Alf Knudsen’s eyes mist over when he thinks of his boyhood in Norway. Today, the Mukilteo man carries his homeland in his memories, his heart and in the songs he sings.
The 82-year-old Knudsen is a longtime member of the Everett Norwegian Male Chorus, which on Friday is hosting other choruses from the Pacific Coast Norwegian Singers Association for Sangerfest 2016. It’s a three-day gathering of West Coast choruses, from as far away as San Diego, that includes a public concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Everett Performing Arts Center.
For the Everett chorus, Sangerfest is a tradition that had its start here 113 years ago. It was Aug. 5, 1902, when nine members of the Norske Ferening (Norwegian Society) of Everett established the Everett Norwegian Male Chorus, according to a songbook published by the group.
Just a year later, in 1903, the group hosted its first Sangerfest in Everett. The program included events at an opera house and at what’s now the Historic Everett Theatre.
Pacific Lutheran University’s Scandinavian Immigrant Experience Collection offers information about Sangerfest’s roots. Male choruses in Norway were making music by the mid-1800s. It was June 1851 when singers performed at the very first Sangerfest in Asker, Norway.
Knudsen and two other Everett Norwegian Male Chorus members got together Thursday to talk about their group and this week’s Sangerfest. It’s camaraderie, as well as tradition, that keeps them showing up for weekly practices at Everett’s Normanna Hall.
“For me, it’s being around old characters who laugh and harass each other every Wednesday night,” said Jerry Hilson, 77.
Around a table at Hilson’s home near Mukilteo, the men shared pictures, programs from past Sangerfest concerts, and a book containing minutes from the first meeting of the Everett Norwegian Male Chorus in 1902. Hilson and Knudsen were joined by another chorus member, Allen Feris of Arlington.
“He’s the head honcho for Sangerfest,” Hilson said of Feris, 60, who is not Norwegian. Feris, whose ancestry is English and Scottish, joked that he had surgery in the 1950s in Minnesota, “so I’ve got Norwegian blood.”
He came to the chorus through his involvement in the Sons of Norway Normanna Lodge No. 3 in Everett. Feris knew the chorus was a fun group when he heard three members in a friendly spat over the pronunciation of “oss,” a Norwegian word meaning us or ourselves. “It was a riot,” Feris said.
Knudsen is more than a talented singer in the Everett chorus and its director emeritus. A close look at a big blue book on Hilson’s table showed it was written by Knudsen as a doctoral dissertation. Knudsen earned his Ph.D. in 1989 at the University of Washington. His dissertation is titled “The Norwegian Male Chorus Movement in America: A Study.”
A longtime music teacher in Seattle, Knudsen also founded the Ballard Youth Band in 1968 and headed it for 18 years. In 1995, Norway’s King Harald V bestowed upon Knudsen the Knight of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit for his efforts in promoting Norwegian music in the United States. The honor also recognized Knudsen’s decade of service as editor of the Western Viking, a Seattle-based Norwegian-language newspaper.
At Friday’s Sangerfest, Knudsen will direct the grand finale song, a stirring rendition of Edvard Grieg’s “Landkjenning,” which means “land-sighting.” Most songs at the concert will be Norwegian, but the program includes some in English. Among those are gospel songs and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
They expect 146 people from about a dozen choirs at Sangerfest, which along with the concert includes a banquet for singers and other events. Choir members from Kamiak High School are scheduled to sing. And Bluewater Organic Distilling in Everett has bottled a special aquavit, or akvavit, for Sangerfest singers. The liquor is traditionally made in Scandinavian countries from potatoes or grain, and flavored with caraway seeds, cardamom, anise or fennel.
The chorus members said other men are welcome to join them — no need to be Norwegian. They honor the past while savoring the present. Generations ago, they said, immigrants from Norway came not only with Bibles, but with songbooks.
“They built a church and organized a chorus,” Knudsen said.
Julie Muhstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
Sangerfest 2016, a musical program presented by the Pacific Coast Norwegian Singers Association and the Everett Norwegian Male Chorus, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett. Tickets, $25, available at the door or online at: http://pcnsa.org/events/sangerfest-2016/