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Local men have a song in their hearts

POULSBO — It may look like an ordinary men’s chorus, but to these guys, it’s a preservation of tradition.

About to celebrate its first anniversary, the Vestre Sund Mannskor is just one more way the Sons of Norway works to preserve the Norwegian culture in Poulsbo. Member Bob Ellerby said the Poulsbo men’s chorus is one of only 11 groups between Bellingham and San Diego, however, it is a tradition that was brought over from Europe, where it draws thousands of men from across the Scandinavian countries.

“Almost every town has a male chorus,” Ellerby said of the European version. “The thing about these choruses is they are for young men up to 90-year-old men who still want to sing.”

Poulsbo’s singing gents have met weekly since January and have already performed for Sons of Norway events, at Midsommerfest, First Lutheran Church and have an event planned at Martha and Mary this holiday season. Director Jan Parker-Peterson said the small but mighty group is a pleasure to work with, and they’re always looking for new voices, especially high tenors of which they have none.

Besides being an all-male chorus, the thing that really distinguishes this group is that it is part music lesson and part language lesson. Most of the songs the chorus performs are in Norwegian, which has been a learning experience for both director and singers. Parker-Peterson said some of the men came into the experience knowing Norwegian, others didn’t know any. She’s still learning as well.

“Sometimes it’s kind of like the blind leading the blind,” she remarked with a laugh when the group hit a stumbling block with the words to “Rudolf er rød på nesen” (“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” to any Norwegian neophytes).

Language challenges aside, the chorus members have a good time.

Parker-Peterson said they work very hard at their music, but take great enjoyment in learning it and always find time to have fun. The group recently started learning its Christmas songs, which members say is a perfect time for new singers to join the fold because the music is so much fun.

“This is the time of year that if someone is a descendent of Scandinavians they would love to learn and sing these songs about Christmas and about their country,” Ellerby said. “It’s kind of fun to learn a second language and we get a lot of enjoyment out of singing it.”

That enjoyment shows on the faces of the men. They laugh and smile and tell stories between rounds about memories of singing these songs as kids.

“If you don’t have music you’re missing out on something,” said Thore Fossum, who went to school in Norway and remembers many of the songs from his childhood. “It’s one thing to be entertained, but it’s another thing to do it and I want to be doing this.”

The Vestre Sund Mannskor meets Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. at the Sons of Norway (except Oct. 31). For more information, call Bob Ellerby at (360) 598-4831.

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