Singing is an integral part of my Amish family, and evokes some of the most powerful memories of times with them through the years. Science shows us that music has a profound effect on us both physically & emotionally. I can attest to those findings, and I’m sure you can as well! In contrast to songs of American pop culture defining my musical memory, the songs my family taught me are rooted in Biblical truth and melodies of praise.
“Music is one area where the Amish work at holding back the wild horses of modernity and secularism by carefully selecting the texts and tunes that nurture godliness, kindness and mutuality. I argue that music serves as one of the scaffoldings by which the Amish build and maintain boundaries and healthy community structures.” D. Rose Elder
The beauty of my Amish family’s musical heritage is its simplicity. The only things required were people, their voices, and their willingness to sing. There were no instruments, no sound equipment and no special venues. The only objects added at times are a songbook and a pitch pipe. But most Amish and Mennonite people have a large repertoire of hymns in their memory, and can sing for hours with no help from lyrics on a page.
Grandma had songs for all times of the day. There was “Good Morning Sunshine” when we woke up, “When We All Work Together” while doing chores, “Building Up the Temple” while playing with the babies…and the list goes on and on. We still sing a mealtime blessing learned at Grandpa & Grandma’s house, in our home today: “God is great and God is good, and we thank Him for our food, By His hand we all are fed, give us Lord our daily bread, Amen”. In addition to singing, I smile when I think of my musical Amish Grussmommy playing her harmonica, and the way my Grandma filled the house with her whistling all through the day.
My grandparents were fond of many songs, but there were some particular favorites for each of them. Grussdaudy’s was “Amazing Grace”, and Grussomommy especially loved the German hymn “Gott Ist Die Liebe”. The lyrics of “One Day at a Time” were very special to my Grandpa, and I remember my Grandma often singing “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”.
When extended family meets (on both my father and my mother’s sides), singing is always a part of the gathering. One of my favorite songs during family reunions is “Come and Dine”, which we all sing together at meal time. And the singing over the holiday seasons is truly a generational treasure! Grussmommy loved to sing with her sisters. How I wish we had videos of those special times.
In addition to singing as a family, the Amish and Mennonite community has a social culture built around song. I have fond memories of Sunday evening “Singings” with my parent’s friends, where we joined in a home and beautiful acapella harmonies filled the room.
As a child, I had the immense privilege of visiting both my Old Order Amish and New Order Amish grandparent’s churches. When I reflect on the singing during those services, I am overcome with emotion. There’s something very special and so sacred about being surrounded by believers, immersed in a room filled with the voices of men, women and children of all generations, reverently singing praises to their King, with all “worldly” distractions removed from the environment. It’s a communal experience where you feel part of something bigger and more important than just yourself, but at the same time it’s very personal. Ah, the deep and meaningful simplicity of voices united in song! It is a treasure for the ages.
From my Amish family, I learned the power of music and song. First, it is a gift from our Creator, and singing praises to Him is something He designed for us to do. It brings joy to Him and to us! It reminds us of His promises, His faithfulness and His goodness in our lives. Second, it brings together families and communities, powerfully uniting them with meaning, purpose and sweet traditions. My heart floods with gratefulness to God for the gift of song He has given me.
~ Justina Dee