German singer who performed in New Ulm decides to move to the area a few years later
Fifteen years ago, when Angela Jahr came with a band from Germany to perform at festivals, such as Heritagefest in New Ulm, she wasn’t thinking of moving to southern Minnesota. Three years later, she and her husband, Klaus, immigrated to the New Ulm area, settling in Sleepy Eye because that’s where they found day jobs.
There are more people of German ancestry living in Minnesota than of any other ethnic background (nearly 40 percent), according to a Minneapolis Star-Tribune story written three years ago. German immigrants settled in Minnesota, beginning in the 1850s, establishing cities such as New Ulm, St. Cloud and Shakopee. New Ulm’s German culture and traditions attracted the Jahrs.
“After performing in the United States for three years, we decided we liked it here,” Angela said. She has continued her musical career, singing and playing not only at festivals, but also in church and in nursing homes. Her stage career began as a child, when she surprised her parents by singing at a community festival.
“I grew up in Letzlingen, a small community near Berlin,” Angela said. “When I was 11 or 12, my parents went to a festival, and I was supposed to go to bed. I knew a band was playing, so after my parents left, I dressed up very nicely. I went backstage and said, ‘Hello, I want to sing with you.’ I asked if the band could play a song I had learned from the radio. They were laughing, of course, but they did it. The curtain opened, and the band started to play the song. I came out, started singing and shocked my parents, who were in the audience. Later, the musicians said to them, ‘Let the girl sing. She will be good.’ My parents did not punish me, and later, I occasionally sang with that band.
“I’m a mezzo soprano (middle soprano), so I can sing country songs, Mexican songs, popular songs, rock and roll, country and the blues.”
The singing performance may have surprised Angela’s parents, but her musical ability did not. As a child, she learned to play the guitar and the accordion.
“Music is my life,“ Angela said. “I was always good in music. In choir, when the teacher was sick, I led the choir with my guitar. I sang in many groups from age 16, and I went to a special music school in Magdeburg when I was 17 and 18 for voice lessons and dancing, a performance package of what you need onstage.”
After Angela was licensed as a professional singer, she was allowed to sing in professional music groups, mostly in festivals, occasionally in bars. She also sang at vacation destinations, in clubs and outdoors, sometimes three or four times a day.
“I toured around in my own car,” Angela said. “Everyone in the group had a car, and the instruments were transferred in a small bus. I met Klaus on a tour in Magdeburg in 1975. He became a groupie and followed me from town to town. He worked, so he had to keep track of me so he could be in the audience as often as possible.”
The couple married several years later, celebrating with a large, German-style wedding near Magdeburg, where Angela joined the musicians onstage for a song. Wanting to spend less time on the road, she focused on singing in cafes and bars and at festivals in Magdeburg and Berlin. She also worked as a hospital nurse, which also was Klaus’ occupation. Then, Angela received an invitation.
“One day in 1995, a group called me and asked me to go with them to the United States to sing at German festivals in Chicago, Wisconsin and Minnesota–more than one festival in each state.” For three years, Angela came to the United States with a group to sing at festivals, twice at Heritagefest in New Ulm, with Klaus traveling with her. The Jahrs fell in love with the New Ulm area, and in 2002, they decided to move there, although neither spoke much English and their nursing qualifications were not transferable to the United States.
“We applied for jobs many places,” Angela said, “but no one knew us. We had made many friends in New Ulm, but our references were from Germany.” So, the Jahrs used a translation dictionary to take the test for certified nursing assistant, and passed. They live in Sleepy Eye because that’s where their first employer was located, and they still work in a nursing home there.
A New Ulm friend gave the Jahrs daily English lessons. Angela recalled, “Our English improved every day, and we talked to people in the nursing home every day.” The couple began to study citizenship requirements and passed the test to become citizens.
Angela quickly became involved with local music groups, using the same tactic she used as a pre-teen. She explained, “I’d attend a music festival and then get up on stage and sing. I met Gene Bertrand, and he asked me to sing with the group, which he calls ‘Angela and Gene.’ We give four performances a month, but October is very busy. Everyone has an Octoberfest. Once in a while, during Fasching, I join the Wendinger Band on stage in one or two songs.” (The Wendinger Band was founded by brothers Peter and Paul Wendinger.)
Every two years, Angela and Klaus visit family in Germany; family members come here alternate years. Angela has taken part in a musicians’ reunion in Magdeburg, of which she said, “It was a very good experience. We sang, played and reminisced.
“One time, on vacation in Bavaria, I noticed a sign in a store window about an open house party for the store owner’s anniversary.” The Jahrs attended. Angela recalled, “I asked the keyboard player, ‘Can I sing a song with you?’ He said, ‘Why not?’ so I sang one song. The audience asked for more, so I sang all afternoon.”
The Jahrs’ two sons continue to live in Europe. One is a doctor in Switzerland, the other a computer specialist in Germany. Angela said, “We also have a 22-year-old granddaughter in Germany and two other grandchildren, ages 5 and 7, in Switzerland, who already are playing musical instruments.”
Although Angela is 65 and Klaus is 71, they continue to work as CNAs. Angela explained, “I like the interaction with people. I like to sing not only at festivals, but also in nursing homes and assisted living. I sing for them, and they sing with me. I love older people, and they love to hear someone make music. I can use both my nursing skills and my musical skills. As long as I stay healthy, I will work in a nursing home and make music. Music is good for the soul.”