A Cloistered Life at Peachey House: A Prequel

The closest thing I ever came to living in a convent was my year in the dormitory at Lancaster Mennonite School. It was much like living in the dorm at my alma mater, Eastern Mennonite College, now a University, but only more awkward. “Awkward?” you ask. “In what way awkward?”

As beginning teachers Verna Mohler (Colliver) and I were squirreled away in the LMS girls’ dormitory. Because of our tiny salaries, living here represented a major cost savings, but being so close to students, we sacrificed privacy. You can read all about this experience in last week’s post.

Students and faculty alike dressed plainly at LMS, no jewelry or fancy dress allowed. Students were sequestered from the world in other ways too: no competitive sports teams, no band or orchestra, and no theatre department.

My prior life in college was similar but a tad looser. There were intramural sports at EMC but musical expression was limited to various choruses which sang a cappella in four-part harmony. A highlight of the year came each spring when the music department presented Alfred Robert Gaul’s oratorio The Holy City, its celestial strains ringing in the rafters. However, no band or orchestra existed there either. And certainly no theatre department. To be fair, students performed plays staged in the chapel as for example Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Our graduating class donated to the college its first piano.

During my junior year at EMC when the college dormitory was filled to overflowing, eight women students were selected to live on the edge of campus in a home called Peachey House.


Verna Mohler and I lived with six others including Martha Maust, who wrote in Verna’s yearbook: ” What with mice sitting on the kitchen floor, a chicken in a book-bag, plus eight girls with plenty of vim, vigor, and yelling power you couldn’t expect anything but great times.” Then too we lived through the mighty snowstorm in the winter of 1961-62 that cut us off from the rest of the campus.

One of my fondest memories is playing the violin with Thelma Swartendruber (Chow) one of my roommates here in the Peachey House living room.


I had played my instrument at Elizabethtown High School, where I was the only Mennonite girl in the orchestra simply thrilled to wear a fancy dress for concerts. My violin case followed me to college. Sunday afternoons we played with others, sometimes even with a faculty member whom I later dated.

* * *

Mennonites have always had a love affair with music ~ hymn books, tuning forks, and four-part a cappella singing a staple of all worship services in this era.

Though the Lancaster Conference Mennonite Church did not allow instrumental music in the 1960s, many Mennonite families had a piano at home. We had one, a mahogany Marshall & Wendell upright with melodious richness, especially evident when I pushed down on the damper pedal for a gorgeous, sustained tone.

The photo below portrays a young Mennonite girl, Anna Leaman, with covering and caped dress circa 1926 playing the violin. Whether Anna was posing to please her parents or whether she loved playing the violin, it’s impossible to say. I do see a faint smile playing around her lips. Obviously she had been taking lessons and making music solo here.

Credit: Mennonite Women of Lancaster County, Joanne Hess Siegrist 1996
Credit: Mennonite Women of Lancaster County, Joanne Hess Siegrist 1996

But rest assured, when she went to church on Sunday, no piano, organ or violin would drown out the blend of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices who worshipped in blessed harmony.

Did you play an instrument during school or college days? Do you still play it? Any anecdotes to add to the dorm life episodes here, or living with a roommate in an other arrangement?

Coming next: Moments of Discovery, The Story Behind the $ Bill


43 thoughts on “A Cloistered Life at Peachey House: A Prequel

  1. Good morning, Marian! Another wonderful post. It’s interesting that the Lancaster Mennonite conference did not allow music in church, but that many families had pianos. I bet the 4-part harmonies in your church were wonderful.

    I’ve written about the family piano that I still have. I also played violin–very badly–in junior high and high school. Both our girls had piano lessons, although only our younger daughter continued through high school with them. Our younger daughter also played the trombone that was my husband’s in high school.


    1. The 4-part harmonies were (and still are) wonderful. I always enjoy the blended voices when I return to visit Bossler Mennonite. My mother gave the Marshall & Wendell piano to a niece whose children wanted to use it. We were sad that it was no longer standing tall in the corner of the living room but happy someone else was benefiting.

      Both of our children had piano lessons, but never really developed an interest. Historically musical instruments have been a staple in our family from generations back though. I know Grandma Longenecker had piano lessons and so did Aunt Ruthie who played lustily on the piano in our classroom.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We did not have any musical instruments in our house. I wanted a piano but there was no room in our little house on the prairies and no money for one either. Not to say we didn´t have music. The radio was always on and to this day I have to have a radio playing in the house. For my 12th birthday I got a record player and the Elvis Presley album, Blue Hawaii. I played it over and over.


      1. That is exactly what it was, a little house on the Canadian prairies! No electricity until I was 10 and no running water until after I left home. I am well versed in outdoor toilets!!


  3. This line got my interest: “sometimes even with a faculty member whom I later dated.” Are stories forthcoming, or is that for your memoir. I’m trying to remember who were music(?) faculty back then.
    I’ve always been glad my husband got me a piano one of our first Christmases after moving to our own house. The luxury said so much to me: like, “here, play, enjoy.” He did not play but certainly wanted any children we had to have the opportunity. Only one went anywhere with lessons and I think you know that history because I wrote about it so recently. I think he secretly hoped I would get better on it too–but I mostly play for my own enjoyment. Thanks for the opportunity to reminisce.


    1. Playing for your own enjoyment is reason enough to have a piano. I can say the same for myself.

      What a fine gesture for your husband to anticipate your family’s needs perhaps in spite of your financial situation as newlyweds, regarding music as an essential, not a luxury. May his tribe increase!


  4. I played the guitar for many years. I started with a private tutor when I was 11 and then joined the local Conservatoire at 14, which I attended for 4 years. As an adult, I also had a private tutor for Flamenco guitar, which I love but it’s extremely difficult to master. I don’t know how I would have cope with life without my guitar or music in general.


    1. I agree, music is both calming and inspiring; I don’t believe I could live without it either. And I admire your persistence with the Flamenco guitar. Right now I can hear the music in my head and imagine festive, swirling skirts.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Oops, David. I’ve edited the page now. As may guess, math has never been my strong suit, especially with those 6’s and 9’s. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and happy you noted the error too. Hugs back!


  5. Marian — WOW! I didn’t realize that musical instruments weren’t allowed in Mennonite church services in the 60’s. That would definitely serve to put the spotlight on a cappella harmony. I love the inscription in Verna’s yearbook:

    ” What with mice sitting on the kitchen floor, a chicken in a book-bag, plus eight girls with plenty of vim, vigor, and yelling power you couldn’t expect anything but great times.”

    It sounds like PEACHY HOUSE ADVENTURES is a book that’s just begging to be written!


    1. If only I could remember more, Laurie, this episode could be at least a short story.
      Yes, the spotlight has always been put on a cappella harmony, though most Mennonite churches today have a piano. Often guitars accompany the singing nowadays too.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Your class gave EMC its first piano? Wow, the few years that separated us from each other brought lots of changes. You just found another one.

    My mother played both violin and piano. Her children all had opportunities for lessons, but I never went beyond Schaum’s Book Three. I didn’t like the smell in our teacher’s house. 🙂

    I can only guess at the high times and misdemeanors that occured in Peachey House. Great name for the place and another wonderful photo.


    1. The boxy house was probably named for the owner whose first name escapes me. You always help me think outside of the box – yes, our experiences were peachy for sure. I am hoping to hear some more dandy anecdotes from other house-mates but I don’t know if I will.

      My sister Jan’s and my ’63 Shens were switched somehow in the attic at 265 Anchor Road, so I have her autographed yearbook but she can’t find mine. I’ll bet I’d find a story or two enscribed there. Ach!


  7. Happy days …were they happy ? You were very restricted does that make a person safe ? I don’t know .
    I think I am a little lazy when it comes to playing a musical instrument Marian . I kicked up a fuss a fourteen , I desperately wanted to learn to play acoustic guitar . One day I got home and there it was a acoustic guitar sitting proudly on my bed …my dad loved to surprise . I still have that guitar in my loft and I have never learn to play it. I should be ashamed of myself .
    I still promise myself I will learn it in secret and surprise my family at a gathering , maybe you have prompted me to do just that .


    1. Oh, Cherry, I think we thought we were happy because we had no other experiences to compare ourselves to.

      I agree it’s never too late to start something knew, especially the guitar playing that you know you would enjoy after you got into it. Find a good teacher and you’ll be on your way. Performing at a family gathering? Well, you’d knock their socks off!


    1. And these memories linger as long as the electronic particles hang together on WordPress. The same can be said for your journal of beautiful photos and poetry, judging from all the people that flock to your blog.


  8. I took piano lessons for a while and loved it until my father started making me play whenever company came to our house. Then I made a terrible mistake during a recital and I gave it up. I loved playing but only for myself. I still love music though and listen constantly to good music and also love to sing.


    1. Why did parents in this era do that? Cliff’s mother made him play the accordion for guests. When he messed up, he became discouraged, and stopping playing . . . Now this same instrument is sitting in my sewing room. What to do with it?? (His Mom gave up getting new living room furniture so he could have lessons)

      We love music too and frequently tune in to Performance Today from 7 – 9 p.m. I find I can’t write well though even with music in the background. Thanks for commenting. Now I know you are a songstress too!


  9. These pictures are delightful, Marian. And I love Peachey House! When you wrote that the savings by staying in the dorm meant sacrificing privacy, it was an understatement, so I was glad you moved to Peachey House. This post was so real, so very touching and genuine.


    1. Sometimes it’s hard to anticipate how readers/other writers will respond to these snapshots of my early life, especially because it was rather unusual as in this post. I take you as a good gauge, Marylin. Thank you!


  10. Enjoyed you blog again about music…..Recently I posted about taking accordion lessons as a student at LMS. I really enjoyed playing the piano and the accordion. Several years ago we sold our piano and I gave my accordion to our oldest grandchild who can play any instrument she gets her hands on. 🙂 Several of our grandchildren play instruments on worship teams at their churches. We have a worship team at our church put sometimes they lead us in singing one or two songs with 4 part harmony which is delightful to listen to.


    1. It sounds like the love of music runs strong in all generations of your family, a good thing! Watch out for that oldest grandchild “who can play any instrument she can get her hands on” – wow, I say.

      Like you, I like the mingling of old (4-part harmony) with the new styles in worship. It’s one way to minister to more than one age group in a congregation. Great observations, Bertha.


  11. Another great story from your life. Thank you for sharing these, Marian. In 1966, I was finishing college and living with my dear Vic in a small apartment in Ithaca. I did lots of singing in high school, in school choruses, musicals, and local community theater. I stopped singing when I went to Cornell as a freshman because I thought I didn’t have time. It was a dumb choice. In those days, I only wanted Bob Dylan and the Beatles, Buffy St. Marie and Joni Mitchell.


    1. But you’re singing now with many voices and in different keys. Anyway, that’s what popped into my head when I read your regret. Actually, you can still sing as you wander your fabulous acreage. The birds, I’m sure, would enjoy it!


      1. I agree I’m singing in different voices now. But it was silly to think I didn’t have time to join a choir at college. I would have known I belonged somewhere during my freshman year–or that’s the fantasy. The birds serenade me and I call back to them. I’m seeing Monarch butterflies. They are so quiet.


  12. Marian … Our family also had a love affair with music. My Dad played the guitar. He and I both sang in the church choir. Mom played everything from opera to country music on the radio. My brother later played an instrument when in school.

    Peachey House sounds like a lot more fun than your previous dorm. I’ll bet it was a lot of fun with the other girls there. I wish I’d had that experience. But I commuted from home with my Dad to Syracuse where he worked and I went to school. Maybe, it was all for the best though. I might have been too distracted by the freedom to focus on my studies. 😉


    1. Well, Peachey House was an extension of the women’s dorm at EMC when I was a student, so it actually predates the dorm I lived in as a teacher at LMS during my first year of teaching. In effect, I was going backwards as far as conservatism is concerned. The posts were published in reverse order chronologically. That’s why I had to call this one a prequel. Sorry about the confusion, Judy.

      It sounds like your early life was filled with the sound of music, a lifelong legacy from your parents. Great!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Music was my sanity growing up in a dysfunctional household. I’d run to my room and listen to my favourite 45’s. I eventually became a professional singer, had a band, did gigs, and that career ended in my mid twenties when I wanted to pursue fame with it and found that to further my career was taking me into some sleazy directions. I wouldn’t submit and gave up the dream. 🙂 And so I write, lol.


  14. We had an old upright piano at home when I was young. My sister had lessons but didn’t like them and didn’t practice so I was not allowed lessons. I did teach myself to play (not very well) with the aid of a music book of Beatles songs and the scant music reading knowledge I’d gained from school. My players no may not have been good but I did love to play. I do wish I’d been allowed piano lessons. When Mother died we donated to old piano to an old folks home. I like to think it got good use there and imagine the old folks gathered around it singing while someone played.


    1. Music lessons often seem to be wasted on the young. We gave our children opportunity for piano lessons and they learned to play well enough to participate in recitals, but neither of them can play anything now. Our grandson Ian has asked for a keyboard for his birthday, so we’ll see.

      Your regrets musically have probably turned into gratification for the old folks. I can’t think of a better place to make such a donation, Marie.

      Liked by 1 person

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