Community Sings Saturday night in Minneapolis

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A Community Sing will be held at the Eagles Club at 2507 E. 25th St. at 7:30 p.m. Saturday October 9 as the second event in the effort by Minnesota Community Sings to reinstate a retired Minneapolis tradition.

“We found out about this tradition that was huge but that nobody knows about,” said Betty Tisel, who founded Minnesota Community Sings with Bret Hesla and Mary Preus.  The new organization aims to resurrect public singing through raising awareness of its history and composing a series of future events.

Tisel, Hesla, and Preus structured the Minnesota Community Sings organization on the “belief that singing together builds community,” Tisel said.  “You can sing across different [barriers.]  You might not spend your Sunday mornings the same way, but you can sing together.  It’s a way to build friendship and community.  I get so much enjoyment out of singing and I want to share that with people.”

After encountering others interested in opportunities to gather and sing, the three “started planning different events where that can happen,” Tisel said.

Upon researching how to execute their mission, the founding trio encountered an unexpected rich history of public singing in Minnesota.  Through Minneapolis parks development legend Theodore Wirth’s book, Minneapolis Parks System, they uncovered the long-lost ritual of people gathering by the thousands to sing in public parks.

“Park singing started in 1919, but it was a huge tradition before that, especially around World War I,” Tisel said.  “Park singing was a way of saying, ‘Ok, the war’s over, but we don’t want to stop singing.'”

But the tradition was eventually phased out by several contributing factors, Tisel explained.

“People stayed home to watch TV or they were getting in their car to go somewhere.  In the late 50s, community sings were replaced by teen dances,” she said, identifying “the rise of teenage culture” as a participating culprit in public singing’s death.

As for the ‘juicy details’ of the history of community singing sings in Minnesota, “we want to save some of it as a surprise for Saturday night,” Tisel added.  “If people want to learn more, they should come Saturday night.”

The first event held in hopes of reviving the tradition in April “was really successful,” Tisel said, raising over $2,500 for Haiti relief.

Future plans include a fireside chat at the Hennepin History Museum and community sings held at Minneapolis Parks throughout summer 2011, though dates have yet to be set.

For information regarding future events, “keep an eye on the website,” Tisel suggested, encouraging those interested to visit the site and share ideas.  “We’re interested in hearing what songs people want to sing, and you can send ideas to mnsings@gmail.com.”

The October 9 Community Sing and Fundraiser for Haiti is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. and end at 9:30 p.m., though arriving early is suggested in order to enjoy food and drinks beforehand, as it’s difficult during the event.

The Eagles Club offers “plentiful and adjacent” free parking, Tisel said.  “It is wheelchair accessible and the bar in a separate room welcomes all ages.  We will arrange the chairs in a friendly square because the whole point is to sing together-it’s not a concert.”

More information about the upcoming event can be found on the Minnesota Community Sings website.

Since the October 9 event will give half of its proceeds to the Lambi Fund to benefit Haiti, there will be an admission charge.

“We’re hoping to do some grant-writing to make [future] events free or low-cost,” Tisel said.  “We’re going event by event for now.”

If Saturday’s event proves as successful as its April predecessor, Minnesota Community Sings might be just what the doctor ordered to resuscitate the dormant tradition of public singing in Minneapolis.