OPEN with MBW HYMN 382, “Jesus, We Love to Meet”
To prepare for participation in the German Script course in Bethlehem a couple of years ago, I stumbled across a small innocent-looking, beautifully handwritten booklet displayed for over 30 years in a glass case in the Music Room of the Lititz Congregation museum. It is entitled Etliche Anmerkungen unser Singen und Spielen, Melodien und Choral-Buch betreffend (Several Remarks Concerning our Singing, Playing, Tunes, and Chorale-Book), which I refer to simply as Remarks. We recently had this work translated by Pastor Roy Ledbetter, and for our Devotion this morning I’d like to read a few of these remarks. I hope you find these words useful as a way to reflect on the timeless and universal nature of how Moravians employ music in worship, and to celebrate how our current efforts to actualize the mission of the Moravian Music Foundation fulfills the objectives set forth by a significant 18th-century Moravian musician.
First, a brief history of the document, which was originally penned in Herrnhut, Germany. How it arrived in Lititz is still a mystery. The author, Johann Friedrich Franke (1717-1780), never visited Pennsylvania, so I believe it most likely that an early pastor brought it from Europe. Franke joined the Moravian community in Marienborn, Germany, in 1739 and, in March 1746, became Schreiber [secretary] for Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf, a position he held for seven years. After a three-year hiatus, Franke worked for Zinzendorf again in 1756, as Schreiber…und bedient den Gemeingesang und die Musik [secretary and a director of sorts for the singing choir and the music]. Just over 4-1/2 years later, on May 9, 1760, Zinzendorf died. Given Zinzendorf’s tremendous influence in shaping the practices of the renewed 18th-century church, Franke’s special position within Zinzendorf’s inner circle is noteworthy. The year after Zinzendorf’s death, in April 1761, Franke arrived in Herrnhut; and, in March 1763, he wrote the Remarks treatise. This distinguished author and his unique perspective, his detailed description of music education and church music performance during and immediately after Zinzendorf’s influence, and the specific musical content contained in the document makes for a fascinating read. Now, onto some remarks:
In discussing the importance of compiling a book of chorales for publication, Franke offers an over-arching goal, which rings so true for us today and is related to our work on the this Board: “…another method must be found to produce relief and help for our Congregations so that the precious gift that God has granted to us to sing and to play to Him may be preserved in the future with thanksgiving and made secure from loss and harm according to the nature and dignity of the matter.”
Franke believes that everyone should participate in congregational singing: “…I take for granted that the voice of a Child of God, no matter how bad it is and not suitable to singing alone, if a person is aware of his shortcoming, it will certainly not ruin singing in a service. For if everyone is aware of his own shortcoming, then it can not be otherwise, than to sing more simply and softly. And then the least humming from such hearts will certainly contribute as much to the quiet and soft murmur to the chief part of our liturgy, as the smallest little lamp helps to make [the darkness] bright.”
Franke often addresses tempos and dynamics in hymn singing: “If in the meantime all of the Fore-singing Brethren would agree together never to sing too loud or too fast, they will find that this is the only means infallibly to prevent all the otherwise unavoidable and prevailing shortcomings and defects. They would make this thus to be the rule and anything else would be the exception, e.g. when the Liturgist sings something which is unknown to the Congregation or changes the words or even sings by himself.”
“With our singing the Gift of God makes everything unnecessary, which one sees in the Fore-singers in other denominations. Ours have only to begin the hymn and then sing along in an orderly fashion. If, for the sake of the subject, they want to have a verse or a few lines sung more strongly or cheerfully, e.g. with the blessed chalice and otherwise, then they need only make arrangements all together with the organist and as a result of this intone only a couple of words [of the hymn verse] with this intention, then the [Organist] will just fall right in, in addition however, he will always properly accompany the ordinary soft singing. Then it must only be left always to the spirit of the Congregation whether and how it will arouse a hymn and sound, so that it rings and moves or rushes like water etc. in a small way, [or] as the prophet and the Revelation describe in a large way.”
“As little as one can say that our dear Lord may be in the Whirlwind, the Fire or the Earthquake, it is so certain that the Still, Small Voice is the actual and customary accompaniment of His dear Presence, already in the Old Testament, and as a result still is and is necessary still at the Holy Communion, during which—especially in the first part—one can never be too careful in regards to loud or fast singing . . . our Singing is most reliably beautiful when it is most simple and regulated, as the nature of the subject makes it accustomed . . . . Fast singing for this reason is not suited at all to our hymns, the more subjects they contain, which one already reads slower than others, for example in the Passion and Easter Story….”
Franke believes EVERYONE should participate in congregational singing: “Since choral singing would be the chief purpose in this, there should be no selection and the worst voices should not be excluded. Young Brethren have complained to me that they had been excluded from the music lessons when they were young because of their poor voices and in this way were misguided into not singing along at all, and now they find that their voices are not so bad at all. Experience also teaches that the same defect can be reduced among the Children or made unnoticeable in worship.”
Franke concludes with reminders to cultivate and continue the tradition of hymn-singing as set forth by Zinzendorf: “Remembering times past, which is so necessary, is also preserved by hymns and tunes that are none other than anointed and the late Disciple’s [Z] parting blessing and the Watchword that followed it, ‘Just be watchful and guard your soul well, so that you do not forget your history, never lose it from your heart as long as you live and make it known to your children and your children’s children.’ In this way the story of our dear Savior, especially the wonder beyond measure, loses no less than gold when mixed with something of lesser value when building up the church or it is mixed in.”
“It need hardly be mentioned that variety on our part is necessary and useful because the Singing is one of the various gifts of the Church, where the Lord ‘in His Wisdom gives many gifts.’ The constant drive and inclination of the late Disciple [Z] in this direction remains fresh in memory, among others together with alternation between old and new from the good treasury of songs he had in his memory, still we need to preserve the following with thanks and care: (1) That the Brethren and the Sisters sing antiphonally in various hymns and tunes (2) in addition the alternation between the Congregation and the Choir, [and] (3) Choral and Figural Music.”
“Thus choral singing remains for us our daily precious bread and in order that this may always remain good and our Householders will not be lacking in what they need to do and to encourage this, as much as they are able so that there the best Flour may not be ruined with trifles in the preparation.” Herrnhut, m[onth of] April, 1763 J[ohann]. Fr[iedrich]. Franke. Translated by Pastor Roy Ledbetter, presbyter Fratrum, St.Louis, Mo December 2017
Prayer (adapted from the English Choristers’ Prayer)
Bless us, O Lord, Your servants who minister in Your church. Grant that what we sing with our lips (and play with our instruments) we may believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts we may show forth in our lives. Grant us the desire, motivation and energy to preserve and share Your precious gift of Music, and to minster through this excellent tool. Bless our work with the Moravian Music Foundation and, by extension, help us to strengthen congregational involvement and participation in Your unique and essential art form; one that so profoundly moves our hearts, minds, and spirits to know Your glory. We praise You, O God, and celebrate with joy and thanksgiving Our Lamb Who Has Conquered. Amen.
CLOSE with MBW HYMN 382: “When Long Before Time”