While we’ve lately featured numerous videos of Amish singing, we haven’t had too many examples of church singing here. If you haven’t heard Amish church singing before, today’s clip of Amish singing Lebt Friedsam, by Ed Yoder, will give you a sense of what it is like.
A song leader opens with the first notes of each line of the hymn. The congregation then joins in to complete the line. In contrast to the English hymns we’ve heard from Amish, church hymns are sung very slowly, and are not what you’d consider modern or ”catchy”. Each word is drawn out, and a single syllable commonly lasts several seconds. Strung together, it takes quite a while just to sing a hymn of several lines.
The Ausbund, the main Amish church hymnal, does not contain any musical notes. They are sung to 16th-century melodies (or sometimes even older). That noted, Benuel Blank writes in The Amazing Story of the Ausbund:
The slow tunes of the Ausbund songs have most certainly been changed somewhat over the 450 years since the Passau prisoners sang them to the poems they composed. They do vary from one plain church group to another, and as different plain-people settlements become established, it can be expected that the song tunes will soon begin to develop slight variations. Throughout the course of many generations, the tunes have slowly evolved into an almost infinite number of slight changes (p. 50).
Lebt Friedsam is considered a parting or farewell hymn. Ed says it is “often sung for visiting ministers and others.” D. Rose Elder writes in Why The Amish Sing: Songs of Solidarity and Identity that Lebt Friedsam reminds the Amish “to live as peacemakers.”
Here are the lyrics in both German and English as provided by Ed Yoder. You can follow along with the German to get a sense of the pace and tone of typical Amish church singing.
Lebt Friedsam, sprach Christus der Herr
Zu Seinen Auserkornen,
Geliebte nehmt dies für ein Lehr,
Und wollt Sein Stimm gern hören.
Das ist geseit, zu ein’m Abscheid
Von mir, wollt fest drin stehen.
Ob scheid ich gleich, bleibts Hertz bei euch
Bis wir zur Freud eingehen.
Live peacefully said Christ the lord,
To his chosen ones
Beloved, take this for a teaching
And would gladly hear his voice
This is said at a parting:
Would you firmly stand in me
Though I part, my heart remains with you
Till we enter with joy