Dresden Pub Choir It Takes Little to Be Happy

In the meantime the Dresden Pub Choir has around 60 members.
In the meantime the Dresden Pub Choir has around 60 members. | Photo (detail): © Robert Werner

People have a lot of fun singing, young people, too. Instead of singing in a church choir, however, some people prefer to organise their own choir and give concerts in bars, pubs and clubs. The first of these Pub Choirs, as they are called, was set up in Berlin; in the meantime almost every large city in Germany has one. This is what a Pub Choir concert looked like in Dresden.

The Nikkifaktur is a textile printing company, located in a derelict industrial site in Lößnitzstrasse. The site, in the Dresden district of Neustadt, used to be home to the Municipal Gasworks, but now all kinds of artists and creative people have set up shop there in the sprawling compound. During the day T-shirts are printed and sold at the Nikkifaktur. Tonight however the Dresden Pub Choir is to perform there. Nobody is around, apart from a few people who work there, having a beer and playing table soccer.

On the left-hand side of the hall there are piles of T-shirts, one of the large printing machines serves as a shelf. There are lamps hanging from the high ceiling, at the end of the hall there is a small stage with a few seats to the right of it. Marco Wildner, the proprietor of the Nikkifaktur, assures me that I am in the right place. He often organises concerts, most of the time inviting sedate singer-songwriters to perform, but tonight it is a choir. One of his friends also sings in the choir. It is usually via friends that the choir gets most of its bookings.

The feel of a flash mob

The room starts to slowly fill up with people. Most of them know each other; some are laughing, some are chatting about their jobs and careers and others are analysing the latest football results. It is difficult for an outsider to see who is a member of the audience and who is a member of the choir. The whole thing has the feel of a flash mob. I expect somebody to simply burst into song and then, slowly bit surely, others will join in. It does not, however, go the way I thought it would after all.

When there is almost no room in the hall for any more people, the show starts. The choir has arranged itself both on the small stage and around it. Choirmaster, Torsten Adam, announces that the program tonight is going to be classical. Everybody then starts laughing, as they all know that the repertoire of the Dresden Pub Choir mainly consists of pop songs. As a warm-up song they decided on the children’s song Froh zu sein bedarf es wenig (It Takes Little to Be Happy). Then a few numbers by the Beatles, Soft Cell, MGMT and Michael Jackson. The voices rearrange themselves over and over again in new ways, every now and then one of the singers plays the guitar or the Cajon, a peruvian drum in form of a wooden box.
The Dresden Pub Choir sings Michael Jackson.

Everyone can join in

Most of the core members of the Dresden Pub Choir are from the Evangelische Hochschule Dresden (University of Applied Sciences for Social Work, Education and Nursing). The former choirmaster retired in the summer of 2012, but the singers wanted to carry on singing together. Most of them had already finished their studies there, therefore they felt that a university choir was no longer that relevant anymore. This prompted Torsten Adam to set up the Dresden Pub Choir along with 15 other singers.

In contrast to a traditional choir there are no special conditions for admission, no auditions – anybody can join. Today the choir has 60 members, all between 20 and 40 years of age. There is no membership fee or executive board, everything works on a voluntary basis - and it really does work.

Having fun is the order of the day

It is the choirmaster who decides on most of the songs that the choir sings, he is also the one who writes most of the choral arrangements. Torsten Adam is actually a social worker, the choir is his hobby. He is not a professional musician, he learned the ropes by singing in other choirs. The other members of the Dresden Pub Choir are also amateurs. For them having fun is the most important thing. “When people come to the rehearsals after a long day at the office or at the university, many of them need to recharge their batteries - and the choir helps them to do this. They want to sing and have fun”, says Adam. And have fun is exactly what the singers do. When they sing, they brim with enthusiasm, they laugh and do a really good job. When listening to them singing the Yeah,Yeah,Yeah song by the Flaming Lips, it is so easy to think that it is the band itself singing the song and not the choir. The joy they get from singing spreads like wildfire through the audience, who start whistling, clapping and generally cheering them on. One of the concertgoers, Annette, and her friends have seen the choir several times. At a recent concert in the Ostpol bar, she tells me, it was so full that you could hardly move.
A concert by the Dresden Pub Choir at the Nikkifaktur

Less prim than other choirs

The fact that the Dresden Pub Choir is not quite as prim as others is also the secret of its success. There are no regulations about which clothes they have to wear, and if somebody sings a wrong note, it is not the end of the world. The choir sings at city festivals and holds rehearsals on the street for anybody to listen to. The way audiences react is in fact always positive, says Torsten Adam. Of course it is often friends standing there, listening to them, but the passers-by are also thrilled by what they are doing.

Germany’s first pub choir came into being in Berlin, in the meantime there are now pub choirs in Hamburg, Munich, Karlsruhe and, as we have just found out, in Dresden. Towards the end of the evening Torsten Adam reveals to me that the next thing they are planning is a joint project with the Berliners. A big festival for pub choirs, maybe? If it is as much fun with all of them as it is with the Dresden Pub Choir, then that really would be a great idea.