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Why the Amish Sing

Songs of Solidarity and Identity

D. Rose Elder foreword by Terry E. Miller

Publication Year: 2014

Singing occurs in nearly every setting of Amish life. It is a sanctioned pleasure that frames all Amish rituals and one that enlivens and sanctifies both routine and special events, from household chores, road trips by buggy, and family prayer to baptisms, youth group gatherings, weddings, and “single girl” sings. But because Amish worship is performed in private homes instead of public churches, few outsiders get the chance to hear Amish people sing. Amish music also remains largely unexplored in the field of ethnomusicology. In Why the Amish Sing, D. Rose Elder introduces readers to the ways that Amish music both reinforces and advances spiritual life, delving deep into the Ausbund, the oldest hymnal in continuous use. This illuminating ethnomusicological study demonstrates how Amish groups in Wayne and Holmes Counties, Ohio—the largest concentration of Amish in the world—sing to praise God and, at the same time, remind themselves of their 450-year history of devotion. Singing instructs Amish children in community ways and unites the group through common participation. As they sing in unison to the weighty words of their ancestors, the Amish confirm their love and support for the community. Their singing delineates their common journey—a journey that demands separation from the world and yielding to God's will. By making school visits, attending worship services and youth sings, and visiting private homes, Elder has been given the rare opportunity to listen to Amish singing in its natural social and familial context. She combines one-on-one interviews with detailed observations of how song provides a window into Amish cultural beliefs, values, and norms.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title page, Series page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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Terry E. Miller

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pp. vii-x

For decades, the Amish have been one of America’s most prominent “exotic others.” Because they strictly keep to themselves and seek to maintain a distinct cultural identity, they have, by default, allowed others to define them. They have been unwilling to harness the commodification of their...

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pp. xi-xiv

Quilts and buggies. Uniform dress and an emphasis on hard work. One room schoolhouses and barn raisings. Pacifism and gendered division of labor. That’s what people generally know about the Amish. Curiosity about the Amish thrives, but most outsiders have scant awareness of the reality...

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pp. xv-xvi

Writing a book requires a bevy of supporters. I would like to express my gratitude to my brilliant and driven spouse, Peter Rutkoff, who kept me going, and my kind and generous children, Autumn, April, Joshua, Burr, and Kathleen, for their creative ideas and steady, loving encouragement...

Part I. Amish Life and Song

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1. Who Are the Amish?

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pp. 3-22

Mary’s back is turned away from the door when I enter the schoolroom. Clustered around their young teacher, five ten- to twelve-year-old girls murmur softly, intensely, conspiratorially. Mary is dressed, as they are, in a solid-colored dress. Her headcovering...

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2. The Functions of Amish Singing

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pp. 23-35

I arrive at the farmstead one clear autumn morning and knock on the screen door. There is no answer although the inside door is open. Leaving the porch, I look for other signs of life in the garden and side yard. A man dressed in Amish blue, smudged with work dirt, emerges...

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3. Case Study: “Es sind zween Weg”

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pp. 36-46

We are human like you are. We make mistakes and we have to learn from them, just like you,” the Amish man shares, as he speaks to the thirty-four students in my rural sociology class. “It’s not any easier being Amish...

Part II. Singing in Childhood and Adolescence

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4. Songs for Nurture: Lullabies and Children’s Songs

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pp. 49-61

Miming the cradling and patting of an imaginary baby against his shoulder, an Amish grandfather recalls singing and soothing first one twin son then the other. “How many hours a day do we sing?” he chuckles as he repeats my question. “It depends on how many babies you have to rock"...

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5. Songs for Instruction: Singing at School

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pp. 62-68

On a cold spring morning near West Salem, Ohio, I pick my way through the mud outside an Amish schoolhouse where I have come to hear the children sing. Despite walking gingerly, I manage to sink up to my ankle in cold water and mud, and I am relieved when...

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6. Case Study: School Repertoire

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pp. 69-74

The Vorsinger for the day announces the page number. “One hundred and seventy-six,” says Junior, a gawky fifth-grader with a mop of thick blondish hair. The children race to be the first to find the page in the Liedersammlung. Every school I visit owns this hymnbook...

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7. Songs of Identity: Youth Sings

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pp. 75-84

Dusk is deepening as I wind my way south toward Berlin, Ohio. Since the county roads dogleg, uphill and down, and since many buggies are heading north and south, I creep along. Presumably the buggies are carrying Amish youth to singings like the one to which...

Part III. Singing for Worship

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8. Songs of Memory: The Ausbund

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pp. 87-100

A half-hour before the 8:30 AM worship service, I meet the bishop and his wife at their home. Since the Ohio summer temperature has already climbed to the mid-80s, we decide to ride in my car rather than walk the half-mile uphill. I park under a ten-year-old Norway...

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9. Songs of Belonging: Baptism, Council, and Communion

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pp. 101-106

My hostess has just finished showing me the white-on-white quilts of flowers, birds, and horses that she makes from her own designs. “When I was going through, I was with two girls who were a little wild,” says this active seventy-year-old Amish...

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10. Case Study: The Loblied, or Lobsang

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pp. 107-118

Hilde Binford sings the Loblied in a clear voice as we enjoy breakfast together at a highway truck stop. Binford teaches musicology at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, near the heart of the first Amish settlement in colonial America. “I know the whole thing...

Part IV. Singing for Special Occasions

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11. Songs of Love and Life: Weddings and Funerals

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pp. 121-130

An Amish mother and daughter sit outside on the bright August morning, deboning stewed chicken. They are preparing for the daughter Laura’s wedding day, about a month off. As they prepare the chicken for the dressing, Laura and her mother tell me that they...

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12. Songs of Trust: Music in Daily Life

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pp. 131-137

Judy and I sit at her family’s kitchen table while her mother finishes drying the dinner dishes. The modern kitchen has polished wooden cupboards, linoleum that wraps around the corner to the front door, and gas filament lamps. Judy disappears into another room and soon returns...

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13. Songs for the Future: Amish Singing in the Twenty-First Century

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pp. 138-144

It’s a good thing we didn’t know how bad he was,” whispers the bishop’s wife as she describes her husband’s terrible condition after an automobile rammed his buggy from behind. The impact threw him through the buggy’s roof onto the road. His horse broke loose and ran...

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APPENDIX I: Additional Musical Examples

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pp. 145-156

In his article “Amish Hymns as Folk Music,” J. William Frey includes the version shown in Musical Example A1.1, which closely follows the transcription in Yoder’s 1942 Amische Lieder. For example, in the first line, the sole change is that Frey’s Library of Congress version has a short quarter note (one beat) on the last...

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APPENDIX II: Research Methods

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pp. 157-161

I began this study when I encountered a few Amish acquaintances, friends of my friends, who talked openly with me about their singing experiences. Soon, the shape of a book unfolded, and I decided on a plan of action: I would conduct interviews with the Amish and visit Amish schools throughout Wayne and Holmes Counties...

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APPENDIX III: Historical Studies of Amish Music

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pp. 162-168

Rudolf Wolkan organized and published the first scholarly work that documents the origins of Anabaptist hymns and describes the lives of hymn writers. Writing from the University of Vienna, Wolkan separated the hymns of the Anabaptists from those of the Swiss Brethren and Hutterites in Die Lieder der Wiedertäufer, Ein...


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pp. 169-176


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pp. 177-182


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pp. 183-196

E-ISBN-13: 9781421414669
E-ISBN-10: 142141466X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421414652
Print-ISBN-10: 1421414651

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 1 halftone, 47 line drawings
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Amish -- Hymns -- History and criticism.
  • Amish -- Music -- History and criticism.
  • Amish -- Social life and customs.
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