A Legacy of Choral Music and New Hymnals

Choral music has been an exceptional tradition at Bethany since Bethany’s first years. As singing trends have changed within the Mennonite church and broader society, Bethany has changed as well. In particular, new hymnals have come and gone over the years, often amidst controversy. Yet some things remain constant in our singing programs: our appreciation of music as a form of worship, a commitment to excellence in the quality of our singing, and a desire for connection with each other through this wonderful art form. Here, one legacy Bethany family tells the story of their intergenerational experience of Bethany choral singing.  Who knew that old standbys like “Be Thou My Vision” once felt new and exciting?

Becky Bontrager Horst, class of 1971:

During my high school years, the red Mennonite Hymnal was published and we got to sing exciting new songs from it, like “I Bind My Heart This Tide” and “Be Thou My Vision” and “606.”  

I remember Mennonite High School Choir Festival at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School north of Philadelphia, with composer Alice Parker as the guest director.  For our individual performance, the Bethany choir sang “Now Sing We All His Praise,” a hauntingly beautiful Easter song by Houston Bright, which I can still sing 50 years later. I know the choir festival is not supposed to be a contest, but when Alice Parker told us afterward that we were one of the best choirs there, we were humbly proud!

I had no idea then that five years later I would be back at Christopher Dock teaching English.

Daughter Anne Horst Hanby, class of 1996:

When I was in high school at Bethany, the new hymnal was the blue Hymnal: A Worship Book. I enjoyed singing some of the new hymns as part of our choir concerts and programs in local churches.  Some that I remember are “And I will raise you up on eagle’s wings” and “Lord, you sometimes speak in wonders.” 

Grand-daughters Clara (5th grade) and Martha (3rd grade) Hanby:

We really liked learning lots of hymns from Voices Together last year. We are super glad that Mr. Kauffman taught us those new songs. We especially liked “Like a Rock,” “Seeds,” “I Saw a Tree by the Riverside,” “Together,” and “My Soul Cries Out.”  We sang “Sword into a Plowshare” so many times that Mr. Kauffman got tired of it and pretended that it wasn’t really in Voices Together.



Pictured left to right: Anne, Martha, Becky, and Clara