Steeped in tradition, we Moravians often find that if they do something twice, they just keep doing it. Sometimes we don’t even remember why it is done. Could the tradition have even become outdated? Maybe such is the case for the tradition of the Salem Congregation’s Easter Morning “rounds” in certain areas of a community.
In earlier times, for the Easter Sunrise Service, knowing that the roosters (early American alarm clocks) wouldn’t crow early enough to awaken the community in time for the service, a brass band was sent out to play on street corners to call the community to worship at the Sunrise Service. Archival records don’t reveal the date that it started, but it is known that it was a tradition by 1880. B.J.Phohl wrote, in a journal entry of a childhood experience that year, of being mentored by elder bandsmen as they played their rounds.
It may have begun as just a “Salem phenomenon,” but as the community expanded and more Moravian churches were built to serve their respective new communities, this tradition carried on with the growth. Such was the case for Fairview as it was started in the Fairview community of North Winston-Salem on Liberty Street. One of its members, Brooks Snyder (now age 92), remembers the rounds of the past well. He has played for the Easter Sunrise Service and rounds for 81 consecutive years. He recently described how the Fairview band, in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, would ride a streetcar down Liberty Street for a few blocks, get off and play at a few street corners, get back on the streetcar to ride a few more blocks, and repeat this process until they were close enough to Old Salem to walk the rest of the way.
Fairview moved to a more suburban setting in 1963 and continued the tradition of early-morning rounds until four years ago. After having some discussions with the band, Robah Ogburn, the former director of the Fairview band, decided to try something new. He started the tradition for the band of playing their rounds in the afternoon of the Saturday before Easter morning. Safety concerns for the aging bandsmen getting on and off the buses in the darkness of night were cited as the main reason for changing this tradition. It had also become obvious that the transient residents of the area didn’t understand the reason for a brass band playing at 2:00am in their front lawn. It’s rumored that one group of bandsmen even had a jar of peanut butter thrown at them as a sign of disapproval.
There have been many positive elements to changing to this new tradition, but the most noticeable one is found in the reception of the neighborhoods in which they play. With a prearranged estimate for the time of arrival, many of the shut-ins that they are playing for have invited their neighbors and friends to come sit in their yard and share this Sunrise Service prelude.
Fairview bandsmen have welcomed this new tradition, however the jury of their peers is still dealing with the idea of this. Is it blasphemous?
Meanwhile, Fairview’s band will be playing their rounds on the Saturday before Easter starting in their lower parking lot…
Dick Joyce is a member of Fairview Moravian Church