bullet Music - Something About Trombones


TROMBA, Italian ; in English a trump. Trombetta, diminutive of Tromba, a small trump, in English a trumpet. Trom-bo-ne augmentative of Tromba, a large trump ; in English a trombone ; of which instrument there is not unfrequently great mention made by writers on Moravian affairs ; its use in the music of the house of God and on festive and solemn occasions being deemed peculiar to our people, its utterances meanwhile striking the Gentiles with wonderment, if not with awe.(1)

By whom this modification of the trump was invented, and in what year it was admitted into the sisterhood of sweet sound-producing instruments, we have failed to satisfactorily ascertain. Though if, as we are told, its prototype was the sackbut, it carries us back to the glorious days of David and Solomon and their chief musicians Asaph, Hem an, Ethan and Jedithun, in which days, the Chosen People were wont to give thanks to Adonai on the shawm and on the psaltry--on the harp and on the huggab,--on the cythern and on the sackbut; and thence forward to that spectacle on the plain of Dura, where a vain-glorious earthly potentate set up an "idol of gold, commanding the servants of Elohim to fall down and worship it, at what time they should hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltry and dulcimer ;" and thence to - the era of Roman conquest and Roman dominion ; for the Romans, we are told, introduced the music of the sackbut into their military and triumphal demonstrations immediately after the reduction of Jerusalem, a statement which is possessed with more than mere shadow of truth, in as far as a sackbut was found in Herculaneum and presented by Carlo, the King of Naples, to George II. On its model, the trombone of the present day was fashioned, but in what year and by whom we do not know.

Our forefathers on immigrating to the Western World, brought with them the German's love of music, and the German's disposition to consecrate music to the worship of God. Instruments of five strings, both violin, viola-da-braccio and viola-da-gamba, with flutes and French-horns were played for the first time inn the house of God at Bethlehem, at the celebration of the feast of Christmas, December 25, 1743.

A virginal or spinet, the gift of Bro. William Peter Knolton, of Fenchurch Street, London, fan-maker, was forwarded to that place in January of 1744; and, when in December of the same year, " the House of the So o-dial " was occupied by the unmarried men of the community, within its walls there was organized a musical association ("collegium musicum") for the cultivating of the divine art, and its application in the liturgical services of the Church. The names of fourteen members stand on the roll of this association for the year 1748.

Next cane an organ. It was a "Positiv," a form of organ defined by old Wolfgang Caspar Printz in his Musica Historica, as follows : " Ein kleines Orgelwerk nit unterschiedenen Registern verschen, so man hin and wieder tragen and in Privat häusern gebrauchen kann--ein organism portabile ;" and the workmanship of Gustav Hesselius, a resident of Philadelphia, but a descendant of one of those Swedes, who under Minuit or Printz, settled on the Minguaskill in Zwaanendael, or in Tinicum on Delaware. This cabinet- organ was set up in the then chapel of the congregation, and on the 18th of June, 1746, its tones accompanied the voices of those who were met for Divine worship, in the chorals of their ritual. Bro. John C. Pyrlaeus performed on the instrument on that memorable occasion. In September of 1751, this organ was thoroughly repaired by one Robert Harttafel, of Warwick township, but last of Lancaster town ; the same Harttafel, who, when at home in the vicinity of Marienborn, near Frankfort-on-the-Main, made several clavichords for the Moravian "school of the prophets," located at that place.

But to return to the legitimate theme of this paper. Prior to the introduction of the trombone at Bethlehem, its place in the realm of her music was occupied by the French-horn, ("das Waldhorn, sattsam bekannt, " writes the above quoted Wolfgang Caspar Printz, " so wohl was Kirchen- als Kammermusik anlangt ") and the trumpet-die Trompete. Both of these brass instruments were in use at Bethlehem as early as May of 1744, being blown from that time forward, occasionally in the house of God, for the convoking to sessions the members of Synods, (as was done at a Synod held in Quittopehille, in September of 1751), in the harvest field on the opening of the joyous season of in-gathering; on the streets of the village in the early hours of Easter morning, and from the flat-roof of the Single Brethren's House, to announce the departure of souls to the eternal world. In commenting on these performances, as our forefathers occasionally do, they invariably speak of " Trompeten Schall " and " Der Schall der Waldhörner."

But in 1754, horn and trampet were supplanted for certain uses by the trombone, it standing on record that the Liturgical services conducted at the obsequies of a child, whose remains were interred on the 15th of November of that year, were in part accompanied by the tones of " Posaunen," and henceforward we read of " Posaunen Schall," and of " Posaunisten," the latter being the word still applied by the German speaking people of our Church to performers on trombones, or trombonists.

It was at this time then, we are inclined to believe, (although diligent search has been made in vain in the records of the Economy's expenditures for the year 1754, in the hope of corroborating this belief), that the trombone was introduced into the number of their metallic pieces by her people for the uses such as are made of it in our day, to wit ; to publicly by it, in lieu of passing bell, announce the death off church-members ; to heighten the solemnities of the burial-service, and to impart the majesty of sound on highfeasts and holy-days, to the musical paraphernalia of her Liturgy.

In the interval between 1754 and 1767, the only set of trombones(2) in the Moravian Church (North) was the one at Bethlehem ; and so it came to pass, that the " Bethlehem Trombonists," were frequently called from home to discourse music on their instruments in other Churches. They were present for instance, and performed at the laying of the corner-stone of Nazareth Hall, in May of 1755; on the anniversary of the birth of King George II, (October 30, 1754,) that fair complexioned but to art indifferent Hanoverian, who was more than once heard to growl in his German accent, that he saw no good in " bainting and boetry " ; at the dedication of the second grave-yard on the Nazareth Tract, in February of 1756 ; and at the funeral services held over the remains of Bro. Thomas Christian Benzien, who died while chaplain at Gnadenthal, in August of 1757. Here it may be stated parenthetically, so to say, that a set of trombones was imported for use in the Moravian Church, (South,) in 1765. These were first blown at Bethabara.

In January of 1767, a set of sackbuts " ein Chorposaunen," (we quote the very words of the entry), was forwarded to Christian's Spring, having been imported through Bro. Jonas Paul Weiss of Herrnhut, and in all probability, purchased by him in Nuremberg, the then great mart of the musical trade. The cost of these instruments and the cost of their importation, amounted to the trifling sum of £6, Pennsylvania currency. From this date, viz., from January of 1767 forward until toward the dissolution of the Christian's Spring Economy, in 1796, the " upper places " on the Barony, to wit : Nazareth, Gnadenthal, Friedensthal and Christian's Spring, were furnished with "trombone music" whenever required, by the trombonists of the last named place.

In what year new Nazareth was equipped with a trombone-choir, this deponent knoweth not. For Hope, in New Jersey, there was imported a set of sackbuts, in 1789. Thus far, then, we have fixed the introduction of four sets of these sonorous instruments of sacred music.

When the Bethlehem congregation was furnished with a second set of trombones, we have not yet learned, certainly, however, prior to the year 1793; for on the 2d of December, 1792, when intelligence reached Bethlehem that Bishop Spangenberg had departed this life at Berthelsdorf, on the 18th of September last, the death of the venerable father was announced from the flat-roof of the Single Brethren's House, by two quartettes of trombonists.

This brings us towards the close of the last century. With the trombones imported or purchased by Moravian churches subsequent to that epoch, this paper is not at all concerned ; neither with the feats of one Christian Ettwein, (circa 1800,) who blew the bass trombone, and one Easter morning drank seventeen mugs of mulledwine; nor with the following fact of musical interest, to wit : That sometime after the winding up or breaking down, or closing out of Hope in the Jerseys, in 1808, when its church was dismantled and its set of sackbuts was forwarded to Bethlehem, it was resolved by the musicians of that place, to perform with three sets of trombones on the coming festival of Easter-this novel performance being accomplished and the parts distributed to the following brethren the sopranos to William Eggert, Peter Schneller and Jedidiah Weiss ; the altos to William Boehler, Charles F. Beckel and David Weinland ; the tenors to Daniel Oesterlein, Timothy Weiss and Frederick Beckel; and the basses, to Jacob Till, Joseph C. Till and Christian L. Knauss. With these facts this paper is not legitimately concerned, nor with the appearance in Orchestra of the Bethlehem Trombonists on the occasion of the performance of Haydn's Creation, under the auspices of the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia; with nothing touching this century forsooth, excepting with the following item, to which all this prolixity is mere introduction.

Whether the statement of old Printz, in the course of a dissertation on the qualities of the trombone, to wit : " Dieses Instrument braucht beine sonderliche Kräfte, sondern es kann ein Knaben von neon oder zehn Jahren solches ohne Schaden lernen and blasen, sonderlich einen Bass auf einer Tenor Posaune welche gar schlechten Wind braucht." Whether these words so precisely predicated, moved the chief musician of Nazareth, in the year 1839, to have the members of the Junior Class of Theological Students trained as a quintette of trombonists, we are not prepared to say. But we are prepared to say, that they were trained in that capacity, being put in the school of Bro. Michel, the father of the late Michel brothers, Gotthold and David, trombonists. In this school they profited, in due time made their debit and played acceptably whenever summoned before the public.

Now once upon a time it happened that there lay an inmate of the Single Sisters' House, (the present " Castle " of Nazareth Hall) sick unto death, and it was positively asserted that she was past recovery. Hereupon, our young disciples of Jubal, the son of Lamech, (as they were not in practice) set about preparing themselves to make proclamation of her decease, when she should be deceased, by rehearsing the trio of Chorals prescribed for blowing on the death of an unmarried female. They did this in their room in Nazareth Hall. But it being Summer, as to the season of the year, the windows of their room were open, out of which and over the way into the apartment of the bed-ridden sister were borne the impressive strains of Chorals 151 and 37. Whereupon, rising on her bed, "Die Schlingel!" she exclaimed, "Die Schlingel! die denken dass ich am sterben bin! Aber," she proceeded with emphasis, as she rose higher on her couch, "Aber aus Speit werde ich nicht sterben !" Here was an illustration of the power of the will, for the resolute woman recovered. As to our trombonists, having thus unwittingly scandalized the congregation, they rendered themselves obnoxious, lost favor and ere long were relieved.

Over the remains of three of these once juvenile trombonists, those heart-rending instruments have sounded their woeful tones, and the grass grows green over their graves. The two who are still tabernacling in the flesh, may tell you again, if you ask them, this tale of youthful indiscretion.

(1) This by way of illustration of the effect produced upon the Gentiles by the blowing of Moravian trombones. A few days after the dedication of a rural church in the vicinity of Bethlehem, for which occasion the musicians of that place supplied sacred music - it was circa 1830 - one of the yeomanry of "Little Hanover" was overheard to remark to his neighbor : "Du haetscht awer lezscht auf die Kirchweih sei solle. Do ware die Musicante von Bethlehem dort-die henn en Bassgeig gehatt, die von der Bordkerch shier an die Deck geregt hot und gebrummt hot wie en boeser Bull;--und mess'ne Hoerner hen sie g'hatt wo sie druf geblosse hen, und do war abartig einer der hot so ein gross Mess g'hatt, wenn der sell gross Mess als über die Bordkerch runne gerisse hot, hot er die Backe ufgeblose, dass mer gemeint hot sie müsste verplatte. Ich kann dir sage, des hot awer gebulldogs'd."

(2) By a set of trombones, the trade understands but three, to wit ; an alto trombone, a tenor trombone and a bass; but the Moravian," understand by the term four instruments, they making use of a treble (discant) trombone, to which is assigned the soprano of the score; all four parts which our Chorals call for being thus provided for or carried.


On the morning of September 3, 1873, there passed away one of the oldest native residents of Bethlehem, and one, moreover, whose vivid recollections of the past were potent to a remarkable degree in carrying back even into another century, such as loved to hear the fathers tell of " ye olden time." Jedidiah Weiss was born February 21, 1796, and was the second son of John George and Elizabeth Weiss, m. n. Snyder. His grandparents, Matthias Weiss, a native of Mülhausen, Switzerland, and Margaret Catherine his wife, were one of forty couples which sailed from Rotterdam, on the Moravian ship The Little Strength, in September of 1743, and which were settled on the Barony of Nazareth. At sixteen years of age, he was indentured to John Samuel Krause, clock and watchmaker, who was doing business in rooms in the Single Brethren's House. Here he was taught the elements of his craft, in which, by dint of his native genius, he in later years rose to honorable eminence. Upon the death of his master, in December of 1815, lie assumed the business, although he had not yet attained his majority.

On the 20th of November, 1820, Mr. Weiss was married to Miss Mary Stables of Alexandria, Va., who for several years had been a tutoress in the Young Ladies' Seminary at Bethlehem. Hereupon he entered a new shop and dwelling which he had built on the east side of Main Street, a few doors below the Sun Hotel, (the Globe building now covers the site), where for forty-five years he continued his business. (Within this period of time, it should be stated, furthermore, he held for upwards of twenty years an interest in the line of stages that ran between Philadelphia and Wilkesbarre.) Himself a born mechanician, he knew at the same time how to impart his conceptions to others. The clock in the steeple of Zion's Reformed Church in Allentown, which he designed and constructed in 1847, may be here adduced as but one of a number of ingenious combinations which his inventive mind devised and perfected for the benefit of others, as well as for the gratification of an inborn taste.

Mr. Weiss, however, was better and more widely known as a musician. For upwards of fifty years he was, so to say, identified with the music of his native place. He belonged to a family of decidedly musical tastes. His father, though a lock and gunsmith by trade, had been the organist at Bethlehem, in the early part of the century. All his sons inherited the divine gift, but none more so than the subject of this memoir, who, while a proficient on a number of wind instruments, was a master in vocalization. His deep basso, we weep, will never be forgotten by those who once beard its voluminous tones rolling out in power, whether through the spacious aisles of the Moravian Church or in the hall of the old Philharmonic Society. With a range through two and a half octaves, from the contra D upwards, his voice was remarkable also for strength and durability, and when he sang for the last time in public, (at the Children's Festival, Aug. 24, 1873) it was remarked and conceded that Jedidiah Weiss, in chorus, was still the most effective basso belonging to the choir. For upwards of fifty years, also, Mr. Weiss was one of a quartette of trombonists attached to the church. It may in this connection be stated, that when in 1822, the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia, performed " Haydn's Creation," (it was the first rendition of the Oratorio in that city), Mr. Weiss was assigned the part for the bass trombone. In this way, he contributed in various ways and on various occasions, to the cause of music, not only at Bethlehem and Nazareth, but also in the towns and rural districts of the neighborhood. We must now briefly advert to Mr. Weiss as a chronicler of "ye olden time," in his native place-nay as a veritable living chronicle of that time. For this he was eminently qualified by his powers of observation, by an impressible nature, a retentive memory, and an inborn love of whatever savored of the antique or was quaint. His recollections carried him back reliably to the solemn services which were held in the old Moravian Church, in order to mark the close of the eighteenth century-to the first February of a new century, on the twenty-second day of which month, pursuant to the recommendation of Congress, religious services were held throughout the country and at Bethlehem to duly honor the memory of the first President of the United States, who had closed his illustrious career on the 14th of December, 1799. He also remembered the welcome which was given to Bishop George H. Loskiel, the author of "A History of the Moravian Missions among the North American Indians," on his arrival from abroad at Bethlehem, in July of 1802. For a time, an inmate of the Single Brethren's House, where he had daily intercourse with the representatives of earlier generations, there was a rare opportunity, such as one of his bent of mind would not fail to improve, offered to Mr. Weiss of amassing a varied fund of fact and anecdote. Of these bygone days, of the customs, fashions and modes of thought that prevailed among our forefathers, of Bethlehem's men and women and heroes and heroines, of forty, fifty, sixty years ago-of the innovations that gradually crept into his birthplace, changing and next subverting and then making all things new ; of them and of as many things as go to make up the total of a peculiar local history-the venerable clockmaker and trombonist could tell (and about them he would also philosophize) as could none other of, the surviving associates of his boyhood. Until a very short time before his death, Mr. Weiss was in the enjoyment of robust health. The decease of his wife (with whom he had been privileged on the 26th of November, 1870, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their marriage) on the 18th of May, 1872, was a severe blow from the effects of which he never entirely recovered and which hastened his end. But for this he was fully prepared, and as the clock on the cupola from which he had so often performed chorals on the decease of members of the congregation, by way of " passing bell " significantly we think, struck TWO in the still hours of the early morning of the 3d of September, the spirit of the good old man, without a struggle left its tenement of clay and went to the God who gave it.

Charles Frederick Beckel was born in Bethlehem, May 16, 1801. His parents were George Frederick and Anna Maria Beckel. In his youth he was indentured to John Samuel Krause to learn watchmaking, but his master dying in 1815, he completed his apprenticeship with Jedidiah Weiss. It was in these early years that the life-long friendship originated between these two eminent musicians. Mr. Beckel's reputation as a musician rated high in the community in which he lived. Joining the old Trombone Quartette, he uninterruptedly filled the post of alto trombonist for about ifty years. For many years, too, he played the first violin in the Philharmonic and church orchestras, and for some time was leader of the Bethlehem Band. Mr. Beckel served in the Board of Trustees of the Bethlehem congregation, and as its Secretary for thirty years. From 1854 to 1857 he was a member of the Borough Council and in 1864 was elected Burgess, serving six years. He died June 6, 1880.

Jacob C. Till was born in the Moravian town of Hope, N. J., June 15, 1799, and removed to Bethlehem with his parents while still a child. For a time he assisted his father in the manufacture of pianos, but having a taste and fondness for music, adopted it professionally. Becoming a thorough musician he could perform on several wind and stringed instruments as occasion required.

Mr. Till, besides filling for a time the position of organist of the Moravian Church in Bethlehem, and for fifty years or more a member of its Trombone Choir, was an active member of the Philharmonic Society and the once celebrated "Bethlehem Band." While a member of the latter organization, he performed principally on the clarionet. He was instructor of the first military band formed in Mauch Chunk. Many years ago Mr Till became a resident of Easton, Pa., and was appointed organist of St. John's Church; but he seldom failed to visit Bethlehem, to attend and participate in the impressive services of Passion Week. On Easter morn, April 9, 1882, about the hour when the beautiful Litany of the Resurrection, to which he loved to listen, was being read in the Church of his fathers at Bethlehem, the spirit of " Puppy " Till (as he was familiarly called by his Moravian associates) passed from earth to join the Heavenly Choirs. Four days subsequently, the remains of the last of the old Bethlehem Quartette of Trombonists were brought from Easton and interred on Nisky Hill Cemetery.

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