The Secrets of Amish Singing Revealed.

The Secrets of Amish Singing Revealed.

Amish Hymns and Singing


Singing has always held a special place in Amish life, weaving its way through their daily routines and special occasions alike. In the Amish community, hymns, or "Liederas they call them in Pennsylvania Dutch, are much more than melodies or words on a page. They are a deep, spiritual experience, a form of prayer, and a living testament to their rich heritage. Let’s take a closer look at the world of Amish hymns and singing, uncovering their significance, unique characteristics, and the essential role they play in the community.

The Significance of Hymns and Singing

From the moment the Amish community gathers for church services, weddings, or even funerals, singing becomes a powerful act of unity. You might wonder, why is singing so integral to their way of life? Well, the Amish believe that singing hymns is a profound way to praise God, express their faith, and connect deeply with their ancestors.

The lyrics of these hymns often carry messages that are more than just words—they are reminders of their values, their relationship with God, and their journey towards salvation. It's fascinating to see how these hymns serve as spiritual guideposts, helping to navigate the complexities of life while staying rooted in faith.

Moreover, singing is a communal activity that fosters a strong sense of togetherness. Picture a congregation, their voices blending seamlessly in unison, filling the room with a harmony that goes beyond music—it's a shared belief, a collective faith. When they sing without any instruments, it serves as a humbling reminder that they are all equal in the eyes of God, their strength lying in their unity.

The Ausbund and Other Hymnbooks

Now, if you ever get a chance to look at an Amish hymnbook, the Ausbund, you’ll be holding a piece of history. First published in 1564, the Ausbund is the most revered and widely used hymnbook among the Amish. Containing 137 hymns, many penned by Anabaptist martyrs, the Ausbund reflects the faith and courage of those who faced persecution for their beliefs.

Imagine flipping through the pages of this hymnbook, each hymn a testament to the endurance and spirituality of the Amish people. These hymns are not just songs but stories of resilience and devotion, passed down through generations. They provide inspiration and guidance, helping to keep the community's Anabaptist roots alive and vibrant.

But the Ausbund isn’t the only hymnbook in use. There are others, like the Unparteiisches Gesangbuch and the Erbauungs-Lieder, which offer a diverse range of hymns, including those composed by Amish and Mennonite authors. These are often used outside of church services, adding a beautiful variety to their musical traditions.

Unique Characteristics of Amish Musical Tradition

What makes Amish singing so unique? Let’s start with the fact that it’s a cappella—meaning no musical instruments are used. This tradition emphasizes the communal aspect of their worship, focusing on the harmony of voices rather than individual performance. It’s truly a moving experience to hear a congregation singing in four-part harmony, each voice part contributing to a rich and textured sound.

In addition, Amish hymns are often sung using shape-note singing. This fascinating method uses special symbols to indicate the shape of musical intervals, helping singers quickly identify and pitch notes accurately. It's like a musical shorthand that keeps everyone in tune and on track.

However, this shape-note singing is true for some Amish communities, particularly those in the southern United States. Many Amish communities, especially those in the north, do not use shape notes and instead rely on a traditional method of learning hymns by ear.

Another distinctive feature is the slow tempo of Amish hymns. This deliberate pacing isn’t just about the music—it’s about creating an atmosphere of solemnity and reverence. By singing slowly, the congregation can focus more on the lyrics and the spiritual meaning behind them, making the act of singing a deeply reflective and worshipful experience.

Hymns sung during young people's singings or other social events may be more lively and upbeat.

Young People's Singings

Let’s not forget about the young people! Amish youth often gather for what’s known as “singings,” social events where they sing hymns together. These gatherings are a delightful mix of tradition and social interaction, playing a crucial role in the courtship process. It’s during these singings, typically held every other Sunday evening, that young Amish men and women get to know each other, fostering relationships that may one day lead to marriage.

These singings are more than just social events—they are an integral part of maintaining the community’s values and ensuring that traditions are passed down to the next generation. By participating in these gatherings, young Amish individuals learn the importance of community, faith, and heritage.

Isn’t it amazing how singing can be such a profound part of a community’s life? The Amish hymns and their tradition of singing are a testament to their enduring faith, their sense of unity, and their deep connection to their heritage. Whether it's through the hauntingly beautiful melodies of the Ausbund or the lively gatherings of young people, music continues to be a cornerstone of Amish life.

If you’re ever in Amish country, perhaps you’ll be fortunate enough to hear these hymns firsthand. Until then, we can only imagine the serene and powerful harmony that fills their gatherings, each note a prayer, each hymn a piece of history.

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