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.
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