ARNOLD MOSHIER ’60, one of the best-known and longest-serving choral directors in the US Mennonite world, started his adult life as a farmer. For nine years he milked cows in northern New York. But this farmer preferred producing music in church.
As a teenager boarding at Eastern Mennonite High School, Moshier had studied voice and choral music with J. Mark Stauffer. When Moshier decided in his late 20s to explore music further, he headed back to Harrisonburg to learn from Stauffer again, this time at Eastern Mennonite College.
As the first full-time music teacher at Lancaster Mennonite School (LMS) in 1960, Moshier wanted to start a choral group.
“At that time the church community in Lancaster County didn’t acknowledge choral music as having a place in worship services”—or in Mennonite school settings, for that matter, he told a Lancaster Intelligencer reporter in 1999. Searching for acceptable alternatives, Moshier gained permission for 24 of his senior students to sing to inmates at the Lewisburg Penitentiary on Palm Sunday.
The group that sang at Lewisburg wanted to continue singing through the summer. They met once a week to rehearse in Moshier’s home. This marked the beginning of a touring choir that came to be called the Choraleers.
The 12/19/99 Intelligencer story by Lori Van Ingen summarized the Choraleers’ journey thus:
The teen singers toured locally until 1969, when they received an invitation to go to Jamaica. Until that point, the group had sung a cappella since instrumental music still was not accepted in Mennonite churches. But when they went to Jamaica, they were asked to bring a guitar and tambourine…
When they returned they sang with guitar accompaniment at Mount Joy Mennonite Church. It was a brand-new experience (for local Mennonite churches). They were packed wall to wall.
From 1970 to 1999, the Choraleers set out via van or bus at the end of each school year to offer music worship on the road. They performed a variety of Christian music from classical to contemporary and acted out biblical skits written by Moshier. As their fame grew, they expanded their touring, dividing into three teams, with two teams touring through different parts of North America and one team going to Central America – usually through Mexico to Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica – before driving back home.
They always made a point of stopping at national parks and singing at fireside gatherings and worship sites. In 1980, for instance, they sang to 2,500 people at the Easter sunrise service in Grand Canyon National Park.
Moshier’s wife, Maietta, is a licensed practical nurse who co-led the group and sometimes did medical service as part of the trip. The couple and their singers produced 15 albums.
Moshier, who taught at LMS until 1982, officially retired from choral directing at age 73. In 2008, however, when he was 81, Moshier led about 75 of his former singers, including daughter Karen Moshier-Shenk ’73, in a homecoming reunion concert at the LMS Fine Arts Center. Arnold and Maietta now live in Sarasota, Florida.