The Texas State Sängerbund is an association of German singing societies. After a successful Fourth of July celebration in 1853, the New Braunfels Germania male singing society invited similar organizations from Austin, San Antonio, and Sisterdale to a state Saengerfest (singers' festival), held in New Braunfels on October 15 and 16, 1853. Each group sang a cappella separately and joined together for works by Felix Mendelssohn and Heinrich Marschner.
At the second Saengerfest, held in San Antonio in May 1854, when the societies formed the Texas State Sängerbund (Deutsch-Texanischer Sängerbund or German Texan Singers' League), participation extended to singers from Coletoville, La Grange, Indianola, and Victoria. The next year's and each succeeding Saengerfest before the Civil War (New Braunfels, May 1855, October 1856, October 1858, and Fredericksburg, May 1859) brought added members or increased musical sophistication. In 1860 the first participating mixed chorus (male and female) contributed excerpts from Franz Joseph Haydn's Creation.
The Civil War disrupted plans for an 1861 Saengerfest in Austin, for which orchestral participation had been planned, and the festivals did not begin again until September 1870 in San Antonio on a more modest scale. There was a Saengerfest in New Braunfels in May 1873. The festival in San Antonio in October 1874 was a milestone. An orchestra of symphonic proportions, conducted by Professor Müller, participated in the public concert. When San Antonio hosted the state festival again in 1877 because New Braunfels could no longer afford the burden, the city added an enlarged orchestra of nearly forty musicians under Emil Ludwig Zawadil. Mixed choruses and massed choruses began to take some of the emphasis from individual singing societies, but each local group had an opportunity to sing at the banquet.
Not to be outdone, Austin imported the orchestra of the National Theater of New Orleans from St. Louis, Missouri, for the April 1879 Saengerfest. With the addition of out-of-state musicians and non-Germanic politicians to speak, the festivals now became more oriented to the entire community rather than primarily to the German element.
When distant and wealthy Galveston invited the singing societies for a Saengerfest of two massive concerts in May 1881, the choruses of the New Braunfels-Fredericksburg area felt disfranchised and seceded from the state Sängerbund to found their own West-Texanischer Gebirgs-Sängerbund (West Texas Hill Country Singers' League), which has held modest but musically and socially satisfying festivals for more than a century. While hosting the state festival in May 1883, Dallas added a third concert and an English-language chorus to the program for the first time and attracted audiences of up to 4,500 for the performances. Later that same year the Houston Sängerbund was founded.
At that time the state festivals, held at two-year intervals, began to rotate between Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Galveston, and Dallas. With minor variations this practice continued until 1916. The number of concerts ranged up to five for each festival; choruses of school children began to participate; the massed male choruses and larger mixed choruses shared with the orchestra and imported soloists (often of world fame) the increasingly sophisticated content of the festival concerts, while individual male choruses were almost totally relegated to the jovial Kommerse.
Wherever held, the festivals became the impetus for expanded musical activity on the purely local level, while they themselves ceased to be the sole property of the Germans as progressively more outsiders participated in the concerts and attended them. During World War I, the Saengerfest ceased when German Texans were suspected of "Hunnish" collaboration. They began again in 1921 and continued on a modest scale resembling the social and musical meetings of the early 1870s: individual choruses from San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, and Houston; massed choruses; a band concert; and an evening dance to celebrate a rich German heritage in Texas.
Individual Sängerbunds continued to meet in cities throughout Texas in the twentieth century, and in many cases, benefitted from both non-German membership as well as new German immigrants who sought membership. Saengerfests took place into the twenty-first century to carry on the German cultural traditions that had begun in the Lone Star State more than 150 years earlier. See also GERMAN MUSIC.