Do you like to sing? The Grass Valley Cornish Carol Choir is looking for you to help carry on a local tradition that dates back to 1876.
When gold mining began in California, experienced Cornish miners came to Grass Valley to improve their lives and those of their families. They brought the geological and technical skills developed in Cornwall, England, over centuries of hard rock mining. They also brought folk traditions, which included Cornish pasties and carols.
The miners organized a male choir to sing their Christmas carols the same year the Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad began carrying passengers. The narrow gauge is gone but the Cornish songs continue.
Women joined the choir during World War I, carrying on the tradition when many men were absent. Later, after alto boys were no longer recruited, current director Eleanor Kenitzer revamped the choir to include female voices.
Cornish songs are folk songs influenced by Handel and the Methodist Chapel and composed by miners. Like Appalachian folksongs, Cornish songs were best kept away from home. While the carols are still sung in Cornish towns and hamlets, Grass Valley has made the carols famous the world over.
The Grass Valley Choir sang the carols during the golden age of radio for national broadcasts in America, for the BBC in Britain, and during World War II for Armed Services broadcasts worldwide. While the chants are Cornish, the choir includes singers from all walks of life.
Over the years, the chants became Grass Valley’s own songs. People come from all over America and Canada and even Cornwall to hear them.
This season the choir will perform on the steps of the Union Building on Mill Street every Cornish Christmas Friday night. The choir will also perform at charity events, including at North Star House on December 4.
There’s no better way to connect with the heart of Grass Valley than by singing its songs.
If you would like to participate, come to the first rehearsal of the season at Grass Valley United Methodist Church, 236 South Church Street, on Sunday, October 30 at 5 p.m.
Rehearsals will continue every Sunday evening until November 19. For more information, call Eleanor Kenitzer at 530/277-8025.