Hallelujah! schöner Morgen

Mennonite hymns of choice.

Performed by Canzona and conducted by Henry Engbrecht, 2009.

Available online at iTunes or Puretracks.com

About Hallelujah! schöner Morgen

The hymns recorded here represent the tradition that I grew up with in the Whitewater Mennonite Church in south-western Manitoba in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. They were chosen from the 1942 Gesangbuch der Mennoniten used by this congregation well into the 1960s.  They represent not only one style of hymn but include a selection of chorales, devotional songs and gospel songs, which were central to the faith expression of many Mennonite congregations throughout southern Manitoba and Western Canada.

Of the 30 hymns recorded here 6 may be classified as 17th and 18th century “chorales” [Track 2, 5, 14, 21, 27, 28]. Another 10 hymns originated in various 19th century German renewal movements such as the Erweckungsbewegung and the Gemeinschaftsbewegung [Track 3, 4, 7, 9, 12, 13, 18, 24, 25, 29]. Finally, the largest number of hymns originated in the 19th century American revival and Gospel song traditions of Lowell Mason and Ira D. Sankey [Track 1, 6, 8, 10, 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 23, 26, 30], which were translated into German by men such as Ernst Gebhardt and Walter Rauschenbuch.

Congregational singing has been the back bone of music making in the Mennonite Church for a very long time. In my experience it was the source from which all other music in the church flowed. Choirs grew out of congregational singing, and were fed by that.

These hymns have been a very large part of my life. I grew up singing them in the Whitewater Mennonite Church, sang them frequently in my three years as a high school student at the Mennonite Collegiate Institute in Gretna, and continued to sing them during my college years at CMBC (Canadian Mennonite Bible College) in Winnipeg. Years later, when we moved back to Winnipeg we joined First Mennonite Church, where the same edition of theGesangbuch (1942) is still being used in the 21st century.

The hymns recorded here were those most frequently sung in my experiences within the churches and schools named above. They are the hymns that were the main-stay in worship services from one Sunday to the next. They gave substance to our celebrations and our grieving. They reinforced our scriptural search for guidance. They were a source of courage and inspiration. They were a catalyst in seeking unity of purpose and they were a strong ingredient in cementing and deepening our faith.

Hymn singing was very strong in the Whitewater Mennonite Church when I was growing up. Our church, like many other, rural Mennonite churches, was built with an aisle down the middle. Women sat on one side, men on the other. At the back sat the young parents with their infants and very young children; in front of them sat those parents whose children were old enough to sit with their friends; in front of them sat the oldest members of the church. Moving forward toward the front of the church sat the teenagers. And the youngest school boys and girls sat in the front pews. Most of the youth aged fifteen and older sang in the choir. I firmly believe that this set-up had a strong, though perhaps unintentional, influence on the development of hymn singing in our congregation. Children heard part-singing from the time they were cradled in their parents’ arms. Painlessly, they gradually began to give voice within the safety net of their peers and gain confidence in part singing, mostly by ear, though the hymns were printed in four-part harmony in the hymn book. Of course, when a number of us began with private music lessons we acquired the ability to ‘read’ the harmonisations more accurately. There was no organ, and the piano was used only for the choir. All the hymn singing was unaccompanied and led by one or more Vorsänger (song leaders). Our people sang these hymns as they waited for the service to begin, to fill the time when there were delays, at family gatherings and re-unions, church business meetings and numerous other occasions.

I gratefully acknowledge the influence of the Whitewater Mennonite Church in Boissevain, of my parents, John and Margaret Engbrecht, of Mr. Paul J. Schafer (former principal of the MCI in Gretna) under whose passionate teaching and persistence the students memorized many of these hymns, and George and Esther Wiebe (music professors at CMBC for 40 years) for my love and appreciation of these hymns.

About this recording, I should point out that the melodies and harmonies are unchanged. Variation was achieved by giving verses to male voices, women’s voices, soloists and groups of solo voices, unaccompanied singing and with embellished, spontaneously improvised piano accompaniment. This style of piano accompaniment was generally not in practice for congregational singing in our churches when the piano came into use. But it was practiced freely in less formal situations, including the Sunday School for the children and youth, and at Jugendverein programs – sacred programs planned, prepared and presented by the youth of the church, usually on Sunday evenings (about once a month), consisting mainly of choir, group and solo singing, poetry readings and folk-like instrumental ensembles, usually with the piano at the centre. Of course, congregational singing was a generous part of such a gathering. In such instances the piano and the accompanying instruments led/joined the congregation.

– Henry Engbrecht

Track listing

  1. Hallelujah! schöner Morgen
  2. O wie freun wir uns der Stunde
  3. Ich bete an die Macht der Liebe
  4. Gott ist die Liebe
  5. Liebe die du mich zum Bilde
  6. Gott ist mein Hort
  7. Harre meine Seele
  8. Du mein ewig treuer Jesus
  9. O Gott, mein Gott
  10. Wehrlos und verlassen
  11. So lange Jesus bleibt der Herr
  12. Aus dem Himmel ferne
  13. Ich singe dir mit Herz und Mund
  14. Womit soll ich dich wohl loben
  15. Komm doch zur Quelle des Lebens
  16. Es schaut bei Nacht und Tage
  17. O mein Jesu, du bist’s wert
  18. Bei dir Jesu will ich bleiben
  19. Ich weiss einen Strom
  20. O wie süss klingt Jesu Name
  21. Jesu, meine Freude
  22. Was mein Herz erfreut
  23. Näher, mein Gott, zu dir
  24. Was kann es schönres geben
  25. So lang mein Jesus lebt
  26. Horch, dein Heiland lässt dich laden
  27. Jesu, geh voran
  28. Nun ruhen alle Wälder
  29. Lieber Vater hoch im Himmel
  30. Schenk uns, Vater, deinen Segen

Thank you to the supporters of the recording project

  • Winnifred and Peter Barkman
  • Ilse and Philipp R. Ens
  • Betty Ann and Elmer Friesen
  • Linie and Ted Friesen
  • Alice and Harold Funk
  • Dorothy and Nick Heide
  • Hilda and Elmer Hildebrand
  • John Kuhl
  • Peter Letkemann
  • Shirley and Bill Loewen
  • Jean and Jake Rempel
  • Milton Penner
  • WBS Construction
  • Economy Consolidated Enterprises Ltd.
  • Golden West Broadcasting Ltd.

Credits

Dan Donahue – Recording Engineer
John Funk – Artistic Design
Peter Letkemann – Musicology Consultant
Philipp R. Ens – Production Consultant

Recorded in June, 2009 at St. John’s Anglican Cathedral in Winnipeg.

CD Cover: The Whitewater Mennonite Church, this small wooden structure, was the church where my family attended throughout my childhood and youth; where I joined the 30-voice choir at the age of 15, and where I was baptized; where a strong hymn singing tradition nurtured the congregation for decades. H.E.