What do Amish think about modern music?
We’ve had a good bit of discussion on Amish youth lately. Two weeks ago, a story on Amish youth on Facebook went viral across the internet. Amish adolescents were directly or indirectly a subject of numerous talks at the recent Amish conference.
If you ask Amish people, youth issues are among the main concerns in many settlements–so much so that families may move halfway across the country to provide a better situation for their children.
Today we have an excerpt from a talk recently given by an Old Order Amishman to a youth group in his community. This talk was shared with me by the speaker, a father of six, who has given permission for it to be shared here.
It was originally given to a group of about 150 Amish individuals, half youth, half parents. He told me it was a humbling experience which made him feel nervous and emotional.
The talk is comprised of two parts: a shorter introductory part about modern music, and a longer second part about cell phones and the internet. I’ll be sharing the part on music today, with the rest to come in a few installments.
I think what you’ll read below is a good, succinct answer to the question posed in the title of this post. It may not represent every Amish person’s thoughts, but I think it’s safe to say most would sympathize with this man’s words.
What you’ll find below is the beginning of the talk, which was delivered after giving thanks to God for the privilege of speaking, and after sharing “appreciation for the efforts the young people put into having decent supper crowds and singings.” All that follows is content from the Amishman’s talk.
Amish Youth Talk: Popular Music
With music I want to encourage you to keep up your good singing. It is very uplifting to attend one of your singings.
It’s just the way it works. Which music and habits you acquaint yourself with when young is what tends to stay with you. Yes there is something like doing better and overcoming bad habits but the struggle stays with you. Dad said so and I found out he is right.
A good thing to keep in mind is that the purpose of singing is to give glory unto God. It should be an act of worship. In Colossians it says: Encourage one another as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts.
The question is this: How much of the rock and country and other music of popular culture is for the glory of God? Even with contemporary Christian and gospel music you have to wonder is the focus on the message or on the artist and their performance.
Our traditional way of singing is a capella without musical instruments. Let’s not become so involved with other forms of music that our traditional way and heritage becomes meaningless. The traditional way of singing should still have an important place in our lives.
In Jeremiah it says: Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths. Ask where the good way is and walk in it. And you will find rest for your souls.
Great start to a good talk. I like the modern Christian music and find nothing wrong with instruments. David played instruments to worship God and the Psalms instruct us to use them in praising God. However, I do agree that we should check our motives and chose our music using the criteria of, “Does it bring glory to God.”
I was very moved when he spoke on this topic to those of us who went with him to visit various businesses. His concern for young people and sincerity were obvious, and as he talked, I realized that what he was saying was very much what many non-Amish would want to say to their children. While I enjoy much modern music, there’s an unfortunate amount that glorifies standards I would not want my children or grandchildren to hold.
Couldn't agree more!!
Oh my! I’ve been contemplating joining the mennonite or amish mennonite church for some time now. One of my biggest obstacles has been on the issue of music. I didn’t understand what the objection was. What a revelation! I never even thought of WHY God gave us the ability to sing. We sing to glorify God! (I feel I’ve also had kind of a “duh” moment. 🙂 )
Thank you so much for this article!
Glad if it was helpful Marcie. Sometimes it helps to break down the things we take for granted. I often don’t take the time to do so myself. Which is why I appreciate things like this.
I know how you feel Marcie. I’m in the process of joining a conservative Mennonite church and the acapella standard was one of the hardest things to accept. I thought it was strict and completely unnecessary. But one day it occurred to me, am I just going by my own tastes in music or am I really seeking to glorify God in sincerity and truth? Music has the potential for the most beautiful expression of worship. It also has the potential to express the basest of carnality. You can think of it as a continuum; on one end is music probably anyone could agree is “bad.” On the other end, music that is pure, holy and worshipful. If a church (or individual Christian) seeks to do the right thing, somewhere on that scale a line has to be drawn. Amish and Mennonites have chosen to put it at acapella only, which may be stricter than really necessary, but do we really need instruments to worship God? Instruments have their place and can be used for a godly purpose (king David) but too often in a church setting they come to detract from worship in its purest form and put too much emphasis on musicality or even entertainment.
What do Amish think about modern music?
I agree that we sometimes veer away from the original reason for singing inspiriational songs. There are many of us who forget the whole purpose of singing and get caught up in the presentation of it rather than the reason for it. I think this question will give us more to think about the next time we sing a hymn, spiritual etc. Dance and sing praises to Lord!
I belonged to the Choir in my High School. We were purely Acapella. Our leader believed that the emotion coming from an Acapella choir over ruled the instruments in the background. I have kept this in my heart for 47 years, the years since graduation.
Thanks for sharing this, Erik. I look forward to upcoming posts on this topic. My husband and I are both classically trained musicians. We have recently started attending a Beachy Amish Mennonite church, and find the four part a cappella singing so beautiful and uplifting. When instruments are used in worship, in my experience, the hymn singing becomes much more tentative and less worshipful. In the Beachy church, every member fills an important roll in the singing. Also, as music educators, my husband and I are just amazed at being in a room full of people who can ALL sing in four part harmony! I’ll take this over playing alongside a multi-million dollar pipe organ any day.
Also, I am extremely wary of any music besides classical that is played over the radio. Anything that has a steady, pounding, repetitive beat (rock, pop, country) is intended to alter the thoughts and behaviors of the listener (trance induction), whether the lyrics are “Christian” or not. I used to enjoy oldies, classic rock, and some country, but after doing some research on this topic, I now find it all extremely distasteful.
One last comment before I step off my soapbox. Since my husband teaches elementary school music, we recently decided to do a brief investigation into what music young people are exposed to these days. After a few hours of googling lyrics and youtube videos of today’s most prominent pop artists, words were insufficient to describe our feelings of shock, dismay, and disgust. Contemporary pop music is so overtly occultic and satanic, we just could not believe what we were seeing.
Thanks Naomi, very interesting observations. I recently spoke with a priest and this topic came up…he observed that modern music inverts the melody-harmony-rhythm structure (hope I got that right) to place rhythm at the forefront, which is what drives the strong emotional reaction common to popular music.
I don’t know that I am as concerned about the effects or dangers of popular music as others might be, but this idea sounded interesting. Though I do feel that uplifting music, just like the same sort of film and books, is preferable for numerous reasons. If for nothing else than many people are depressed enough as it is. Why not something that lifts the spirit.
how to escape modern music?
First of all: a cappella can be so beautiful that only afterwards I discover that no instruments has been used. Personally I like a lot of modern music but start to hate it when I hear it unasked for e.g. in a mall. I don’t want that tune in my head and find it often difficult to get rid of it for it sometimes lasts for days. My head hijacked by some stupid drum beat. I think, hope, Amish in general escape this ‘freedom.’
Klaas, thank you for this. Hijacked eardrums. I like the phrase, and, like you, seriously dislike having to fend off the aural assault we face in some public places. Maybe earplugs, or earbuds?
I didn’t realize a cappella could be so powerful as to simulate instruments. Wow.
Amish Youth Talk: Popular Music
1)Re: “A good thing to keep in mind is that the purpose of singing is to give glory unto God. It should be an act of worship”. This past week I was reading The Amish In Their Own Words (TAITOW) compiled by Brad Igou and there was a commentary or letter from an Amish person to Family Life Magazine about this very subject. It really got my attention. His, her(?) take on it was that the reason the Amish have sung their traditional, slow hymns from the Ausbund a cappella is that it focuses the members on the words and their meanings; in short it is an act of worship. Whereas most churches have hymnals with the musical notes and the hymns are accompanied by instruments which can cause you to focus on HOW you are signing the words, are you staying with the music, etc. I thought about that Sunday in church and I have to admit that I really don’t internalize the words the way I should while I am signing (if what I do can even be called singing) instead I am worrying about if I am in tune or not (usually not), if I am ahead or behind the organist, etc. Obviously I need to do better & yes, the Amish have at the very least a point on this issue.
2)One letter in TAITOW mentioned the time that it takes to sing a single hymn from the Ausbund; usually at least 20 minutes and the same hymn may take around 28 minutes in a Swartzentruber church.
3)Another mentioned that since the hymns are passed on orally from generation to generation they may change slightly over time & the way they are sung in one church may be different from how they are sung in another. That surprised me.
4)Still another questioned why some Plain churches are allowing songs to be sung in “rounds” as that leads to the same issue of focusing on HOW you are signing, not WHAT you are signing. Food for thought.
5)To modern music. I remember when I was an early teenager and I had a friend whose mother did not allow us to play Johnny Cash records in their home, because she said his songs were too centered on violence and inappropriate behavior. At the time I thought she was exaggerating the issue. Listening to his music now, I can see where probably had a point. He was far from being the worst about singing songs that were not a positive influence on the youth of the day, but many of them were not pure either.
6)I am old enough to remember when early Rock’n Roll was sometimes referred to as ”the devil’s music”. At the time I thought that was nonsense, though I probably never said so … at least not to the adults that called it that. I am not ready to cede that point, but listening to it now I hear all sorts on innuendo and suggestive lyrics that went right over my head back then. Why were these even included in the music of the day? I realize that it much more prevalent now; some of today’s music is overt and outright filthy, sick and deranged … but why? What is the point? I recently learned that even the term “rock ‘n roll” was a euphemism for sexual intercourse. It came from blue’s music.
7)I saw an interview several months ago by one of the pioneers of the harder edged rock music, forget who it was now. Anyway he was commenting on the rock concert where the promoter hired the Hell’s Angels MC as security and one of them beat an attendee to death mere feet from the stage, while the show was in progress. His words went something to the effect of “This Hell’s Angel is beating a guy to death some 35’ from where the Rolling Stones are onstage signing ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. Is there anybody out there that doesn’t realize how NOT OKAY this is?” Yep, the Amish should be concerned, as we all should be. Much of the modern music may or may not be evil, but something about it is “not okay” to say the least. For those not familiar with ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sympathy_for_the_Devil
8)Finally, Erik: Any chance we will get to read the rest of this talk?
On 2 of your points
My own quick thoughts:
1) I don’t speak German but at an Amish youth singing last weekend I did find myself focusing on the words…it’s like you really savor each one as you sound out the notes for a span of time no one outside the Amish today really has patience for. I can see how it draws focus to what are essentially prayers being sung.
8) Yes, definitely. Stay tuned for more segments to come.
Just one thought this morning. I have had several conversations with people I felt were committed Christians who believed that in order to get a message to the world, they had to use the world’s methods to communicate the message. In this case, it meant using what some might call “Christian rock music” to entice younger people into church.
I have some reservations about this. I am not sure we can win the world to Christ by becoming like the world. I agree with Naomi, that any music with a strong pounding beat can move people in the wrong ways. Music can be a powerful motivator of people, for good or evil. In our church we use no instruments, and the singing is often beautiful and moving (I help with that by singing very, very quietly, mind you….)
I wonder if today we are all not so used to what passes as music in the 21st Century, that we have forgotten just how beautiful the old music can be. Most young people, and many not so young, have never experienced it.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with all modern music; but I believe we need to examine all of it, and, as with any other aspect of culture, seek guidence from God to discern what is helpful and uplifting, and what is not.
Just a few random thoughts before going out to weed the tomatos…
I am a classically trained vocalist. Music in church– traditional much more so than “modern” has, in the past, been extremely important and [used to] determine whether or not I’d attend a given church.
Even so, I’ve always understood that what we read, what we sing, what we hear [from TV, movies, etc., as well as music] is what becomes written on our minds and hearts, and, thus care needs to be used.
In the past year, I have become very drawn to Anabaptist faith. Whether it was in one of the other conversations on this site or on the mennonniteusa.org site I can’t remember, but what has stuck with me is that Anabaptist is about living and bringing the kingdom today — something I have had in my heart for many years.
So, now, I see all music, all “entertainment,” all media with a renewed sight.
It is wise to encourage youth to listen with discretion, bringing a better understanding of long term effects.
Had to respond again today on this subject after reading others responses. We keep saying, “modern music” but what we are mainly criticizing is the “words.” Putting Scripture to modern music is a way to get the message into the hearts and minds of young people. Yes, I agree that many of rock and roll, country, even old standards have unacceptable “words and subjects” as their song. However, the many tunes, the music could be attached to many Scripture words.
As for singing a cappella makes you focus on the words, that is not the case for me. As a life long singer I focus on the words because I was taught to enunciate each word (something singers today do not do) and to think about their meaning when singing them. I have never heard or sung Amish hymns so I do not know if that type of singing would make it better.
As for modern verses traditional hymns, we were not born singing Amazing Grace, In the Garden, He Lives or any other hymn. John and Charles Wesley put the “words” of their hymns to bar tunes of the day in order to attract the “sinners” of their day to come hear the gospel preached.
I guess my point to all this rambling is this: Scripture can touch the heart prepared by God to receive it no matter the “music” accompaniment. Evil words can corrupt no matter the “music” accompaniment. The main concern is OUR motive for singing and listening to them. After all, there are many people that come to church for other reasons than worshipping God. My hope is that no matter their motive for coming, they hear the gospel and come to know Christ.
I’ll stop preaching now. 🙂
Scripture does mention music, making a “joyful noise”, singing, and biblical people used cymbals, harps (various types of accompaniment). Again, and as usual, it’s MANkind who believes they have the ability to interpret, and re-interpret, what God’s true meaning is/was. As far as I know, I’ll never absolutely know—in this lifetime–nor will anyone else His/Her meaning (that is what “life” is for—FINDING one’s way, believing what makes the most sense/heartfelt belief to you, for the good of all…whether you believe in the Bible, Koran,etc.)
If God made the birds to “sing”, their song isn’t merely entertainment for the rest of the animal (or human) world, but as a means of communication among their species. I remember learning at some point in my life (60+) that mankind discovered how to communicate over long distances by drumbeats, wind instruments, etc. Did putting words/singing & music/drumbeats together suddenly become the work of the devil? I guess that’s something we’ll all have to figure out on our individual journey.
Here is an example of a cappella, four-part singing in a Beachy church. It’s interesting to note by listening to the preceding sermons that this is an unfamiliar hymn, and most in the congregation have only sung it once or twice. The singing is in the very beginning of the sermon recording.
Thank you, Naomi.
Is music in a hymnal written down…or are all hymns learned “rote?”
Hymns are read out of a hymnbook. I think in this case it was a song sheet that was passed out.
Sorry, I wasn’t clear. The hymn book does contain standard music notation.
Love reading all the comments and this post. I just wanted to add that it is funny how our taste in music changes. I use to hate the old christian/church music…now when I hear it, it makes me deeply feel that it is angelic. I feel like I can almost see angels singing in heaven and I am filled with such peace 🙂
Music Article Comments
Several years ago, a study looked at teens and what the teens said were their fvorite songs. The researchers learned that when teens listen to music, they pay more attention to the beat/rhythm than the actual words. The teens liked the beat of their favorite songs and were not really aware of what the words were saying.(Which explains why songs with trashy lyrics become popular). Personally, I have always thought that modern music could be divided into the following 1. religious/praise songs; 2. drinking/drunk in a bar and here’s what happened next….. 3. I’m SO in love!!!! 4. Mad at the exgirlfriend,exwife,exhusband/exboyfriend/former manager /5. It’s over
6. not an angel/bad dude/wanted by the law/don’t mess with me 7. dog/cat/bird/horse or other animals 8.”joke” songs ie Disco Duck. Feel free to add to these if you like.
Does the Ausbund have musical notation included with the words? I’ve hesitated getting one because I thought it had no musical notation.
Sandra the Ausbund does not have musical notation. However at least some of the songs have had notes attached. Here is one such resource (3rd down):
There was never a time in our household that we didn’t have music. Brought up in the Lutheran Church, the liturgy…prayer in song…has meant–still mean so very much to me. I embrace all liturgies, especially those that are the sung prayer of a participating congregation, as opposed to that “performed?” by only a small group or choir. Bach always signed his music with “A Soli Deo” — to God alone; Martin Luther is attributed with the quote, “Next to the Word of God is Music.”
It has been hard for me to thoroughly enjoy some churches as I might when song in church service appeared to be very “professionally” oriented …and the congregation took more the feel of an audience …and sermons, while biblically-inspired, seemed more like group counseling sessions. These services do not speak to my heart in the same way. But that doesn’t mean they are less inspirational to others who have grown in a different culture or mores. I just don’t get the same sense of worship.
I think singing a cappela or with instrument(s) is a matter of personal preference and, within a faith community, based upon the culture and tradition of that community: there is no “right” way.
That said, I like these discussions (here and elsewhere on the site — thank you Erik), because it gets me/us thinking more intentionally about where and how and in what manner I lift my voice to God and witness my faith. I can revisit “intolerances” and pre-conceived “notions” I might have. What I have appreciated is knowing that God can be loved in song either way.
And nothing is static: I would imagine the reasons for singing acapella among the Amish today are at least a little different than the reasons they did so in 1600.
Back to the article: it is wise that we encourage our youth to consider the implications of listening to lyrics that do not really affirm their good hearts/values and good deeds, no matter what manner faith is expressed.
I belong to a non-denominational church where we believe that the Bible teaches to sing without instruments. Yes, in the Old Testament there were instruments. Yes, in Heaven there will be instruments. However, the word Acapella actually means “as in the church”, with no musicial instruments. The Bible states in the New Testament, which we are to follow, in Eph. 5:19 “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” and Col. 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” No where does it say to sing with instruments nor to play instruments. Along with this is the ruling out of choirs as it doesn’t say for some to sing and some to listen. Another thing is there are millions of people who would not have instruments to play. God made it easy for us to worship. The instruments were brought into the Catholic church in the 600’s, 600 years after the church was established. We do not need to add nor take away.
I'm late to this conversation....
When the speaker talked of giving glory to God in music – I immediately thought of my Music History class at Juilliard. We learned the Bach would put “S.D.G” on all his compositions. Soli Deo Gloria means for the glory of God. He was unique in his time in that he composed in an old fashioned form – the fugue, which was out of date by the time he came along. But this is where it gets interesting – he would take the simplest of hymns, chorales by Martin Luther – and then turn them into the grandest, most complex, most contrapuntally astute works ever known to mankind – and guess what…. he got fired for it. Even though he himself was Lutheran – his churches didn’t want too much glorification from the organist. So this is where I too draw the line. I believe the Amish can keep their chants, keep them in their services, preserve their traditions, glorify God and remember their martyrs – but I also believe that one should give glory to God according the gifts God gave them. And if someone has been blessed like Bach – then give it up to God. And if someone today can sing like Celine Dion, or Whitney Houston in her hey-day, then who is to say they are not giving glory to God through voices? It seems to me to be soul-crushing to not allow a bird to fly, keep it in a cage – and music truly is the reflection of the soul. Even music that has a rousing thumping beat, or even has rap in it, or guitar licks, or a simple country tune, even the Bach Pasacaglia in C minor. Let God be the judge of the glory given. You don’t have to give up the Ausband in order to appreciate other music. But I understand why the kind gentleman said that – I just hope people who heard take it too far the other way, because that would be the day that music died.
In the last sentence, I meant to write, I just hope people don’t take it too far the other way…. sorry, I couldn’t find an edit button for the comment.
I know it’s been a while...
I’m glad I found this website. I’m from Pennsylvania, and it’s been a revival of this so called “Rock and roll” music, I was in downtown the other day and heard a song about cigarettes and alcohol when I walked next to a record store, I was really worried and couldn’t help myself but I approached a worker in that store, they told me the author of that horrendous lyrics were an English band called “Oasis”. I’m so concerned this is the kind of music our youth is exposed to.
I am curious to know if it would be acceptable for the Amish to casually listen to classical music on a radio? Coming from a speaker there is no actual person playing so it would be music without personality involved. While working, for example.