St. Louis' Beer Choir Will Have You Raising Your Voice — and Your Glass

click to enlarge The Beer Choir now performs in Das Bevo's glorious Grand Bierhall. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
The Beer Choir now performs in Das Bevo's glorious Grand Bierhall.

America doesn't have much of a tradition of public singing, unlike the rest of the world. We may grudgingly stand up for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” but we won't sing about the Cardinals when a homer goes over the left-field wall. And yet every European, African and Central or South American man, woman and child knows a whole songbook of soccer songs for events good and bad, and they're not shy about belting them at the top of their lungs.

Michael Engelhardt would like you to join him in song. The full-time composer and musician founded Beer Choir in his free time, and he believes if you'll just give it a shot, you'll like it. He's not going to twist your arm, but if he can get you to bend your elbow and throw back a beer, you'll find your inner singer.

"After one or two beers, everybody's willing to sing," Engelhardt promises. "It's most similar to an Oktoberfest in Germany, where everybody sings. Beer Choir is a social singalong, no talent required."

Engelhardt has been combining the joys of song and craft beer since 2015, but the choir really took off when Das Bevo invited the group to perform in the newly reopened mill last year. The local chapter of Beer Choir is now the flagship in a group with chapters in fifteen American cities.

"It varies by city and event, but here in St. Louis we're pretty much a full house at Das Bevo every time. We'll typically have around 120 to 150 people singing, with as many as 200," Engelhardt boasts, noting that Das Bevo's great selection of craft beers adds to the success. Of course, Das Bevo's Grand Bierhall, where Beer Choir sings, has its own charms. "It's built like a cathedral, so we sound awesome — you'll want to sing along when you hear us," Engelhardt enthuses.

Of course, a large contingent of the choir is professional musicians, but Engelhardt doesn't want that to discourage you if you’re a rank amateur.

"Yes, the core at our events are people with musical background or who sing in everyday life; it draws people who are musically inclined," he admits. "My network is all people who direct choirs."

But Beer Choir is most assuredly for the people. It doesn't matter how poorly you think you sing, when human voices are massed together in song there's an evening-out process that burnishes the rough edges. And with 150 people singing, it's not like anybody is going to be able to single you out. Besides, the more you sing, the better you'll get (some of us can't get worse).

To sweeten the pot, Beer Choir's next event is St. Patrick's Day, which means your pump will already be primed for singing, so to speak. Engelhardt typically prepares a hymn book for download so singers can familiarize themselves with the lyrics, with a selection that skews from German drinking songs ("Bier Hier” and "Schnitzelbank") to traditional Irish songs and even a sea chanty.

For St. Patrick's Day, he has some treats in store.

"It won't be all-Irish, but it will be pretty heavily Irish," Engelhardt hints. "My friend Scott Kennebeck, he's the lead cantor for the Cathedral Basilica and a professional tenor. He and my keyboardist John Walsh are going to share things from their new CD of Irish music. And there will be lots of Irish sing-alongs."

If you're a singer, or just singing-curious, Beer Choir's St. Patrick's Day gathering starts at 7 p.m. March 17, at Das Bevo (4749 Gravois Avenue; It's free to sing, and joining is easier than you think.

"Oh, there's no joining involved," Engelhardt practically pish-poshes. "It's non-committal. If you don't want to sing, you're still gonna be in a pub while we're singing, so we'll be entertainment. It's inclusive and open to the public. Everybody's welcome — it's not a performance."

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