An Organ in the Wilderness

Who were the organists playing instruments built by Klemm and others? We know one Brother Wilhelm Grabs of the Moravians of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was called to become an organist in a new city carved out of the wilderness, Wachovia, North Carolina.

Br. BillyDocumented in one of the extensive diaries kept by the leader of the Bethlehem community the following story is told: In 1774, Brother Wilhelm Grabs was chosen to transport a small one-rank organ from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Wachovia, North Carolina via ox cart through dense forested terrain. Once the organ was set-up in the rudely constructed church, Brother Grabs, a twenty-year-old man with huge hands more akin to his shoemaker’s trade, was assigned to learn the art of playing this little organ.

It is on this organ that Brother Grabs was playing when a band of Cherokee Native Americans appeared at the tiny settlement. The sounds of this remarkable instrument amazed them. Astounded, they imagined the sound was made by singing children hidden inside the box of the organ.

Exactly what type of music was played by these early American Moravian organists remains a mystery. Possibly it was notated in manuscripts brought from the organists’ countries of origin. Possibly it was music that was popular in their German homelands; or possibly the organists were skilled at improvising and required little or no written organ music for the use in church services of this period.

We do know, however, that the music played in 18th-century Bethlehem on a small one-rank organ would probably sound austere and plain-faced to our ears. However, this simple music was most certainly exhilarating in a world without the tumult, commotion and noise of our existence. The sound of those first Moravian organs must have been fascinating to people who had never heard such a thing as an organ.

Through the influence of the Moravians, a lasting mark was made on the history of Early American music.

Dr. Jeannine Jordan earned her doctorate degree in organ performance and music history S2SS logofrom University of Oregon. For more details visit http://promotionmusic.org Her dissertation and further research on the history of the organ in America, give her a remarkable foundation of knowledge that is evident in her American Music Performances.  Dr. Jordan is intent on sharing the rich heritage of the organ music in Early America through “From Sea to Shining Sea,” an organ and multimedia program. Please follow this link to find out more. https://promotionmusic.org/From_Sea_to_Shining_Sea.html

 

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