Singen auf Deutsch

Sjostrom joins German singing group in addition to dairy farming

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LAFEYETTE, Minn. — In the 1980s, Steve Sjostrom remembers listening to the Concord Singers of New Ulm. 

“Those guys were so much fun to listen to and enjoy,” Sjostrom said. “I always kind of said, ‘My goal is going to be joining the Concord Singers when I get older.’”

Sjostrom has achieved his goal and has been singing with the group since 2020. He balances his singing activities with his work on his 90-cow dairy farm, which includes 800 acres of cropland, near Lafeyette.

The Concord Singers’ repertoire of songs is in German. Their performance dress is a checked shirt and lederhosen or a branded shirt and black pants.

Sjostrom, whose heritage is one-quarter German and the rest Scandinavian, is not fluent in German.

“I’m learning as I go,” he said.

This winter, he said, his goal is to take an online German language course.

The Concord Singers appear at performances throughout the year. Sjostrom said January through May is their slowest season, while August through October they are the busiest.

Sjostrom, who is a bass, has practice every Thursday during the school year, plus around 25 performances.

The group has 25-28 members. Attendance of at least two-thirds of practices and performances is mandatory. Sjostrom said he gets to about 80% of the shows and practices.

“I have to kind of keep the farm going yet too,” Sjostrom said. “I have to pick what I can attend and what I can’t.”

If he is working in the house or in his truck, he will sometimes play a CD of their songs and sing along.

In the fall, he fits his singing around harvest work.

“If it’s raining or something ... that we can’t be in the field, I’ll go,” Sjostrom said. “I prioritize and see where we’re at.”

Sjostrom said he plans to continue being part of the group. Once he retires from dairy farming, he will have more time for the group.

The group travels for their performances. For local performances, the singers drive themselves, but for longer distances, they rent a bus and one of the members who has a bus driving license drives them.

Sjostrom’s favorite event he has attended while being part of the group was Oktoberfest at Ruttger’s Bay Lake Resort near Deerwood. The event includes German food, vendors and live music.

“The whole crowd (would) get into it and sing along and clap along and dance along,” Sjostrom said. “When you get done, they want to come out and say hi to you.”

The group also sings at two of its hometown events in New Ulm, Bavarian Blast held in June and Oktoberfest held in October, as well as at nursing home around the holidays, county fairs and more.

Before joining the group, Sjostrom played in a community volleyball league. He said his body was too old for that, so he decided to try out for the Concord Singers.

To join, Sjostrom had to attend three practices in a row, then go through a voice test with the music committee. After the voice test, he was sent to the hallway while the committee brought their recommendation to the group.

He said he could hear the resounding “no” coming from inside, which was said as a joke.

Group members come from a variety of ages and backgrounds. There are a few other farmers like Sjostrom, but most are not. Sjostrom said getting to know the other members is his favorite part of being in the group.

“We all share the same thing — that we enjoy singing,” Sjostrom said. “It gets to be fun.”

One of Sjostrom’s favorite songs is the group’s version of “Eidelweiss,” which transitions after the final “amen” into a polka.

“It covers the gamut of singing a soft, slow German song right into the polka,” Sjostrom said. “It’s just kind of cool.”

Another favorite, Sjostrom said, is a compilation of a fast song that then goes into “Sweet Caroline” in German.

“The best performances are when the crowds (are) having fun,” Sjostrom said. “They’ll just go nuts when we go into that (song).”

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