Last night we went to a night of Anabaptist music sponsored jointly by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society and the Swiss Pioneer Preservation Society. It was held at the Martindale Reception Center and attended by an overflow crowd. Every one of the 1000 chairs were filled and people were standing. They went somewhere and got another 200 chairs.
The music was wonderful! The program began with a group of Amish singing in German from the Ausbund. This hymnal was first published in the 1600s in Europe and contains a lot of ballads about the suffering of the Anabaptist martyrs in the Reformation. The Amish still sing these German hymns in the slow chanting style used in the 1600s, in unison with up to seven notes per syllable. If I closed my eyes I could picture myself in a cave in Europe listening to my ancestors sing.
We moved up 200 years then to singing led by several groups of Old Order Mennonites from the Unpartheyisches Gesangbuch published in 1804 in Pennsylvania by the Lancaster Conference Mennonites. This is also a German book and the singing is done in unison but the pace was stepped up to 2-3 notes per syllable.
The River Brethren led two hymns from their 1800s hymn book. Their singing was the same as the Old Order Mennonites, in unison with 2-3 notes per syllable, but in English rather than German.
Then we moved up to the type of hymn books we use today with the words printed between the lines of music, in English with four parts and one note per syllable. I thought it was interesting that every 200 years the pace of our singing has picked up speed. The Church and Sunday School Hymnal was published in 1902 so it actually only took 100 years to double the speed from two to one note per syllable. What will our singing sound like 100 years from now?