Julie Kohler first contacted Lititz Moravian Congregation on February 21, 2013 to donate a manuscript she owned to either Linden Hall or the Church Museum and Archives. Having just returned to the congregation as Director of Music Ministries, I immediately returned Julie’s call and set up an appointment to meet with her.
Julia Ann Kohler, née Moore, grew up in Lancaster City and graduated from McCaskey High in 1945. She attended Linden Hall Junior College for two years beginning in 1947. As an expert in fraktur, literally “broken” style of lettering, Julie has extensive expertise and experience in recognizing the significance of craftsmanship and artistry in historical manuscripts. She had a fraktur business in Lancaster for 20 years and taught the subject at the Heritage Center and at the Mennonite High School. Julie discovered the New Sacred Music manuscript at an antique sale in Ephrata. She understood the uniqueness of the item and admired the quality the artwork, calligraphy, and musical notation. Julie also recognized the name “Grosh” from friends she had known during the time she had spent in Lititz and suspected that the musical material was Moravian.
Click on the link below to see the complete scan of the Modern Sacred Music manuscript.
Julie and I had a delightful meeting at the church on February 26, 2013. She shared the New Sacred Music manuscript with me, and it was obvious why the intricate and colorful artwork on the cover first caught her attention. The centerfold of the document includes a detailed rendering of a flute, also in color, and a fingering chart.
On either side of the chart is found meticulously notated music of original Grosh compositions, folksongs, patriotic tunes and marches, and other selections, as well as beautifully handwritten verses for the hymns and anthems.
As seen in the Contents chart below, original compositions by the Grosh brothers include nine by George (GG) and seven by Peter L. Grosh (PG or PLG), with eighteen other pieces by other or anonymous composers.
Visually, textually, and musically, I would categorize this work as folk art/music with a distinctive flair and originality. The original music is rough-hewn, the verses are heartfelt reflecting the Romantic spirit of the age, and the overall effect inspires nostalgia, peacefulness, and joy. Julie and I admired the craftsmanship together, I played some of the melodies on the piano for her and, shortly thereafter, Julie gifted the manuscript to our Archives and Museum for everyone to enjoy for generations to come.
As Julie had guessed, genealogical research into the Grosh family history proves this work is related to long-standing members of our church, whose roots stretch back to John Valentine Grosh, one of the original members of the Lititz Congregation. According to the cemetery record found in Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society, Vol. 7 (1906):
One of John’s twelve children, Philipp Grosh (1732-1812), was a shoemaker and farmer in Hempfield Township, and was married to Anna Margaretha née Rank (1740-1818). They had seven sons and two daughters, including the well-known Samuel Grosh (1768-1850), who was a shopkeeper in Lititz and a member of the state Legislature. Samuel married Regina neé Schönleing (1775-1868) in 1798, and portraits of the couple can be found in our congregation’s Museum. The composers of New Sacred Music, Peter L. Grosh (1774-1839) and George Grosh (1783-1841) were of the same generation as Samuel. Peter married Maria Catharina née Conrad in 1800 and both originally lived in Hempfield Township, then moved to one of the congregational farms near Lititz, and finally settled in Lititz. Peter became the first tax collector in Lititz for fifty cents a month. According to Maria’s cemetery record, she lived to see 38 grandchildren, 118 great grandchildren, and 13 great-great grandchildren. She died unexpectedly at age 93. George was the youngest son of this generation and not active at the Lititz Moravian Congregation. In 1831, he “issued proposals for publishing a Universalist Hymn Book in the German language, for use by the German Universalists in the region. It [would have] probably [been] the first work of the kind ever published.” [Trumpet and Universalist Magazine (Boston, MA, January 14, 1831)]
Peter L. and George Grosh collaborated on another project related to New Sacred Music. The Journal of the Franklin Institute, Vol. XXI (no. 4), October, 1833, describes a patent for “a mode of Applying Wind to Musical Instruments,” the patent notice of which was made on January 21, 1834.
Based upon this patent application and the instructional materials in the manuscript, George and Peter probably played wind instruments. Hence, most of the music contained in New Sacred Music was intended for flute or, as labeled, “Corno” or “French Horn.” George Grosh’s signature appears on the fingering chart, dated “January 6th 1835,” just under a year after their patent application.
I have had the pleasure of conducting some of this music, most recently during a Lititz Collegium Musicum gathering (February 27, 2022), where the Millersville University Chorale accompanied by flutes performed five selections (Spring; Compassion; America, Commerce of Freedom; Yankey Doodle; and Hail to the Chief). Performers and audience alike were transported by the experience back to a simpler time and place. We could appreciate the artistic collaboration of the Grosh brothers and were thrilled that this fruit of their labor had returned home thanks to the kindness and generosity of Julie Kohler.