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Outstanding Alumnus 2009 known as composer, arranger

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – It’s possible that more people know the music than the name of this year’s Outstanding Alumnus at Bethel College, composer and arranger J. Harold Moyer.

As just one example, 10 hymns in Hymnal: A Worship Book (“the blue hymnal”), used in many Anabaptist congregations in North America, bear Moyer’s name as composer, arranger or tune harmonizer.

Moyer grew up at Bethel College as a “campus kid” (his father, John F. Moyer, worked in the business office), graduated from Newton High School, spent the bulk of his teaching career at Bethel College and has been active at Bethel College Mennonite Church his entire life.

Before he could finish his degree at Bethel, Moyer was drafted in 1945 into Civilian Public Service, near the end of World War II. He served at Camp Camino in California and at the Mennonite Central Committee office in Akron, Pa. After CPS, Moyer returned to Bethel, where he sang in the choir under the direction of Walter Hohmann and graduated in 1949 with a major in music and minor in education – and in company with two other distinguished music majors, the late Vernon Neufeld (president of Bethel College 1960-67) and Moyer’s colleague Walter Jost, professor emeritus of music, who taught at Bethel from 1960-92.

Moyer went from Bethel to George Peabody College in Nashville, Tenn., where he earned a master of music degree with a composition major in 1951. From 1951-55, he taught at Freeman (S.D.) Junior College and Freeman Academy and then went to the University of Iowa, where he completed his Ph.D. with a music composition major in 1957.

From 1957-59, Moyer taught at Goshen (Ind.) College. A cappella singing was rapidly gaining popularity in Mennonite worship and Moyer composed several hymns during his time at Goshen.

Moyer began teaching at Bethel in 1959, mainly music theory and composition. He continued to compose and arrange as he had time. Among his works during these years were a chamber opera, The Double Crosser (1959); Benjamin Grede (1961), an opera based on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; The Blowing and the Bending (1975), an opera about Kansas Mennonites’ experiences during World War I, with libretto by James C. Juhnke, Bethel professor emeritus of history; and the musical dramas The Plow and the Sword (1982) and Dirk’s Exodus (1990). Dirk’s Exodus, about 16th-century Anabaptist martyr Dirk Willems, was also a collaboration with Juhnke. In 1992, it won second place in a competition sponsored by the Association of Kansas Theatre for plays written by Kansas authors and produced in Kansas.

From 1960-67, Moyer was involved in developing The Mennonite Hymnal (“the red hymnal”), the first joint hymnal venture between the Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church (which combined in 2001 and re-formed into Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA). Moyer served as vice chair of the Joint Hymnal Committee. Thirteen of the hymns in The Mennonite Hymnal contain an original Moyer tune or harmonization.

Moyer has been involved with the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Choir since 1971, almost since its inception. He has written a number of anthems for the choir, which led to his relationship with the Mark Foster Music Co., Champaign, Ill., and publication of 14 of those anthems.

Moyer retired from teaching at Bethel in 1992 and received professor emeritus status the same year. He continues to give individual instruction in composition at Bethel.

Having retired at the same time, Moyer and Jost agreed to take over leadership of the Life Enrichment series at Bethel, geared to retirees from the community. This means arranging for and coordinating about 40 programs each semester for an average attendance of around 150 each Wednesday.

Moyer and his wife, Rosemary (Linscheid), a 1952 Bethel graduate, have two daughters, Janet Regier and Rachel Harrison, both Bethel graduates, and six grandchildren, two of them Bethel graduates (Daniel Regier and Miriam Regier) and one currently at Bethel (Peter Regier). Since all four of Harold and Rosemary’s parents graduated from Bethel, Peter represents the fourth generation at the college.

The Outstanding Alumnus Award is given on the basis of character and citizenship, service to church/community or college, or other outstanding achievements, honors and recognition.

Moyer and other alumni award winners will be honored at the annual Alumni Banquet Saturday, May 23, at 6 p.m. in Memorial Hall. As part of the banquet program, the Bethel College Concert Choir, under the direction of William Eash, will sing several compositions or arrangements by Moyer.

All alumni and friends of Bethel are invited to the Alumni Banquet. Those making banquet reservations will receive a discount if they do so with full payment by Friday, May 8. After that, all regular-price registrations must be received with payment by Wednesday, May 13.

Cost of the banquet is $17 per person if paying early, $19 regular price. To make a reservation, visit or phone Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center, Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-5 p.m., 316-284-5205. Payment or credit card information is required when the reservation is made. (No refunds can be given after May 15, since the Alumni Office will have been charged for reserved meals by that date.) Attenders receive a personalized nametag at the door that serves as their banquet ticket.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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