A Word from Eberswalde, Germany
About Gospel Music and the Westend Gospel Singers
The Westend Gospel Singers were founded in 1996. Pastor Hanns-Peter Giering of Eberswalde, Germany, together with his wife Karin, put an ad in the local paper asking “Who wants to sing Gospel music with us?” The inspiration to do so came from a woman in their congregation.
This invitation to sing spiritual songs was meant to bring together members of the congregation with other citizens of Eberswalde. From the beginning the choir has been more of a community initiative than an artistic choral endeavor. Again and again, people were found who were moved by our singing and discovered for themselves the joy that springs from this form of American church music.
Why do German congregations sing American songs in English? We get this question often.
Germany is a land with a classical musical culture. World-renowned composers are of German origin: Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn, and many more. The German Church is also proud of this musical heritage. But modern music, with its rhythms, is another story. Even though most Germans prefer listening to modern music, it has had a very hard time gaining acceptance in the church.
Because of the way East Germany developed politically following 1945, many persons have turned their backs on church congregations. With no experience of church, most people do not understand why there is no modern music in the church. Many consider the church stuffy and old-fashioned.
American gospel music provides a new impulse. It teaches us to be more open and free with our emotions. Besides, it is simply fun to sing! Since the young people study English in school, they actually don’t encounter any major difficulty singing it. On top of that English is quite commonly used in the modern musical scene. In recent years gospel music has greatly enriched the music of our national church. Gospel choirs have developed in congregations all over Germany.
This music brings the most diverse people together and extends an invitation to faith and God. It also brings along with it those who hear it, imparts a joy for life, encourages people in their daily living, and causes them to reflect. We sing it for all these reasons. We associate it with many meaningful experiences and many happy hours of singing. For some time now it has been common to find gospel music as a part of our worship services.
Many area congregations invite us to sing this music for them in guest performances. When the Eberswalde congregation holds a public event, we are often a part of it. In the past we have frequently performed concerts together with other choirs. Every year we participate in the Berlin-Brandenburg Gospel Choir Gathering, which was held for the first time in Eberswalde fourteen years ago. It has been held every other year since then, now with around 400 singers coming to attend.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in a church in our part of Germany and, returning from his visits to America, brought records of gospel music back along with him. His thinking influences the post-war generation of our church. But it was less his enthusiasm for this music than the person of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, renowned here for his struggle for justice and martyr’s death, as well as Mahalia Jackson, the Golden Gate Quartet, and others, who— through their European tours—brought gospel music to a wider audience. Despite its enthusiastic reception, it was still some time before we in European congregations felt confident to ourselves sing this music.
Now comes a most special experience for the Westend Gospel Singers, to travel once again to America, in the home of gospel music, and even have the opportunity to sing there. We were thrilled to come in 2006 and 2010, to sing in congregations of the Wisconsin Conference (UCC) and with their choirs. On each trip we have encountered Robert Robinson. In 2008 and 2012 we rejoiced to welcome The Gospellers to Germany, in Eberswalde, touring in Brandenburg, Berlin, and Poland. Because they learned from Robert Robinson the songs he had taught us, we were able to sing together with them.
Now we want once again to share both our music and our fellowship, in Wisconsin and Chicago. We look forward to our reunion with The Gospellers. We are excited about the experiences that we will have while with them. We look forward to meeting the people of their congregations, to what we will learn from them, and what we will see. We hope that they will be able to join with us as we sing and feel our gospel joy—a joy in the Good News of God.
Written by Hanns-Peter Giering,
pastor of the Eberswalde Congregation
and founder and director of the Westend Gospel Singers.
Translated and revised by Rev. Fritz West (retired).