By Lori Berkey
Shrewsbury – Shrewsbury resident Paul German was only 7 when he and his younger brother started singing for church radio broadcasts, while their mother played the piano. Little did he know that belting out songs would become something that would perpetually enrich his life.
German sang in church choirs as a kid and sang in both quartets and the a cappella choir in college. When he moved from Texas to Massachusetts in 1961 in the aftermath of a snow storm, the sight of dirty, black, dreary snow banks made him wonder what he had gotten himself into.
But it was singing, once again, that brought him joy. That winter, someone he met told him about the Worcester Oratoria Society. German said the society was made up of the same members of another local group, the Worcester Festival Chorus, and the two entities melded into the Worcester Chorus. He auditioned then and became part of the internationally renowned group that he's still part of. The year German joined, he added, 400 singers were involved. But a year later, a new director condensed the mass into a smaller group of about 100.
Aside from a 10-year hiatus from about 1967 to 1977, when his children were small, German has been active with the Worcester Chorus, currently serving as vice president. He has memories galore of his travels and other experiences with the chorus.
German said the Worcester Chorus turns 152 years old this year, and that he's proud to have been there for some of the many “firsts” for the group. He saw the first videotaping, the first CD made, the first time a Beetles song was performed. He's seen new technology come along and be used, like the computerized process that now allows singers to learn their parts at home. He's toured Europe four times with the group, and has performed with them in Mexico and at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall and Lincoln Center.
“It's become a way of life,” German said, adding that he's sung in French, German, Chinese and Swahili. Other highlights of his involvement include being on the same stage as such “great musical figures” as Joan Sutherland, Anna Moffo and Jerome Kern.
One of his favorite memories is singing to a crowd of 15,000 people at an amphitheater in Oaxaca, Mexico, where the audience was so grateful that they threw streams of roses on the stage at the end.
German enjoys the audience reactions and much more.
“I love the music,” he said, “The fact that the people who sing with me also love this music is a bond right then and there. Over the years they'se become my friends – a great majority of our friends are people from the chorus. I enjoy learning the music, I enjoy singing, being part of it.”
The friendships stretch beyond the stage, he said, with members showing up to sing at funerals and weddings of those involved.
German marveled at the longevity of the organization. Except for the year 1918 when the influenza epidemic kept them from performing, the group has maintained a tradition of returning to the same venue in Worcester each December, he said.
“There are pictures of Mechanic's Hall taken in like 1860 or 1865 of people standing in the same place where we stand singing the same music that we sing who have been dead now for 100 years,” he said.
After so many years, German has no plans to get off the stage. He said the group's vice presidents customarily become president, and he anticipates taking on that role in 2013.