Moravians are well acquainted with the church’s musical heritage. And we all know our music: Timeless hymns and chorales document the Moravian year, from “Morning Star” at Christmas to “Sing Hallelujah, Praise the Lord” at Easter.
But what about the trios of Johann Daniel Grimm? The violin prelude of Gottfried Finger? Or any one of the nine harpsichord pieces by Christian Ignatius Latrobe?
This less-familiar side of Moravian music came alive in Greensboro, N.C. recently at a concert called “Moravian Music and More!,’’ which featured the works of Grimm, Finger and Latrobe. A crowd of about 70 heard Latrobe’s “Prelude III,’’ “Two Terzetti’’ by Grimm and Finger’s “Prelude for Violin,’’ all performed by Greensboro Early Music, a professional group of musicians and singers who specialize in music written before 1750.
Each of the featured composers was either a member of the Moravian church or was ethnically from Moravia. The Moravians shared the program with such Baroque-era composers as Joseph Boismortier and Johann Muthel, as well as with Renaissance choral music. For many in the audience – including Moravians—this music was being heard for the first time.
A Girl Scout conversation
Plans for the concert started with a conversation, not about music, but about Girl Scouts.
Caroline Averitt, a 16-year-old member of First Moravian Church (in Greensboro) and Girl Scout Troop 40172, was gathering ideas for her Gold Award project. This award, the highest in Girl Scouting, recognizes the leadership, efforts and impact that girls have had on their communities.
“Being Moravian is wonderful to me, but even though Greensboro is only about 30 minutes away from Winston-Salem, N.C., Moravian traditions are more of a novelty here,’’ Caroline explained. “They’re not as well known. But the Moravians played a very important role in North Carolina’s history, including its musical history. I wanted to focus my project on raising awareness in this area about the Moravians and their contributions.’’
One of Caroline’s community contacts was Allison Willet, a professional violinist and the artistic director of Greensboro Early Music (GEM). Willet knew about some of the Moravian composers, and was interested in putting some of their pieces on the group’s fall program.
Sheet music may be found in many places nowadays, but for these purposes, there was only one place to go for music scores: the Moravian Music Foundation in Winston-Salem.
“GEM specializes in music from before 1750, and I thought, ‘Well, I know where a lot of that is,’‘’ Caroline joked. “I wanted to help build a relationship between the MMF and GEM so that two groups with similar interests were aware of each other and could work together. That way, the connection can sustain itself, even after this concert is over.’’
Under the guidance of Dr. Nola Reed Knouse, Willet and Caroline toured the foundation’s archives, and Willet selected pieces from the library for the group to perform. Dr. Knouse also provided information about each composer on the program, and about Moravian music in general, for Caroline to use in a short, pre-concert lecture.
On Oct. 5, the concert came together, and with it, an ear-opening experience that won’t be the last the Greensboro community hears of the Moravian composers.
“These composers influenced the way music developed, not just in this area but in general,’’ Caroline said. “They brought sophisticated music to what was still, in the 1700s, the colonial American backwoods. They involved not just professionals but tradesmen and children in music-making. They wrote chamber music, choral music, hymns.
“It was so interesting, and sometimes surprising, to hear them.’’
Want to hear the concert? The Moravian Music and More! Concert is on YouTube. To listen, go to YouTube and search for “Moravian music gold project’’ to hear both the concert and an interview about Moravian music with Dr. Nola Reed Knouse, director of the Moravian Music Foundation. To find out more about the performers, visit greensboroearlymusic.blogspot.com/.
Lydian Averitt is a member of First Moravian Church in Greensboro, NC and mom of Caroline, also a member of FMC and Girl Scout Troop 40172. Both of them play, and enjoy, Moravian music. In top photo, Allison Willet, artistic director and violinist for Greensboro Early Music, introduces Caroline.
From the January/February 2013 Moravian Magazine