Tribute to Eleanor
By George Carter
ELEANOR KENETZER -- A LEGEND IN OUR OWN TIME
The stuff of Legend?? Maybe so. I’m not knowledgeable about legends, but this I know. For the last decade of the twentieth century and the whole of this twenty-first century, Eleanor Kenitzer has been the pulsing heart of a musical experience in Nevada County and beyond. That music wasn’t new here. The singing of gold miners who came from Cornwall had been heard in these parts for 90 years. It was Eleanor who helped bring it back to life, first in the Cornish Carol Choir and then the Grass Valley Male Voice Choir. And now she’s stepping aside as Director of the Male Voice Choir.
In these years she has brought to life a tradition that has rung throughout villages and towns in Cornwall and now sings out in Nevada County communities. The Grass Valley Male Voice Choir and Eleanor Kenitzer are joined at the heart of who we are as a community.
Reports from the Choir’s several trips to sing in Cornwall are that Cornish audiences are amazed that these American men can sing so well, even presenting some traditional Cornish music in ways instructive to their own traditional ways of singing.
My personal experience of Eleanor Kenitzer is varied. Eleanor directs the choir in our Nevada City United Methodist Church. I’d lived here only a few months and said to her that I didn’t want to go the church choir route again, so I asked Eleanor for suggestions about where I might sing. She pointed me to the Grass Valley Male Voice Choir. Over fourteen years I’ve never looked back.
With Eleanor what you see is what you get. She has no pretense. What appear to be ‘off the wall’ comments often are right to the point. She is outspoken, no waiting around to learn what she thinks or feels about something.
This isn’t anatomically correct, but Eleanor has music in her bones.
When concert time arrives, she puts on her show face. She has choir camp followers (actually Eleanor followers) who are sure to come whenever and wherever we sing.
Her show face is folksy, reaching out to everyone in the audience to make contact. She’s folksy in introducing music to an audience and the long-time members of our audiences love it; some traditionalist singers squirm.
She has been the heart and soul of the Male Voice Choir. Her knowledge of music is deep and wide. Musically sophisticated, but by no means stuffy or overly pedantic. She’s just folks.
Her speaking voice carries the tones and rhythms of southeast America where she was raised. For some this seems off-putting. “What can this hick from the south know?” But she knows a lot and for those who stick around she is a treasure.
She acknowledges the talents/experience of choir members, enlisting some to do solo parts, introduce songs. When a choir member makes a suggestion, she listens. The suggestion may or may not result in a change. Eleanor is in charge in all things musical.
To complaints from Choir singers, her stock answer is “Watch the Director.” “I won’t direct it exactly the same every time, so WATCH! “Watch me. I’ll direct it as it fits right when we’re singing it.”
In my fourteen years we have sung a variety of music. Personal favorites of mine are Take Me Home with the haunting memory of a Cornish boy leaving home and returning, the raucous and fun Christmas in About Three Minutes, and Shall We Gather at the River, Darryl Crawford’s arrangement of an Americana hit. There were numerous Broadway favorites, African American spirituals, and some traditional and classical religious music. But when offered Pader Agan Arluth, said to be the Cornish Lord’s Prayer, I was dumb-founded. “Are you kiddin’ me?!!” “Memorize this? No way!”
Agan Tas-ny, us yn nef,
Benygys re bo dha Hanow,
Re dheffo dha wlascor,
Pader Agan Arluth…
We haven’t sung that one in concert, but I don’t think I was the only one for whom the memorization task seemed daunting.
Among the thirty-five men in the Choir, Eleanor was only one of two women regularly present. She was experienced as one of the boys. She could mix it up with us and often joked about having dozens of “choir husbands”. (The other woman was Karen Driscoll, for many years our much-loved accompanist, and now Janet Rossman.)
Eleanor remains in contact with retired choir members, their wives and families. She’s the point person in remembering those who are ill, are having surgery or have died, the thread that connects who and what we are now to who and what we have been in years past. We’ll see how a new thread may be woven as the future unfolds.
As to “retiring” as Male Voice Choir Director, Eleanor’s attitude seems to be that all things come in their time and now is the time for her and for the Choir. Singing is indeed deep in the heart of human beings, pulses in our blood. There’s a reason the Grass Valley Male Voice Choir’s brings new life and hope to those singing and those listening. What Would I Do Without My Music?
August 31, 2021