PA Dutch celebrated
Published: March 7, 2013
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PITMAN - Chances are most of us haven't heard the songs, "Doh hockt sie uff dem gli-gla-Gletzel" or "Schpinn, schpinn, mei liewi Dochder". ("There she sits on the little block of wood" and "Spin, spin, my dear daughter".)
Thanks to the generosity of a well-respected Pennsylvania Dutch folk studies expert, and the efforts of the Mahantongo Heritage Center in Pitman, those recordings are among a treasure of audio history that's being made readily available to local residents.
Dr. Don Yoder, Professor Emeritus of Folklife Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, gave permission to Brothers Johannes and Christian Zinzendorf, founders of the center, to use his wire recordings of Pa. Dutch folk songs and interviews and combine them with photo collections donated to the center.
The center arranged for CD copies of Yoder's recordings and the photographic collection to be available at the Tri-Valley Public Library in Hegins, the Schuylkill County Historical Society in Pottsville, and the Gratz Historical Society in Gratz, Dauphin County.
"I'm one of the primary historians of the Mahantongo and Hegins valleys," said Yoder during a phone interview with The Citizen-Standard from his Devon, Pa., home. "I wanted them (recordings) to be available in the community where they were recorded."
The recordings - most made during the 1940s in Schuylkill, Dauphin and Northumberland counties - can also be heard by visitors to the Mahantongo Heritage Center.
There are seven volumes of The Don Yoder Collection of Wire Recordings from The American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, as well as two CDs featuring The Larona Heim Collection of Mahantongo Valley Photographs and the Faye Arlene Kopp Photograph Collection from the center that are featured. Brother Johannes Zinzendorf reported he delivered the compiled CDs to the respective societies and library last week.
According to Yoder, his great grandfather, Jacob Beisel Hepler, actually resided on the Pitman farm where the Mahantongo Heritage Center is now located. His grandmother, Mary Hepler Yoder was born there.
Yoder, a founding member of the American Folklife Center, co-founder of the Pennsylvania Folklife Society and past president of the American Folklore Society, is a highly-regarded author. He is currently writing a book about Pennsylvania Dutch writers.
He was gathering information for one of his books, "Songs Along the Mahantongo", when the initial wire recordings were made in the 1940s. The book, published in the 1950s, was a collaboration with Walter Boyer and his cousin, Albert Buffington.
He recorded songs and interviews using a wire recorder, which he recalls was a "heavy machine to carry around". He said oftentimes, the wires that were on a reel became snarled and some recordings were lost.
He donated the original wire recordings into the care of the Library of Congress.
"It was a thrill to have met them," said Yoder, of the Pennsylvania Dutch speaking families he interviewed.
His Aunt Emma Yoder also contributed to his research and the wire recordings. "My Aunt Emma had an almost photographic memory and she learned the songs," he said. Another one of Yoder's books, "Pennsylvania Spirituals", 1961, featured several Dutch choruses and Don Yoder said 49 of the 150 songs in that book were contributed by his aunt.
On spool #13 people can hear several songs on the CDs, which are believed to have been sung by Emma Yoder. They include, "Ya, wir kommen, ya wir kommen, wir kommen, liewer Heiland," (Yes we're coming, dear Savior); and "Lasst uns geh in dem Licht" (Let us walk in the Light).
Brother Johannes Zinzendorf said he had known of Don Yoder for years and had always enjoyed his book, "Songs Along the Mahantongo". That's what prompted him to seek his consent for usage of his recordings.
"I contacted Don on behalf of the Heritage Center, and I told him I wanted some music to play while people visited," said Zinzendorf, who obtained the digital files to make the CDs.
Director of the Schuylkill County Historical Society Peter Yasenchak, PhD., said the society does have some photos from Don Yoder, but didn't currently have any Pennsylvania Dutch recordings on file and is happy to receive them.
While the society already hosts some ethnic exhibits from time to time, featuring Lithuanian, Italian or Russian heritage, there hasn't been a specific Pennsylvania Dutch section.
"I'm sure we'll have something on the Pennsylvania Dutch coming up. . .Very few young people know the language," Yasenchak said.