A Swiss Alphorn Concert with the theme of “Peace” was presented at Conestoga Mennonite Church on April 27. More than 400 people of diverse backgrounds and faiths from babies to seniors quietly filled the sanctuary, most arriving early to get a seat.
Director Ernst Baenninger and his daughter Anja Baenninger had arrived in New York the evening before from Switzerland, bringing 30 singers and yodelers, Alphorns, a flugelhorn, and guitar to build a bridge of music and faith between the two countries.
“We are so excited to be here in Morgantown. This is our first concert ever. Some of us know each other, some don’t. We have only practiced together for six months. My father is a chicken farmer with 20 thousand chickens near Zurich, in the Swiss, German Bernese Alps. We all pay our own way as we tour and sight see through the Amish and Mennonite lands in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York state and Canada. My father speaks little English, but I will translate for him as he directs tonight,” said Anja in her Swiss, German accent.
An interesting fact: here in the land where some speak Pennsylvania German as their native tongue, the commonality between the languages allows for easy conversation between them. One might see an Amish youth speaking to a Swiss yodeler in native dress.
In the lobby tending a table of CDs were Mrs. Ruth Baenninger, wife of the director, and Mrs. Ella Zook, wife of John Zook who along with Lemar and Lois Ann Mast were instrumental in organizing the event.
“It is a gift from the Lord that we can be here. We come to encourage others to live the life of the Lord through music. We are relieved how people have reacted to our challenge,” said Mrs. Baenninger.
“They bring joy through praise and Christian songs, some old, some different and new,” said Mrs. Zook
Seven Swiss Alphorns filled the stage, gleaming in the light of the ceiling chandeliers; their melodies like sweet breezes filled the room.
Sharon Stoltzfus representing the church spoke, “How did Morgantown’s Lemar and Lois Ann Mast lead European heritage tours that led to our guests being here tonight? Through their faith, agriculture, and music they have in common.”
Then John Zook from Quarryville, who has traveled extensively to Switzerland, met Ernest at a Swiss Festival, happy to meet a Swiss Christian with an Alphorn. Their friendship in Switzerland flourished and that is the connection. Zook is the organizer and facilitator who along with the Masts and the Lord made the concert happen.
She introduced Ernest the Director who said he has been involved with music most of his life and has come to encourage and strengthen their faith (his daughter translated for him).
“Wunderbar” – German for wonderful was the word for the night! He exclaimed it over and over, with jest, with praise, with love.
He went on, “It is the custom for the church bells to call people to the service. Our first song is a Swiss yodeling song. After church bells ring, we want to pray! Jesus is the center because he gives us peace in our hearts for all eternity. The Swiss Yodeling Song is combined with the Lord’s Prayer.
Heads bowed in prayer.
“As the sun shines high in the sky; I know that Christ is alive!”
With Anja at the baby grand piano and Ernest playing the guitar they sang:
“The Father sent his Son, the Son staid there high in the sky. When I see the sunshine, I know for sure that Christ is Alive. Jesus is Alive. Wunderbar!
“In High German and Swiss German, we brought a song we sing in Switzerland.”
Anja translated as they taught everyone to sing in rounds; the Men: “What Grace;” The Women: “God Gave Us His Son;” and the Choir in the back, “What Grace, What Grace!”
And just like that the room came alive, singing in rounds.
Women: “He Died on the Cross.” Men: “What Grace, What Grace!”
Women: “He Rose from the Grave.” Men: “What Grace, What Grace!”
Women: “He’s Coming Again.” Men: “What Grace, What Grace!”
Women: “Sing Hallelujah.” Men: “What Grace, What Grace!”
The simple rounds chanting life into the room, babies quieted, children stilled, mothers and fathers smiled, seniors at peace. Peace permeated the people, and it was good.
They taught all to sing a simple phrase in French, English and German, “The love of the Lord is so Wunderbar.”
He ministered, “In Switzerland it is 2 a.m. Live this life in Switzerland and America. In the end it is glory for us. To God alone be the glory that we have peace in our life. He put a stamp on us with his Holy Spirit. He comes to live within us, peace with God.”
It was a peaceable night; music is the universal language.
He asked for a show of hands of those who have been to Switzerland. About 50 hands were raised. Lois Ann Mast who along with her husband, Lemar, have led dozens of European Heritage Tours to unite people with their ancestral heritage are the owners of Masthof Press www.masthof.com. They publish a Mennonite Family History magazine, along with thousands of genealogy books. They along with John Zook delighted in the evening of building a bridge of music and peace to Switzerland, Germany, Holland, and more.
“I was impressed at the variety of persons in the audience, from babies to children standing in the aisles in order to see, to seniors smiling through the evening. The six different alphorns playing all at the same time was my favorite, inspiring, relaxing and calming! It was a blessing to all who attended! Ernst Baenninger includes a little humor with music and serious thoughts, a perfect blend to keep the audience alert,” reflected Lois Ann.