Do you enjoy singing? The Grass Valley Cornish Carol Choir is looking for you to help carry on a local tradition which dates to 1876. In the early days of California gold mining, experienced Cornish miners came to Grass Valley to make better lives for themselves and their families. They brought the geological and technical skills developed in Cornwall, England during centuries of hardrock mining. They also brought folkways, which included Cornish pastys and carols.
The miners organized a male voice choir to sing their carols the same year the local Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad began carrying passengers. The narrow gauge is gone but the Cornish carols carry on.
Women joined the choir in World War I, keeping the tradition alive when many men were away. Later, after boy altos were no longer recruited, the current director, Eleanor Kenitzer, reorganized the choir to include women’s voices.
The Cornish carols are folk songs influenced by Handel and the Methodist chapel and composed by miners. Like the folk songs of Appalachia, the Cornish carols were best preserved far from home. While the carols are still sung in towns and hamlets of Cornwall, Grass Valley made the carols famous around the world.
The Grass Valley choir sang the carols during the golden age of radio for national broadcasts in America, for the BBC in Britain and in World War II for armed service broadcasts around the world. While the carols are Cornish, the choir includes singers of all backgrounds.
Over the years, the carols have become Grass Valley’s own songs. People come from across America and Canada and even from Cornwall to hear them.
This season the choir will perform on The Union building steps on Mill Street every Friday night of Cornish Christmas. The choir also will perform for charitable events, including at North Star House on December 4.
There’s no better way to connect to the heart of Grass Valley then by singing its carols.
If you want to join, come to the season’s first rehearsal at the Grass Valley United Methodist Church, 236 South Church Street, on Sunday, October 30 at 5 pm.
Rehearsals will continue every Sunday evening through November 19. For more information, call Eleanor Kenitzer at 530/277-8025.