Aural Iconography: Amish Singing Preserves Community Continuity and Solidarity

By D. Rose Elder.

Published by The International Journal of Arts Theory and History

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Descendants of the Swiss Reformers of 1525, the Amish chose more complete separation from the secular world and submission to mutual discipline based on the group’s interpretation of biblical norms. The Amish sang songs that the Reformers wrote while awaiting their martyrdoms. These explain the radical precepts of the new faith. Presently, as a boundary marker, Amish singing sustains their religious communities and serves as an essential survival tool. This article focuses on Amish singing as a form that transcends the distinctions of art and craft and proposes “aural iconography” as a better descriptor. In contrast to folk music or “craft,” which is understood to be constantly evolving in response to time and place, Amish singing preserves continuity and cultural integrity. Unlike art, which assumes creativity and fresh expression, Amish singing requires members to match their voices in a unified praise of God. Through frequent rehearsal of an approved body of song, Amish members joyfully adjust their tempos and temperaments, yield their individualism to synchronize their thoughts and desires, but also weave for themselves a cocoon of security and certainty. At Amish gatherings, song binds the members to each other and to their longstanding heritage.

Keywords: Amish Singing, Art, Craft, Iconography

The International Journal of Arts Theory and History, Volume 9, Issue 2, January 2015, pp.1-8. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 569.487KB).

Dr. D. Rose Elder

Associate Professor and Area Coordinator, Humanities and Social Sciences, Ohio State University, Wooster, OH, USA