Everything You Wanted to Know About Moravian Bands (and Trombone Choirs) in America

Frequently Asked Questions about joining a band, starting a band, history of bands, where? and why?, etc.  

This page, and much of its content, was created by Erik Salzwedel; please direct comments or additions/corrections to erik@moravianmusic.org.

However, much of the information on this webpage is from Mike Allsen, at http://allsenmusic.com/PosaunenchorFAQ.html, and was originally published as part of a website for the Glenwood Moravian Trombone Choir, a group he directed in Madison WI, from 1983-2006. (GMTC has been directed since 2006 by Steve Ash.)

THE BAND

In most Moravian congregations, the church band is a mixed wind band of brass and woodwind. It was not always this way. While there is much Moravian music written for strings accompanying voices, they have never been used “outside.”              the instrumental tradition divides the instruments, much like the choir system divided demographic groups in the community. It can be understood from this perspective, that there would be a vocal choir (SATB and others), an orchestra choir (strings, woodwinds), a band choir (trombones, then brass), and maybe we could say a keyboard choir (organ, piano, accompaniment). But, this distinction is not codified as such; I am simply making a correlation.

The early Moravians valued each choir in the community, though each had different needs and offered a variety of talents. Likewise, they valued each musical group, though each had its own distinct needs and gifts to offer.

The actual “choirs” of musical service in the late 18th and early 19th century, are:

  1. The choir (choral, vocal) grew naturally out of the fact that everyone in the Moravian communities sang hymns, unless they were playing an instrument at the time. As Moravian composers developed more challenging music (later 18th cent.), there was a need to rehearse with a smaller choir with more developed ears and voices; hence, the church choir.
  2. The band (chorale band, prelude band, funeral band) played together for special outdoor occasions, celebrations, worship services, and the announcement of deaths.
  3. The orchestra (strings, woodwinds) was needed as a lighter sound to accompany the vocal choir’s anthems. Also, wooden instruments are not durable in all weather conditions.
  4. The keyboard (piano, harpsichord, organ) for accompanying voices. In the later 19th century, more preludes and featured solo music became the norm.

When valves were developed for brass, they became more versatile and expanded their repertoire, the musicians often writing their own music and arrangements.

The Collegium Musicum actually brought the orchestra together with some of the brass; this is really the impetus for the mixed wind ensembles and fuller orchestrations of the 19th and 20th centuries.

It seems that, while instruments were organized in choirs, they were also limited to specific genders, early on. Apparently, in the early days, women musicians played keyboard instruments (not organ), flutes, guitars, violin or viola. Men played the brass instruments, all strings, all woodwinds, and keyboards, including organ. By the Civil War, there is a theory that women played organ for worship in Salem. It may not have been until the early 20th century that women joined the Moravian Band and began to publicly perform on brass instruments. Throughout the history of the Moravians in America, it is clear that men and women, boys and girls, took music lessons on keyboard and other instruments, and music was integral in the lives of the Moravians.

In the modern day, the bands still fulfill their outdoor role, but have also been invited inside, and this takes many different forms in the various congregations, from solo instrument with organ to brass or woodwind quartet/quintets; from band accompaniment of hymns, to anthems with a wide variety of instruments; etc.

The music can be certainly be played by a modern brass quartet/quintet: trumpet(s), horn, trombone, and tuba.  Most Moravian churches conduct an Easter morning Sunrise Service, as it connects us with the tradition begun in Herrnhut, Germany, the site of the first settlement of the Renewed Moravian Church.
In most of the Southern Province, there is a Moravian band at each church, and they are mostly brass, but have winds also, and play exclusively chorales, usually as prelude or in worship. They are all glad to see any new player, and you don’t have to be a member.

There is a funeral band that is called by email to play at the graveside for each funeral. Chorales.   Jimmie Snyder of Friedberg Moravian Church maintains the list and sends notices; contact to sign up for emails.

 

For Easter, the bands from all the Salem Congregation churches and many others in the area, assemble in Salem for the Easter Sunrise Service.  Play rounds about 2:00am  breakfast 4:30am   Service at 6:00am
Reh is Sunday afternoon at 2:15pm at  Home Moravian Church, if you want to find out more and join a group.

 

Play from Chorale Books $6 each   for SATB voicing.  Alto is the only one in F.

 

The Advent Hopewell band is a step up from this and performs concert arrangements (70 players) mostly at retirement homes.

The Salem Band, Bethabara Band, WS Community Band, and Salem Comm Orchestra are all performing level groups (amateur) and have their own concert series.

 

Just to play chorales, there is a summer play around at New Philadelphia Moravian Church on Country Club Rd. every Wedn