Singing of the Old Order Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

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This dissertation explores the continuity and conformity, as well as changes and diversity of Amish musical life by investigating major rituals, activities, musical genres and repertories of the Lancaster Old Order Amish. The three major areas this dissertation studies are church singing, youth singing, and wedding singing. The two main musical genres are 1) unison singing of slow-tunes in German and 2) fast-tunes in unison and four-part harmony in both German and English. This study emphasizes recent developments and changes in Amish musical life, focused on Lancaster County. It documents the Amish efforts to preserve their slow-tune tradition by introducing written notation and compiling tunebooks since the 1980s, and by the introduction of musical education and harmony singing to the Lancaster Amish since the 1990s. The study identifies a spectrum of six types of youth singing, whose musical diversity correlates with other diversities of life within the Amish community. Through musical analysis and historical investigation of slow-tune origins and formation, this study details the relationships of Amish musical styles and practices with their religious beliefs and cultural values.

This dissertation concludes that music reveals two contrasting sides coexisting in Amish society. Slow-tune singing of texts from the sixteenth-century Ausbund hymn collection at church is mainly homogeneous throughout Lancaster County and at present remains relatively stable. Slow-tunes not only represent the continuity and conformity of Amish religious beliefs and cultural values, but also are a crucial guardian of the Amish faith, which is the core of the sustainability of Amish society. By contrast, fast-tunes reflect changes and diversity of Amish life and reveal the adaptation and assimilation of outside influence. 

The musical characteristics and singing styles of the Amish are guided by their religious beliefs and cultural values to facilitate congregational singing. The exploration of origins of slow-tunes and fast-tune melodies shows that in the realm of music, Amish singing has never been immune from outside influences. Both in the sixteenth century and today, the Amish [early Anabaptists] have always borrowed, adapted, and assimilated musical sources and influences from their environment to serve their own spiritual purposes.