The Gesang Verein Harmonia Chorus isn't exactly a household name. Mention the Harmonia Club to someone in the area without any gray hairs on their head and you've got maybe a 50-50 chance of making a connection. This is something the club and its associated choruses are setting out to change, according to chorus secretary and treasurer, Kateri Cohick.
"We just need to get out there," she said in a phone interview.
The Harmonia Club and its choruses have been a part of Williamsport since the club was founded by German immigrants in 1892. The Harmonia Club was more than just a place for members to fraternize and speak their native tongue; the preservation of German singing was an integral part of the organization from the beginning.
"It was founded to promote German singing and a sense of camaraderie," explained Cohick, who believes that the club's original bylaws state that if the Harmonia's chorus ever ceased to exist the club would disband. Today the club sings at nursing homes and hospitals, hosts an annual Oktoberfest, a memorial mass in November at St. Boniface Church, a Christmas party at the Harmonia Club, and competes annually against German-language choruses from around the state.
Cohick said she's been singing with the Harmonia Chorus for 30 years.
"I started young," she laughed. "My mom and dad got involved and it wasn't long before I did." Family ties seem to be at the heart of the club - some of which link present-day members to founding families in the 19th century.
Like all members of the women's chorus or female members of the mixed chorus, Cohick has male family members who also are members of the Harmonia Club.
"Technically it's a private club, and a men's club," she explained, adding that "for a woman to be a part of one of the choruses, she has to have a male relative who is a member of the club."
The Gesang Verein Harmonia Chorus is one of five members of the United Singers' Federation of Pennsylvania which includes choruses from McKeesport, Reading, Lebanon (in Pennsylvania), Altoona and of course, Williamsport. Each year choruses from each town meet during a weekend in June to compete. The hosting town alternates each year. This year, the Harmonia's chorus will travel to Lebanon.
To raise funds for the competition, the club is hosting a "Maifest Spring Dance" on Saturday with plenty of food and music. The event will be open to the public.
Cohick explained that the club hopes to do more than just raise funds for their upcoming competition - they hope to showcase and spark interest in their choruses.
"We have a lot of fun," she said. "The music in the annual competition is in German," she added, "but people shouldn't be intimidated; we don't just sing in German."
She said the perfect candidate for the chorus is someone who simply "loves to sing. You don't need perfect pitch and there isn't an auditioning process. You just need to be willing to try the German. I don't speak German and many people in the chorus do it, like me, by learning it phonetically." Cohick added that the members of the chorus who do in fact speak German are always more than willing to help with a translation or pronunciation. The chorus rehearses at 7:30 p.m. each Monday at the Harmonia Club, 332 E. Seventh St.
The event also will feature a live performance by local group Big Al and the Losers. The event will offer a light dinner (featuring sandwiches and snacks) and performances by the Harmonia's men's, women's, and mixed choruses. There will be a cash bar and all attendees must be at least 21 years old.
For more information on becoming a member of the club and its choruses, call Kateri Cohick at 570-398-1166 or find the Harmonia Club on Facebook.