Germans, Migrants Share A Choir Where The Singing Is Secondary : Parallels Berliners and migrants are getting to know each other through popular songs from Germany, Syria and Eritrea. Every German interested in joining must bring an asylum-seeker with them.
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Germans, Migrants Share A Choir Where The Singing Is Secondary

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Germans, Migrants Share A Choir Where The Singing Is Secondary

Germans, Migrants Share A Choir Where The Singing Is Secondary

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There's a new kind of singing group in Berlin. You don't have to audition. You don't even have to know how to sing. But you do have to bring a new friend, someone who has fled their home country and is looking to start a new life in Germany. Esme Nicholson sat in on one of their rehearsals.

MICHAEL BETZNER-BRAND: (Singing in foreign language).

CHOIR: (Singing in foreign language).

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: For many members of this choir, meeting refugees is nothing new. Most of them regularly help out at shelters, like thousands of volunteers throughout Germany.

BETZNER-BRAND: (Speaking German).

NICHOLSON: Hella Keilinghaus is a retired teacher.

HELLA KEILINGHAUS: You know, when you work with the refugees or go to their homes, sometimes it's so sad to hear how they live and where they come from.

NICHOLSON: Keilinghaus gives free German lessons to newly arrived Eritreans, some of whom make up the tenor section of the choir. Another volunteer, 52-year-old Katharina Lovreglio is a cafe owner and music lover and frequently cooks for refugees. She says she felt compelled to help.

KATHARINA LOVREGLIO: I cannot explain it exactly because it's coming from my heart.

NICHOLSON: Lovreglio says she relates to refugees because she too fled her home country, former communist East Germany, albeit under very different circumstances.

LOVREGLIO: I had no war. So it's not the same, but I feel - I feel something like this also.

CHOIR: (Singing vocal exercises).

NICHOLSON: Warming up their voices for what is only their eighth week of rehearsals, the choir is already 50 strong. Half of the singers are so-called old Berliners. And the other half, the new Berliners, are from Syria and Eritrea. Founder and conductor Michael Betzner-Brand says some of the songs the Syrian choir members have brought with them are a real enrichment to his own musical education.

BETZNER-BRAND: Their melodies are very intricate and beautiful and not always easy to sing. For us, of course, it's also the language which makes some difficulties with all this (imitating vocal pattern sounds) sounds and so.

NICHOLSON: He says choosing suitable repertoire is a bit of a challenge because the subject matters can be a little sensitive.

BETZNER-BRAND: For example, there are many German folk songs and they're then quite difficult, about leaving your home or another is (singing) I'm sailing, I am sailing.

But the refugees came over the sea. So you can't take any song.

CHOIR: (Singing) War is over, ahh...

NICHOLSON: But that hasn't stopped him bringing out John Lennon's optimistic holiday song for next week's concert. Thirty-five-year-old Mohammed Abdol-Rahaman, a Syrian journalist who fled Damascus and arrived in Berlin seven months ago, says he's proud that he can at least make a musical contribution to the city in which he wants to settle.

MOHAMMED ABDOL-RAHAMAN: The music, it's international language, no need to understand what we sing. They asked me if I can sing any song in Arabic, and I sung this one, "Nassam Aleyna El Hawa." And they like it. (Singing in Arabic).

Good?

CHOIR: (Singing in foreign language).

NICHOLSON: Abdol-Rahaman is still waiting to hear from the authorities about his asylum application and whether he can bring his father and brother here to safety as well. And until that happens, he takes comfort in the company of his fellow singers. For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin.

CHOIR: (Singing in foreign language).

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