The Rev. Dr. Nola Reed Knouse celebrates her twentieth year of leadership of the Moravian Music Foundation in 2012. A life-long Winston-Salem, N.C. Moravian, Sister Knouse is a graduate of Wake Forest University (B.A.) and earned both an M.A. and Ph.D. in music theory from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. After teaching for a number of years, she joined the Music Foundation Staff as Director of Research and Programs in 1992 and was appointed Director two years later.
This summer, the Rev. Dr. David Schattschneider, president of the Moravian Music Foundation executive board, sat down to discuss her work with the Foundation and the state of Moravian Music today.
David Schattschneider: In your studies at Wake Forest and Eastman you studied mathematics as well as music. Do you see a connection between the two and what finally tilted you in the direction of music?
Nola Knouse: The connection, for me, is one of how the brain is used, rather than an immediate correlation between specific facts. In my experience higher math and music both use analytical skills and intuitive leaps, and you’re never quite sure which is going to get you where you want to go!
My turn to music actually happened in a very different way. Like so many undergraduates I went to Wake Forest intending to study medicine and be a surgeon—but had the opportunity to study flute, and I realized halfway through the fall semester that I resented chemistry lab because it was keeping me away from playing flute! That’s not a very promising start for a pre-med career, so by the end of my first semester I knew I had to change majors, to music. But I also was skeptical—as were my parents—about the employability of musicians, so I figured I’d better study math in the hopes of being employable someday.
DS: What is your definition of “Moravian Music” and what is the future direction of ‘Moravian music’ in America?
NK: “Moravian music” for me is music composed, arranged or widely borrowed/ adapted/adopted by Moravians. For instance, Tune 146 A, Nun danket (“Now Thank We All Our God”) wasn’t written by a Moravian; but it’s hard to imagine a Moravian Watch Night service without it. We also have our own “take” on the tune … a very different ending from other denominations’ hymnals!
Moravian music in America is alive and well! We’re working on a collection of newly-written Moravian songs (words and music). Not only have we received some wonderful congregational songs, I’ve been delighted to receive submissions that I’m putting into a “possible anthem publications” folder. Moravians are still writing and arranging music while finding ways to make music a living expression of their faith.
DS: You spend your time researching, editing and performing Moravian music. Do you have a personal favorite among all the pieces you have worked with?
NK: Yes—it’s whatever one I’m working on right now! And if you’d asked that question five years ago you’d get the same answer!
Whenever I’m working on a new edition, pulling something out of the vault, I’m always fascinated at the beauty and grace of the work. It becomes my favorite until it is replaced by the next one. But if I dig a little deeper, I find two anthems that have really “stuck” in my heart—“None Among Us,” by Johannes Herbst (None among us lives to self; none among us dies to self; if we live, we live unto the Lord…), and “By Your Meritorious Death,” by Christian Latrobe, which ends with that haunting longing to be at home with the Lord.
DS: The book you edited in 2008, The Music of the Moravian Church in America (University of Rochester Press) has become the ‘go to’ source for serious study of that subject. You also contributed several chapters. What’s the story behind the book?
NK: I have known ever since coming to the Music Foundation that we needed a general introductory book on the music of the Moravians; the last such study was Donald McCorkle’s 1954 dissertation, and there’s been so much research since then! I was daunted by the task until, at one of the Bethlehem Conferences on Moravian Music, I was struck by a “blinding flash of the obvious”—I didn’t have to write the whole book! Pauline Fox was already an expert in music education among the Moravians. Jewel Smith already knew far more about Moravian keyboard music than I ever will. Lou Carol Fix was certainly prepared to write about Moravian organs and organ music.
So I came up with the concept of a book organized by topic, with the chapters written by all those already expert and knowledgeable on the topics. My task would be to introduce, summarize, draw cross-references between the chapters and pull the whole thing together. It was a great project, and the bulk of the editing work was completed during a six-month sabbatical in the first half of 2005. I approached the Eastman Studies in Music of the University of Rochester Press because of my connection with the school and their editor-in-chief, Ralph Locke, and the press was wonderful to work with.
DS: What do you say when people complain that Moravian music is “too hard” to sing or perform?
NK: I sympathize! A great many of our earlier publications really are high and difficult, especially some of the lovely works of John Antes who, it seems, really loved high A’s for the sopranos! Yet for at least some of our anthems, there are ways to adapt them to make them very singable by a smaller choir.
For instance, in most Moravian anthems the voices all move together most of the time, and the harmonies are all in the organ or piano accompaniment—so very many can be sung in unison or with two parts. An instrument can easily be added to the soprano part to add some confidence and support.
Most of the choirs I’ve ever worked with really do have at least one soprano who can sing high—she just doesn’t know it yet. When I’ve warmed choirs up, I always end up taking them higher than they think, and watch the look of shock when I say, “Sisters, that was a high B-flat you just nailed! Don’t tell me you can’t sing G’s!”
One other thing I’m very proud of—with our new Moravian Star Anthem Series, we are publishing the anthems in their original keys, so that you can use the instrumental parts if you want; but we also have the keyboard accompaniment part available in a lower key. And we’re making a special effort for next year’s Moravian Music Festival (July 14-20, 2013, in Bethlehem) to choose a variety of music. You’ll get the chance to sing some very challenging works that most church choirs don’t have the resources for; and you’ll also learn some much simpler ones that are very useful for the smaller choir. So yes, there is some Moravian music that really is “too hard” for a smaller choir; but there’s plenty that’s well within your reach, and we’ll be happy to help you find it!
DS: After 17 years as a Foundation staff member, you went back to school and earned a Certificate in Theological Studies from Moravian Theological Seminary, followed by ordination as a Moravian minister in 2009. Has ordination changed your understanding of your work with the Foundation?
NK: I found out, within a year of beginning at the Moravian Music Foundation, that I couldn’t talk about Moravian music without talking about Moravian faith; and I couldn’t talk about Moravian faith without quoting hymns and anthems. To try to separate them misrepresents them both. I first heard the call to ordained service—at least, I first recognized it as such—some seven years before taking the steps to move in that direction. I have always recognized my work as a ministry—in fact, my personal journal for my very first day at MMF, June 1, 1992, says, “This isn’t a job; it’s a calling, and my life will never be the same again.” So my seminary studies and ordination have better equipped me for this ministry.
Music is one of the primary means of shaping and expressing our faith. What we sing, and what we pray in worship, influences what we believe; what we believe should influence what we choose to sing and how we worship. Since my ordination I feel more deeply rooted than ever in my faith and in my work as a servant of Christ through the Moravian Church, wherever I may be called; and for now that call is with the Moravian Music Foundation, thanks be to God!
DS: What gives you the most satisfaction in your work as Director of the Moravian Music Foundation?
NK: There had to be one really tough question, didn’t there?
I could talk about our top-quality recordings, thinking especially of the Peter Quintets and Antes Trios; I could talk about the scholarly publications; I could think about the doctoral dissertations and master’s theses I’ve helped usher to completion; I could enumerate the many new editions I’ve done and supervised over the years, bringing lots and lots of lovely music out into today’s sanctuaries and concert halls; I could even talk about the Archie K. Davis Center, the “new building” housing the Moravian Music Foundation’s main office and the Southern Province Archives, and the work Daniel Crews, Joe Lineberger and I put into it to make it the wonderful place it is. I could talk about cataloging, and microfilming, and Moramus Chorale and Unitas Chorale concerts, and the Rev. George L. Lloyd memorial concerts. Oh—and I could talk about Moravian Music Festivals too (remember those dates for 2013?).
These are all worthwhile accomplishments, and things I continue to take pride in. But what gives me the most satisfaction has to be the people I get to work and make music with. The participants in anthem reading sessions, hymn-writing workshops, classes and tours; the 50-plus “amateur” musician members Moravian Lower Brass working on a recording (and remember that “amateur” really means “lover”!); the young scholar becoming more confident in her abilities to do independent research; members of the MMF Board of Trustees knowing that they are contributing to something worthwhile; the pastor who calls with a copyright question and goes away knowing he’s getting it right.
I heard a wise musician once say, “I must never ever forget that the person is always more important than the music.” And I think that’s the source of satisfaction for me. The person in the choir, or band, or pew, for whom music is a means of worship, the expression of feelings beyond words—my interaction with that person brings the deepest satisfaction to my work.
The 24th Moravian Music Festival will be held in Bethlehem Pa. July 14-20, 2013. More information about Moravian music and The Moravian Music Foundation can be found at www.moravianmusic.org
An interview with Nola Reed Knouse (video):