald and Wilson, music represents (variously) a means of healing, an escape from chaos, a path back to basics, a whole lotta fun.

“There’s a physiological response to singing together,” Reinwald said. “After a while, your heartbeat moves in time with your neighbor’s.”

Sensing that he’d veered into choir-geekdom, he quickly added: “And there’s beer!”

An Idaho chapter

The idea began three years ago. Michael Engelhardt, a composer and conductor in St. Louis, was noodling about ways to get more people singing together. He’s also a champion of craft beers and, coupled with a musically populist streak, came up with the idea of singing while drinking beer.

Eventually, he connected with Reinwald and Wilson, who needed little persuading.

There are 17 chapters across the country, including one in Idaho, the Palouse-Two Rivers chapter in Moscow. Bend, Ore., also has a chapter.

The Twin Cities chapter is considered the flagship because of the turnout, Reinwald said. Attendance ranging from 200-400 is not unusual.

Participation has not been a tough sell in a state known as “the land of 10,000 choirs.”

According to Chorus America, a national advocacy group, Minnesota has more than 100 independent professional, community and youth choirs, plus thousands of school and church choirs. Put another way, more than 450,000 Minnesotans – about one in eight – sing in at least one chorus.

“I tell people that singing is required to live here,” said Jean Ramlow, at her first beer choir with her friend Suzy Travis. They both live near Minneapolis. Ramlow sings in other community choir events, but Travis was a newbie. “I’m a better drinker than I am a singer,” she said. “But I can sing with gusto.”

Everyone had been encouraged to download the Beer Choir Hymnal. There are original and traditional songs, German rounds and English chanteys, and a classic riff on Do-Re-Mi (“Dough, the stuff that buys me beer. Ray, the guy who serves me beer.”)

Beer Choir is meant to be “a respite from the chaos” that can be daily life, co-founder Wilson said.

Which sent Reinwald on a reminiscence of days immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, when he found himself heading for Brit’s Pub in Minneapolis.

“When times are tumultuous, I want to be with other people. I want to sing with my friends. We’re all looking for human connection.”

Then came the jokes.

“At Beer Choir, you know you already have two things in common with someone you’ve never met,” Wilson said.

Added Reinwald: “Zero talent is required, but participation is essential.

Start a chapter

Log on at www.BeerChoir.com to start your own chapter and download the Beer Choir Hymnal.

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