Amish appreciate a variety of song and music
In this article we examine the different ways Amish encounter and create song and music.
Amish experience music and song in various ways:
- church song-singing in church is an expression of praise to God
- musical instruments-musical instruments are generally not used by Amish (with one or two exceptions)
- singing at home-Amish may sing after meals, while working, or in the evening
- singing in school-children sing a variety of songs in Amish schools
- youth singing-the Amish youth singing is an important social event
- pop and country music-many Amish enjoy popular music thought they generally do not own iPods, CD players, or radios
Amish church singing
Amish church songs are taken from the High German songbook known as the Ausbund. The Ausbund contains no musical notes, and tunes are shared from one generation to the next. Songs in the Ausbund recall the martyr history of Anabaptist forefathers.
Singing in church is typically slow, with drawn-out notes. Singing may last half-an-hour or more to open the church service. Read more about Amish church singing.
Do the Amish play musical instruments?
Amish church music is unaccompanied, and generally, the Amish do not play musical instruments. Stringed musical instruments such as guitars and banjos are seen as avenues for self-expression which call unnecessary attention to the individual.
In some communities, however, small harmonicas or mouthharps may be acceptable. On a similar note, Amish do not dance to music or song. A few Amish may write their own songs, though it is not common.
Singing around the house
Amish do enjoy song, and often sing informally. This may be anything from singing in the shower, the garden, or while working. Song is seen as a joyful way to pass the time and make the work go quicker. Songs are typically sung in English.
Church songs are generally not sung alone or informally. Amish will gather to practice these songs. Amish married men, for instance, may gather together to practice church singing on a weekday. Christian hymns may also be sung in English at breakfast or at the end of the day.
Amish children sing many songs at school, typically in English. Songs sung in Amish schools typically have an uplifting religious theme. A song is usually sung before beginning the day’s lessons. Children eagerly perform the songs they learn in school at home for their parents, or visitors to the school.
The Youth Singing
Amish youth also gather together to sing both church songs from the Ausbund and other books, as well as other hymns, both in German and in some cases English.
The Amish youth singing is typically held at the home of the family which held church that Sunday, and includes dinner and often games of volleyball. It is an important event for youth to socialize and to meet potential marriage partners. Singings are an important part of the Amish youth period Rumspringa.
Do Amish listen to pop music?
It sometimes surprises people to learn that Amish enjoy forms of popular music. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Amish have stacks of compact discs and iPods stashed away (though some Amish youth might).
However, Amish don’t necessarily mind some forms of pop music. Country music in particular is popular among Amish, and Amish may be quite familiar with artists such as Johnny Cash or local favorites, such as country/gospel musician John Schmid, popular in his heavily Amish “hometown” of Holmes County, Ohio.
Where do Amish hear pop music? There are a number of venues. With the rise of Amish businesses, more and more Amish travel by car to work, such as construction workers. Often, a driver will play music and may fill requests for particular stations.
Amish may encounter music on the job site as well, as was heard in a produce co-op consisting mainly of Amish farmers but which employs both non-Amish and Amish at its electrically-equipped warehouse. A stereo system plays songs as young Amish move vegetable about the floor space.
Amish, of course, enter into public spaces such as banks and stores like Walmart, and will hear whatever music those venues pipe in for their patrons. Amish may even occasionally have a chance to hear live music during outdoor concerts that may take place during community auctions, or other events.
Amish often have preferences for certain types of popular music, such as country, bluegrass, gospel, or even rock. Amish youth are understandably more likely to have experience with popular music. A teenager is likely to be acquainted with a wide range of music and may have an iPod or access to music on a cellphone.
Some Amish teens install stereos and speakers in their buggies. Amish parents take different views of these practices and, like any parents, don’t necessarily condone their children’s behavior. Others see less of a danger in youthful indulgence in pop music.
The Amish experience with music
The Amish experience with music is varied, ranging from the solemn traditional High German hymns sung in church, through to more popular hymns sung while working and relaxing, and even pop music heard in a variety of venues.
Amish enjoy music as any others do, and enjoy both listening to and creating song. Music is a means of expression acceptable in Amish society, though it is more often performed in group contexts rather than in solo situations.
For further information, see:
The Riddle of Amish Culture, Donald B. Kraybill
Amish Society, John A. Hostetler
“The History of Our Amish Church Tunes”, David Wagler, Family Life December 1985
Looking for more good reading on the Amish? Check out our list of best Amish books.