For Moravian Music Sunday, May 21, 2017, I delivered the homily. Here’s the bulletin of the service:


I was able to choose the readings for the day: Psalm 150, set responsively, to open the service and 1 Corinthians 14: 6-19 for the Gospel passage. To introduce the Gospel reading, I wrote the following to interpret Paul’s “speaking in tongues” to the performance of music in the context of worship:

In this morning’s scripture, Paul clarifies the use of “speaking in tongues” as “my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.” Regarding Moravian Music and Worship, one might apply this to musical performance as well: musical expression is “unfruitful” if it is unclear in terms of diction, articulation, rhythm, tempo, etc.; or, if it is performed thoughtlessly without a clear and genuine connection to meaningful texts and spiritual meaning. Therefore, the context of the entire passage supports the familiar verse found at its core: “I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with understanding.”

Meditation: 18th-century Lititzian Memorabilia

The recent completion of a new translation of Bishop Matthaeus Hehl’s complete two-volume Congregational History  – a project organized by the Archives Committee[1] – has made available a wealth of new information regarding the early music development of our church. Today, I’d like to share with you selected tidbits from the diary to reflect on how Moravians – past and present – employ music in worship.

From the very beginning, as in all Moravian settlements at the time, music was an essential component of congregational life for all ages. In July 1759, for example, “a weekly Singstunde was held for the first time for the children on the square of Lititz. There were 7 boys and 4 girls…,”[2] and on Christmas Eve 1759, the children who lived “in the Settlement had their Christmas Vigil for the first time.”[3] Once begun, such musical customs became treasured traditions and were continued year after year, many to the present day.

An image of the early Gemeinhaus in Lititz copied from a painting in the Bethlehem Archives, March 22, 1862, by Rufus Grider. Source:

The development of the musical culture within the congregation took a huge step forward when Brother Bernard Adam Grube, an talented Moravian musician,[4] arrived from Bethlehem in May 1765. He was called to be the congregation’s co-pastor along with Bishop Hehl. In November of that year, the “musicians had a very happy Lovefeast, where they were directed to Brother Grube as Director of Music.”[5] Both pastors, Grube and Hehl, are credited with copying the earliest music manuscripts in the congregation’s collection. Grube rapidly organized a choir and orchestra to enhance church services on special occasions. Church records often describe printed “odes” and the singing of chorales, psalms, anthems, and liturgies. In 1768, church members established a fund for music and music supplies: “a small music account was set up and a collection taken for instruments, strings, etc….”[6] These entries reflect the growth of a music program, which, in December 1771, required instruction as to the proper role of music in the congregation:

In the afternoon the [female] Singers and Musicians had a sweet Lovefeast in the Single Sisters’ House, likewise in the evening the Musicians Choir of the Brethren to which also the Trombonists were summoned and the Trombones introduced for their future use. During these Lovefeasts there was solid and heartfelt discussion about the correct use of Music in the Congregation and that it should never be treated in any but a liturgical heart.[7]

Portrait of Samuel Grosh (May 14, 1768 – July 12, 1850), prominent Lititz resident and active church member, who was at one time a member of the State Legislature – a man of distinguished presence. Lititz Moravian Archives and Museum. Used by permission.

Similar guidance was offered a few months later, in March, 1772, when “… occasioned by the Watchword, ‘The Levites sang with cymbals, psalteries and harps,’ Br. Grube spoke in the evening service about the necessary harmony and agreement of the hearts in singing and in the music, which remains without power and flavor when it does not have the influence of the Spirit.”[8] And again, in August 1773, as “our Musicians had a happy Lovefeast during which we spoke about the correct usage of music….”[9] Thus, as the congregation’s ability to make music improved and evolved, the seriousness and intent with which they practiced the art remained focused on its primary use as a spiritual instrument of worship and praise.

Early Church Drawing
Photograph of early church drawing. Lititz Moravian Archives and Museum. Used by permission.

The most overwhelming impression I had when reading Bishop Hehl’s diary is his striking and conspicuous effort to capture the emotional essence experienced in worship. Descriptive phrases abound in his reporting of the intense feelings awakened during services as when “…with melted, graceful hearts we followed our Suffering Savior step by step in His Passion with a blessed feeling…” [I, 112] or when one experienced “…melting hearts and moist eyes…” [II, 117] or in a liturgy when “…a holy trembling and awe went through this worship service…” [I, 109] or a prayer was “…accompanied by an especially sweet sensation of the nearness and Presence of our dear Lord….” [II, 40]

Similarly, descriptions of the act of singing in worship convey a strong impression that the vocal art was not a frivolous endeavor, but an active means of spiritual engagement “…during which the choir made heart-moving music” (II, 117) and topics were “…blessedly considered and sung about” (I, 163) or “…treated and sung about” (II, 177) or “…contemplated with sensitive hearts and sung about.” (II, 70)

Descriptions of emotions and singing are often combined in an effort to convey the heightened musical-spiritual connection worshippers regularly experienced, such as when a “…service closed with a sinner-like penitential hymn and wet eyes” (I, 108) and “…we sang with emotion…” (I, 231) or “…the Lovefeast was accompanied by a sweet musical cantata and especially the song that follows, expressing the entire purpose of the matter and our hearts’ desire for it…” (I, 229) or a particular exciting scripture “… was sung about musically and spoken about, concerning the joy of the Lord which the Holy Spirit excites, enlivens and informs….” (II, 87) These emotional accounts of liturgical experiences in Lititz – and the writer’s reaction to them – reflect a heightened sensitivity that accompanied the worshipful music-making.

Artist’s rendering of the layout of the early layout of the church interior. Source: Lititz Moravian Church office.

A unique feature of Moravian music that “impressed visitors with its beauty from the earliest days was the slide trombone quartet.”[10] This ensemble was formally organized in Lititz on December 4, 1771 and heard for the first time in public for Christmas services that year. H. H. Beck explains that the music for the trombone choir “was played on four slide instruments – soprano, alto, tenor and bass – the use of which in quartette combination seems to have been restricted – at least in America – to Moravian circles, for there is no record of the minute soprano trombone ever having been used elsewhere. The softer, blending tones which the slide action brought with it produced an effect of rare musical beauty for the sacred ensemble which cannot be attained on the valve instruments that were later substituted.”[11]

Central Moravian Trombone Choir, Bethlehem, PA, plays by torchlight in the 19th century to announce the Easter dawn service. As in most Moravian communities, Lititz Moravian shares the same tradition. Image in Public Domain.

Here is an example of a Trombone Choir in action, in this case “Jesus Makes My Heart Rejoice” from Boston Baroque’s recording, Lost Music of Early America: Music of the Moravians, Martin Pearlman, conductor.

Lititz Trombone Choir, 1904
Lititz Trombone Choir, 1904, with valved instruments. Photo in Lititz Moravian Archives and Museum used by permission.

In August 1774, the congregation received a new set of trombones which had been purchased for Lititz from Germany by Christian Gregor,[12] of “which contribution later on was brought together generously by freewill donations from the Choirs here and non-Resident Brethren and Sister. . . . They were first used on November 13, 1774.”[13] These instruments were heard regularly until being silenced for a time during the Revolutionary War. The brothers were disunited at that time due to a diversity of views on the colonies’ fight for independence. The situation intensified when a soldiers’ hospital was established in the Brethren’s House from December 19, 1777 to August 28, 1778. Hehl writes: Choir Festivals were omitted, partly out of consideration of the inner situation of the hearts and partly from lack of a suitable comfort and peace….The Congregational Holy Communion was omitted 5 times, namely in the months of June, July, August, September and October [1778].”[14] The brethren reconciled for the Chief Elder Festival, November 13, 1778 “with complete absolution, forgetting and burying of what had taken place, which occasioned such scattering and heart-felt pain. And after that the Holy Communion could be held again, which our dear gracious Lord and Savior graciously acknowledged in all the acts and services, letting His Peace be felt, and a melting-together in love and heart’s feeling arise anew among the Brethren and Sisters.”[15]

The front of the Brethren’s House as it stands today. Source:

Hehl indicates that the use of “our Brass instruments, which had hardly sounded during the whole time the soldiers were billeted here, were heard again, the Congregation was cheered up by this….”[16] With the war over, the community of Lititz apparently flourished and people settled back into their old way of life. However, their contact during the war with the visiting soldiers and others from the outside world triggered a deep-seated change in their thinking. In her Bicentennial History of the Lititz Congregation, Mary Huebener concludes,  “One after another, some of the less-meaningful customs were dropped and institutions abandoned in the years that followed; and the old, simple devout community life was never again quite the same.”[17]

By all accounts, the musical activities of the Lititz community were pursued with intensity, thoroughness, and considerable taste and skill. While churches in New England at the time were performing primitive fuguing tunes without accompaniment, “the general culture of the place was high and the people took to the music naturally,” as shown by its distinguished stature as a significant music center of late-eighteenth-century America.[18] Anthems accompanied by string orchestra and organ were composed for special occasions. Here is an example of a Lititz favorite performed every year for the Christmas Vigils: Schultz’s Thou Child Divine, performed by the Boston Baroque, Martin Pearlman, conductor.

After 1800, according to an anonymous translator of the diaries in the early 20th century, there “was a period of transition, a change from the old times to the new, characterized by a tenacious clinging to earlier customs and regulations that belonged to the past on the one hand, and an indifference or opposition to them on the other. Financially the community was on the whole not prospering, business being depressed as was the case throughout the whole country.”[19]

Shot from Steeple
This black and white photo of a water color of Lititz from the church steeple looking N.W. was made by Samuel Renike sometime between 1810–1820. Photo from Lititz Moravian Archives and Museum used by permission. The old one story house, tile roof, in the center is the old blacksmith’s shop in which John Beck began his work as a schoolmaster.

Remember, from its founding, Lititz had been a closed community. Church members built their homes on land leased from the church, and church fathers directed the religious, cultural, social, and economic life. The original intent was to provide a religious environment free from worldly influences. In 1855, however, things changed considerably: the so-called lease system was abolished by a vote of the church council, and, hence, Lititz ceased to be an exclusive church settlement.[20]

Lititz Moravian Church at present. Photo by Julie Barteau Gemmell used by permission.

Undoubtedly, our congregation has undergone many changes through the years, but one factor remains constant: we focus on music as a liturgical tool to worship God, to celebrate our Lamb Who has Conquered, to perform music not as an end in itself, but for a higher spiritual calling inspired by a greater heavenly power. As a congregation, we seek to employ our musical skills as a mode of heightened emotional expression and to lend our full attention, as sensitive listeners, to experience those feelings embodied in God’s gift of music. Through music as worship, we seek to get to the heart of what it is to be the Children of God, to praise and worship Him forever and ever…world without end.


[1] Matthaeus G. Hehl, Historical Report of the Beginning and Continuation of the Little Congregation of the Brethren at Warwik and the Brethren’s Settlement Congregation LITIZ that Subsequently Arose There in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1742-1779, vol. 1 (Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, PA), 1. This important early church history has been newly transcribed and translated by Pastor Roy Ledbetter, a Presbyter Fratrum of the Moravian Church in St. Louis, MO.

[2] Ibid., 45.

[3] Ibid., 147.

[4] Before coming to Lititz, Grube served as a missionary to Native Americans in Pennsylvania. According to Herbert Beck, he was “a man of varied talents and university culture, having studied at Jena, and an accomplished all-around musician, with sufficient skill on several instruments and knowledge of others to instruct the likely members of the community on the various pieces of a full orchestra, as well as in the principles of harmony.” Herbert H. Beck, “Lititz as An Early Music Centre,” Lancaster County Historical Society Proceedings 19 (1915): 73.

[5] Hehl, Historical Report Vol. I, 128.

[6] Ibid., 105.

[7] Ibid., 36.

[8] Hehl, Historical Report Vol. II, 45.

[9] Ibid., 95.

[10] Beck, Lititz Music Centre, 80. In church records, the first mention of trombones is as substitutes for “French horns in the church music during [the year 1770].” John G. Zook, ed. Historical and Pictorial Lititz with Numerous Illustrations. (Lititz, PA: Express Printing Company, 1905), 195.

[11] H.H. Beck, Lititz Music Centre, 80.

[12] Keehn, Music Room Directory of Lititz Congregation Museum and Archives, 3. “The Alto Trombone in our collection (LMB2) made by J.J. Schmeid of Pfaffendorf, is the only remaining instrument of the 1774 quartet. We believe the slide only of the Soprano Trombone is of the original 1774 set.”

[13] Hehl, Historical Report Vol. II, 147-148. “The costs for this which arrived is £5/1/3 [These and following numbers represent “Pounds/Shillings/Pence”] Pennsylvania Currency. Freight £2/16/3½, total £7/17/6½….

[14] Ibid., 211.

[15] Ibid., 233-234.

[16] Ibid., 235.

[17] Note: For a detailed history of the congregation, see History of the Lititz Moravian Congregation, 1749-1999 (published by the congregation). Chapters one through ten, covering the years 1749-1949, were written by Mary Huebener and published originally in connection with the celebration of the Bicentennial of the Moravian Congregation of Lititz, Pennsylvania [see Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society, Volume XIV, Parts 3 and 4 (Bethlehem: Times Publishing Co., 1949). All references to Huebener’s work will reference page numbers in the more recent publication, in this case: 41.

[18] H.H. Beck, Lititz Music Centre, 74.

[19] Zook, John G., ed., Historical and Pictorial Lititz with Numerous Illustrations (Lititz, PA: Express Printing Company, 1905), 200.

[20] Ibid., 201. Comments from an unnamed translator of congregational diaries; probably Abraham Reinke Beck (1833-1928), Lititz Congregation archivist at the time of publication.