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These pieces were really brought to life. It was so exciting to hear the language. I was not familiar with the language, and to really hear the beauty of the consonants and the vowel sounds as they reconstructed the language, set to the different pitches, to the melodic lines, to the inner voices as they’ve been realized — it was really incredible.
One of the first and most obvious problems in attempting to re-sound the hymns was that it has been well over a century since Mohican was widely spoken in the community. The last speakers died in the 1930s, and even that generation spoke predominantly English yet remembered their parents using Mohican in their childhood. Our knowledge of German allowed us to sound out the hymn texts using German phonetics, but this effort was fraught with a number of obvious problems: How well did the Moravian transcribers understand Mohican? How well tuned were their ears to the distinctive sounds of the Mohican language? And even if they did hear the subtleties of the language, how well could German phonetics represent those sounds? As scholars, these were new problems for both of us. After all, as Buddy (Bud) Miller of the Stockbridge Mohican community reminded us: “You can still go to a country called Germany and hear and study German. There is no Mohican-land, and there are no Mohican speakers.”58 For guidance on Mohican pronunciation, we turned to linguist Chris Harvey. Working from his study of related Algonquian languages and the historical records, Chris was able to provide us with spoken-word recordings of our selected hymns (see Recording I), as well as transcriptions using IPA (international phonetic alphabet). Chris’s deep knowledge of Algonquian languages enabled him to correct Moravian versions of “Jesu paschgon kia” grammatically and orthographically.
An equally large challenge had to be surmounted, however, before Sarah and her ensemble could begin rehearsals to sing the hymns: putting musical notation to the text-only hymns. Even though the hymnals contained citations for the German hymn tunes, it was a complex process to locate the actual music. In the first place, contemporary chorale books existed only in the Moravian Archives in Herrnhut. Secondly, Moravian conventions for citing hymns meant that a single chorale tune might be known by several different names depending on the intended text or the occasion for singing. For example, the Mohican hymnals consistently cite the tune of “Jesu paschgon kia” as “Herr Jesu Christ, dein Tod,” a popular Moravian hymn text written by Moravian leader Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf in 1741. The Moravian chorale books in Herrnhut reveal that the music for “Herr Jesu Christ, dein Tod” was actually a well-known tune, “In dulci jubilo,” linked with a fourteenth-century carol by German mystic Heinrich Seuse and today most familiar in a version by Johann Sebastian Bach or as the popular Christmas hymn “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.”59
Identifying the chorale tune was an important step in reuniting text and music. But before the hymns could be sounded, the chorale manuscript needed to be decoded from the original figured bass, which included only the bass and soprano parts and numerical figures that represented the harmonic structure (Figure VII). To accomplish this task, Sarah enlisted the help of Joshua Tanis, a doctoral student in music theory at FSU, to write the alto and tenor parts. With that done, Sarah returned to Chris’s spoken recordings and IPA transcriptions to begin the work of creating the text underlay for the Mohican words, matching their syllabic structure to the rhythmic and harmonic structure of the music (Figure VIII). Weeks of choir rehearsals followed, accompanied by a continuo organ that could imitate the sound of eighteenth-century Moravian organs. Sarah also coached the singers on the aesthetic practices of Moravian singing. Finally, in February 2018, the singers and organist held a recording session with engineer John Hadden, a specialist in early music recording, on the FSU campus (Recording III).60
The intensive process to re-sound the music underscores the extent to which the hymn texts had originally functioned as a sort of shorthand—a prompt for the communal activity of singing—rather than as a textual communication, such as a letter or a congregational diary, whose intent was to convey a message. Moravian hymns in general were never meant to be sung from a book. Hymnals served as a way of preserving the repertory of hymns commonly used by the church, but they were not used as a text to be read during singing. The practice of singing individual hymns was also flexible, and it was meant to respond to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit at particular moments in time. Texts or tunes could change from performance to performance. These features set the practice of hymn singing in Moravian communities apart from that of other contemporary Protestant sects.61 Singing hymns was also an activity that depended upon community participation, especially since chorale tunes could only be sung if there were four parts (or voices) present to sing them. Reconstructing the hymns in the present required a deeply collaborative process, just as it had been an act of collaboration to create and sing them in the eighteenth century.
In the first recording, we have consciously privileged European Moravian musical practices when filling in the gaps created by the enigmatic hymn texts. We have re-created the European Moravian mode of sounding hymns. Yet, given the Moravian missionaries’ interest in Native expressions of Moravian theological notions, we suspect they may have been more open than many of their missionary counterparts to the infusion of Indigenous musical elements. Did Native Moravians adapt European Moravian musical traditions? Or did they incorporate musical styles from ancestral Native traditions? Most historically informed performances or recordings of eighteenth-century music take advantage of written records of performance practices. But in the case of the Mohican hymns, these records are especially sparse. If the Moravian missionaries were open to or welcomed musical infusions from the Mohican members of their community, they did not write about it. And so we do not have sufficient evidence to confirm the extent of Native musical influence. Relying on knowledge of Moravian musical styles to fill in the gaps of the historical record effectively reproduces the absence of Mohican voices. Therefore, we felt it was important to create additional recordings that would restore Mohican voices to “Jesu paschgon kia.”
The process of musical reconstruction that led to the three recordings of “Jesu paschgon kia” is worth discussing in detail because creating the hymn recordings informed our understanding of hymn singing in historic Moravian communities and allowed us to appreciate the collaborative nature of historical work in music. Like many musical projects, the recordings benefited from the expertise of a number of different collaborators: composers, musicians, music theorists, and linguists.
One of the first challenges in reconstructing the hymns as sounded pieces of music was the absence of chorale books, or tune books, on this side of the Atlantic. At the time we began the project, we had four versions of the text of “Jesu paschgon kia” from the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (Figure A). Eventually, that number would grow to six different manuscripts containing the text of the hymn verse. However, there were no manuscripts preserving the tune repertory that would have been used in Moravian communities in Pennsylvania, New York, or Connecticut in the mid-eighteenth century. Fortunately, during a research trip to the Moravian Archives in Herrnhut, Germany, in 2004, Paul Peucker (former Herrnhut and current Bethlehem archivist) had introduced Sarah to several small manuscript chorale books from that time period. They were undated, but Peucker and archivist, Rüdiger Kröger were confident that they dated to the 1740s and 1750s. Two of the chorale books were likely prepared by the Moravian composer Christian Gregor (H.4 and H.4a). An additional chorale book contained tunes that may have been in use before Gregor’s standardization of popular Moravian hymn tunes in 1784 (H.3). Sarah also located a smaller chorale book that may date to the early 1740s (H.2).
To begin the process of reconstructing the music for “Jesu paschgon kia,” Sarah played through various tunes from photographs of the Herrnhut chorale books, hoping to be able to identify melodies that would fit the syllabic and phrase structure of the text of “Jesu paschgon kia.” The most helpful clue came in the form of a particular manuscript page from the H.4 chorale book (Figure B). Like many other Protestant denominations, Moravians cited individual chorale tunes by the various texts that may have been associated with them over long use and common practice, and so a single tune could be known by several different names depending on the intended text or the occasion for singing. The Mohican hymnals had consistently cited the tune of “Jesu paschgon kia” as “Herr Jesu Christ, dein Tod.” However, it was only by examining the entirety of the H.4 chorale book that Sarah discovered the appearance of a well-known tune, “In dulci jubilo,” with the German title of “Herr Jesu Christ, dein Tod” written underneath the Latin title. “In dulci jubilo” predates the Moravian Church. The text was originally a macaronic (multilingual) carol in Latin and German by the German mystic Heinrich Seuse and dates to the middle of the fourteenth century. The tune “In dulci jubilo”—most frequently sung today in its harmonized version by Johann Sebastian Bach or as the popular Christmas hymn “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”—was written sometime after the fourteenth century and then associated with the macaronic carol text. In the H.4 chorale book, this same tune had been linked to verse 9 of the Moravian hymn 1485, which had been written by Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf in 1741 for the birthday of the Moravian composer and musician Jakob Till. The birthday text was then recorded in the diary of the community at Herrnhaag, Germany, and later appeared in supplements to the main Moravian hymnal, the Herrnhuter Gesangbuch.
Once Sarah had identified the tune for “Jesu paschgon kia,” she prepared a modern edition of the music in Sibelius, a music notation program, using the soprano and bass lines and unrealized figured bass markings as they appeared in manuscripts H.3 and H.4 (Figure C). Identifying the chorale tune and preparing a modern edition were obviously important steps in reconstructing “Jesu paschgon kia.” But before the hymn could be sung, we faced another challenge. It has been nearly a century since Mohican was spoken. Indeed, the last speakers, who died in the 1930s, mostly spoke English, although they remembered their parents using Mohican. Thanks to our knowledge of German, we were able to sound out the hymn texts using the German phonetical renderings from the Mohican hymnals. We then used the phonetic version of the text to create an initial attempt at matching the text with the tune of “Herr Jesu Christ, dein Tod/In dulci jubilo” (Figure D). But we wondered if the texts had been transcribed accurately and whether the German phonetics captured the sounds of Mohican as a spoken language. For guidance on pronunciation, we turned to linguist Christopher (Chris) Harvey. Chris, who studies related Algonquian languages and historical records, created a spoken-word recording of “Jesu paschgon kia” (Recording I) and transcriptions using IPA (international phonetic alphabet) while also correcting the Moravian versions of “Jesu paschgon kia” grammatically and orthographically. Using his new text, Sarah reworked the text underlay for the edition she had created of “Jesu paschgon kia” and began to rehearse the pronunciation of the text with her students in the early music choir Cantores Antiquae Musicae at Florida State University (FSU).
Before the choir could move beyond pronouncing the text to rehearsing the music, however, the chorale manuscript needed to be decoded from the original figured bass (numerical figures that represented the harmonic structure). Sarah therefore sought help from a doctoral music theory student from FSU, Joshua Tanis, who wrote alto and tenor parts to accompany the original soprano and bass lines that appeared in the H.4 manuscript and ensured the hymn was singable and harmonically correct, according to eighteenth-century European musical principles. Over the course of several weeks, Sarah and her students worked to sing and rebalance the text settings and musical underlay (Figure E) to produce a final edition of the music. Weeks of choir rehearsals followed, conducted by ethnomusicology student Drew Griffin and accompanied by organ student Teodora Mitze-Cîrciumaru on a continuo organ that could imitate the quiet sound of eighteenth-century Moravian organs. During these rehearsals, Sarah guided the singers on the aesthetic practices of Moravian singing. Finally, in February 2018, the singers and organist recorded the hymn in collaboration with engineer John Hadden, a specialist in early music recording, on the FSU campus (Recording III).
At the same time that Sarah and her students were rehearsing and preparing a recording of “Jesu paschgon kia” based on eighteenth-century Moravian aesthetics, Sarah also sent the modern edition of the hymn to composer Brent Michael Davids. He began the important work of transforming the original eighteenth-century chordal harmonies into harmonies that would better appeal to a modern church congregation. Brent also shortened the English translation of the Mohican text so it could be inserted above each musical phrase. Further, he added chord indications that could be read more easily by guitarists and other musicians familiar with tablature notation, rather than standard Western musical notation. The result was a flexible, modern version of “Jesu paschgon kia” that could be used in a number of different musical contexts, including a modern ecumenical worship service (Figure F1; Figure F2; Recording IV).
For the third version of “Jesu paschgon kia,” created by Bill Miller, we dispensed entirely with the German chorale tune. Instead, Bill worked with Chris Harvey in April 2018 in Indianapolis to learn the pronunciation of the hymn verse. Then he improvised new music to set to the text, based on his interpretations of Northeastern Native styles of singing. The result was a very different musical take on the piece, a rendition that helped us to appreciate the extent to which the original chorale tune had exerted a distinct sonic presence that almost overshadowed the Mohican text of “Jesu paschgon kia.” Bill’s version of the hymn carefully articulates and separates each of the individual phrases of the hymn verse, providing a new way to experience and hear the text itself (Recording V). Since Bill’s version was created through improvisation, there was no need to transform it into a notated piece of music. The oral nature of Bill’s version also allows the possibility to transform future iterations of “Jesu paschgon kia” into different combinations of text and tune that reflect new ideas about the meaning of the Mohican words.
In the end, the musical reconstruction and singing of “Jesu paschgon kia” has helped us to appreciate the extent to which its original text was a kind of flexible shorthand even in the eighteenth century. It was a prompt for the communal activity of singing, rather than a textual communication, such as a letter or a congregational diary, whose intent was to convey a particular message. Moravian hymns in general were not intended to be sung from books. Instead of being used as prescriptive texts to be read from during singing, hymnals preserved the repertory of hymns commonly used by the church. The practice of singing individual hymns was also flexible and meant to respond to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So texts or tunes could change from performance to performance.
Singing “Jesu paschgon kia” has also allowed us to appreciate the collaborative and social nature of hymnody in general. Singing hymns is an activity that depends upon community participation, especially since chorale tunes can only be sung if there are four parts (or voices) present to sing them. Reconstructing “Jesu paschgon kia” in the present has required a deeply collaborative process, just as it was an act of collaboration to create and sing the hymn in the eighteenth century.
“Verse zum Gebrauch bey den Indianern in Scattigok” [Verses for the use of the Indians in Scattigok (Connecticut)], Records of the Moravian Mission among the Indians of North America 331.2, Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pa. Reproduction courtesy of the Moravian Archives.
Chorale tune “Herr Jesu Christ, dein Tod/In dulci jubilo.” H.4, p. 71, Archiv der Brüder-Unität [Unity Archives], Herrnhut, Germany. Reproduction courtesy of the Archiv der Brüder-Unität.
Chorale tune, “Herr Jesu Christ dein Tod/In dulci jubilo,” in a modern edition with unrealized figured bass. By permission of Sarah Eyerly.
“Jesu paschgon kia,” in a modern edition with unrealized figured bass and Mohican text from the hymn manuscript “Verse zum Gebrauch bey den Indianern in Scattigok” [Verses for the use of the Indians in Scattigok (Connecticut)], Records of the Moravian Mission among the Indians of North America 331.2, Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Pa. By permission of Sarah Eyerly.
“Jesu paschgon kia,” in a modern edition with figured bass realization by Joshua Tanis and text transcription by Chris Harvey.
Rachel Wheeler and Sarah Eyerly, “Singing Box 331: Re-sounding Eighteenth-Century Mohican Hymns from the Moravian Archives,” digital companion version, William and Mary Quarterly, October 2019, https://oieahc.wm.edu/digital-projects/oi-reader/singing-box-331-rachel-wheeler-sarah-eyerly/.
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