Choirs
Saturday, May 16, 1998
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(CHOIR CHORD AND THEN PIANO UNDERSCORE, IN SHENANDOAH KEY)

Choral singing is our greatest art form in Minnesota. We'd rather be poets or dancers or opera singers, something sexy, we are a people who enjoy an activity more if we are surrounded by other people doing exactly what we're doing. And that means choir.

At Lake Wobegon High School, we were not a good choir, because each of us was so afraid of singing a bad note that we always waited to hear our neighbor sing it before we did, which made for a murky sound, and we sang very softly so that if we did have pitch problems it wouldn't matter as much. During the rests, you could hear some of the basses humming, to keep track of their pitch. We knew it was bad. We never went to the state high school music contest. Never considered going. And yet, when we lined up for the spring concert and Miss Falconer gave us the note on the pitchpipe, she always had a hopeful look on her face. Because we were Minnesotans, and Minnesota produces great choirs --- choirs that go to Europe and get standing ovations and people are wild about them, in Italy (TR ITALIAN EXCITEMENT) and in Russia (TR RUSSIAN EXCITEMENT) and in France (TK FRENCH ECSTATIC VOCALISM) and in Sweden (TR SWEDISH), and then they come back home to Minnesota, and nobody goes to their concert except their relatives. When it comes to art, Minnesotans prefer things that are not from here ---- Tibetan Buddhist choirs, French monks chanting, English boychoirs, a Bulgarian women's choir.

(CHOIR HUMMING)

Minnesota choirs are unappreciated here at home. But it's their own fault. Minnesota choirs do "Ezekiel Saw De Wheel" and "Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen" much more often than they ought to. And there ought to be a law against the singing of "Shenandoah" by any choir, and the penalty ought to be prison time. No probation. The singing of "Shenandoah" is a main cause of the unpopularity of choral singing today. Somewhere in America about once every four minutes, a choir commits "Shenandoah" and it usually sounds like this.

SHENANDOAH 1 FALSELY CHORAL

Every time a choir sings "Shenandoah" you see a look of horror and revulsion on the faces of the audience, and yet, choir directors cannot put this song behind them.

SHENANDOAH 6 choral director

If anti-Shenandoah legislation is passed, probably choir directors will keep on doing it, under another name, a politically-correct title, like "The Love of Daughters: A Hymn of Ecology" ---- and for a while they'll get away with it----

SHENANDOAH 2 SOUND EFFECTS

But it's still "Shenandoah" and someone in the audience calls the music police (SIREN) and the choir escapes out the back, and they become fugitives, living in an old schoolbus with plywood bunks at and doing non-denominational services for cash, and the fugitive choir members call home to their families and their families plead with them to please, stop, sing "They Call The Wind Maria" or "Climb Every Mountain" or "Everytime I Feel The Spirit," but it's too late, they can't stop, they have developed a Shenandependency, and they leave the country on false passports and they go on a European tour, and there people love to hear "Shenandoah"-----

SHENANDOAH 4A

TR: ITALIAN ECSTASY---- "SHENANDOAH"

SHENANDOAH 4B

TR: RUSSIAN EXCITEMENT----"SHENANDOAH"

SHENANDOAH 4c

TR: SWEDISH EXCITEMENT-----"SHENANDOAH"

SHENANDOAH 4D

And the choir earns money in Europe, and Shenandoah becomes a hit record in Germany, where people think it is a love song to a girl named Doah, Schoene Doah, and in Paris, the avant-garde version is a big hit-----

SHENANDOAH 5 POINTILLISTIC

"Shenandoah" is a virus. You try singing other songs but everything sounds like "Shenandoah." Even Schubert (SCHUBERT)

And everyone stops and looks at you. You are in the infectious stage of the Shenandoah Syndrome. Your colleagues point to the door.

CHOIR: Aus!

And you leave.

A once-promising singer from Minnesota who defied the law and you lie down in the park, in a cardboard carton, penniless, friendless, and you think of Johann Sebastian Bach, who never heard "Shenandoah" and therefore was able to compose thousands of cantatas and chorales and fantasias and fugues, and as you fall asleep, you hear angels singing----

CHOIR: FIRST LINE OF CHORALE

And you know you are going to heaven, to a place where there will be no "Shenandoah," and in the morning, your body is found by the sexton. It is clear that you're a singer by the fact that you have a bottle of water in his hand, so you are given a big funeral and carried to the singers' section of the cemetery, and lowered into your grave, as a choir sings you to your rest.

CHOIR: THE ENTIRE CHORALE

(c) 1998 by Garrison Keillor

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

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