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2009-01-13 - 12:01 p.m.

"... Imprisoned in Passau castle in southwestern Germany, and awaiting their fate at the stake or chopping block, sixteenth-century Anabaptist martyrs spent their time singing and writing hymns. As many of those persecuted had been priests, and thus well acquainted with Gregorian chant melodies, these, along with traditional folk melodies, provided the background for their lyrics. When other prisoners danced to their singing, the Anabaptists slowed it down until there was no danceable rhythm left...."

--D. R. Elder

Saw Stellet Licht over the weekend.

One of the most striking scenes for me, in a film that is almost all striking scenes laid end-to-end, happens during an informal funeral gathering, when a flock of Mennonites sings a hymn of comfort and mourning.

It is a droning cacophony that any German industrial band would envy, and it sounded a bit like what I've always imagined plainsong to sound like. It set me on a quest to find some recordings or videos of Mennonite chants, or anything resembling the unsettling and strangely moving sounds from that scene.

There are plenty of scholarly texts floating around about Anabaptist hymns and Mennonite singing, but the only examples I could find of the plain folks' choral music were pretty straight-up harmonious hymns that don't sound much different from other church music.

So I wonder--was the film, which had some surreal elements, effin' with us about Mennonite singing? Was this particular group of singers just really bad? Or is YouTube perhaps not the final authority on all things Mennonite?

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