Become Cornish for a weekend |

Become Cornish for a weekend

This weekend, Grass Valley will be filled with singing, a mayoral pasty toss, a sing-along, speeches and a pasty lunch – all in the name of St. Piran, the patron saint of hard-rock miners and the one who taught the Cornish to refine tin.

Why? Because Grass Valley is a hotbed of all things Cornish, from the days of the Cornish miners in the 19th century up to the present, when their descendants sing the traditional songs in choirs.


The fun begins with a blast from the past: A re-enactment at 6:30 p.m. of the 1948 NBC radio broadcast of the Grass Valley Cornish Carol Choir at the Del Oro Theater.

Eleanor Kenitzer directs the choir, Gage McKinney, author of “When Miners Sang,” tells the story and “Ladies of the Evening,” in the persons of the Lake Wildwood Little Theatre women, add some special color. Proceeds go to the theater’s mural project, scheduled for painting this spring. The theater is at the corner of Mill and Neal streets in downtown Grass Valley.

Recently, Kenitzer spoke with two choir members, Joe Day and Harold George, who sang in the choir for that historic event.

She writes:

“Although a Nevada City boy, Joe Day sang in the Grass Valley Methodist Church choir when he heard the Cornish Choir practicing; he began singing in it in 1948 when he was around 23 years of age.

“Harold George was born in 1920, the year his father began directing the Cornish Carol Choir. As was the custom, as soon as he could sit through a rehearsal and behave, he began singing in the choir; for Harold that was when he was age 5.

“Their remembrance of the event at the Del Oro was that the stage was very narrow, and it was hard to position all of the singers so that they’d fit. Although they were used to attention because they had performed extensively in the area, they didn’t quite comprehend the impact of ‘coast-to-coast’ singing.”


Friday night, from 6 to 9, everyone is invited to a pub night sing-along at the Holbrooke Hotel, Main and Church streets. The Grass Valley Male Voice Choir will sing popular songs of Cornwall and America.


Events begin at 9:30 a.m. at the signal of Robert Russell, Grass Valley’s town crier, at Main and South Auburn streets in the City Hall parking lot. This is known, said organizer Kenitzer, “as the most Cornish spot in America.”

After raising the flags, contestants of all stripes will vie in the annual Pasty Olympics that include a liver and kibble pasty tossing contest. (Yes, bring your dog for cleanup.)

In the special mayoral toss, Grass Valley Mayor Mark Johnson has challenged Nevada City Mayor Sally Harris for the mayor’s trophy, which Grass Valley now proudly holds, says Kenitzer.

At noon celebrants can actually eat pasties – at the Grass Valley United Methodist Church, 236 South Church St. The president of the Cornish American Heritage Society, Vivanne Trevithick Bradley, the is keynote speaker.

St. Piran’s Day concludes with a concert by the Grass Valley Male Voice Choir on Saturday evening at 7 at the Sierra Presbyterian Church, 175 Ridge Road, Nevada City.


Tickets to the Del Oro Theatre night are $10 at the door (snacks and drinks not included). Purchase them in advance at the Grass Valley-Nevada County Chamber of Commerce, The Book Seller in Grass Valley or Java John’s in Nevada City.

Pub night at the Holbrooke is free, with no-host beverages and food.

Tickets to the luncheon Saturday are $10 from the Grass Valley Downtown Association, (530) 272-8315.

The Male Voice Choir concert is by donation at the door.

Contact Eleanor Kenitzer at 274-3431 or 271-0679 for more information.


The public and all Cornish cousins are invited to attend a meeting of the 2009 gathering committee and the board of directors of the Cornish American Heritage Society at City Hall, Grass Valley, on Friday. The meeting begins at 8 a.m. and lasts until early afternoon. The committee will present complete plans for the July 21-26, 2009, North American Cornish gathering that will be held locally and will attract people from across North America, Australia, New Zealand and Cornwall. The theme of the gathering is “Other Oceans, Other Worlds.” It will focus on the settlement of Cornish immigrants along the Pacific Rim.

Eleanor Kenitzer, president-elect of the California Cornish Cousins, is chair.

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