music for any number of instruments in four parts
site-specific, generative audio installation (4 channels) - The Trust Performing Arts Center, Lancaster, PA
commissioned by NakedEye Ensemble
The Amish, a religious group with a large population in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, live an agrarian lifestyle that has changed little since the 18th century. Their community worship includes group singing from the Ausbund, a collection of hymns first printed in 1564.
This hymnal book contains no musical notation, only the text in the old German of the Swiss Anabaptists. The tunes, based on folk songs and traditional chants, are passed down through each generation orally. To hear a congregation sing these hymns is striking: a song leader, the Vorsänger, begins each line with a call, and then the entire congregation responds, singing loudly together as they draw out each syllable almost beyond intelligibility (this langsame Weise style may have evolved to disguise the religious nature of the songs from persecutors). However, the group moves as a whole without the further assistance of the Vorsänger:
“It is a common observation that groups sing more slowly. And when the group is uncontrolled (by instru- ment, director, or notation), it drags still more...The singer, holding as best he can to any given tone while waiting till the group-mind decides to sing the next tune-tone, tends to waver up and down...The many tend to waver along similar lines. Their vocal vagaries become fixed, stylized, incorporated with their “tunes,” and a singing manner is born – or evolves.”
– George Pullen Jackson, “The Strange Music of the Old Order Amish” The music in Ausbund comes from Das Loblied, a hymn always sung in each service.