NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – John Harold Moyer, Bethel College professor emeritus of music who was known by many for his hymn arrangements and musical compositions, died Oct. 28 in North Newton, Kan., at age 85.
Ten hymns in Hymnal: A Worship Book (“the blue hymnal”), currently used in many Anabaptist congregations in North America, bear the name of J. Harold Moyer as composer, arranger or tune harmonizer.
Moyer was born May 6, 1927, in Newton to John F. and Helen Isaac Moyer, the youngest of three brothers (Herman and Melvin, both deceased). He grew up as a Bethel “campus kid” – his father worked in the business office – and graduated from Newton High School and Bethel College, where he also spent most of his teaching career.
Before he could finish his undergraduate 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 and graduated in 1949 with a major in music and minor in education. He then went 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. This period included the Korean War, and Moyer was drafted and served in 1-W service, teaching music at Boys’ Industrial School in Topeka, Kan.
He 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 College in 1959, mainly music theory and composition. He also taught at Conrad Grebel College, Waterloo, Ontario, for one year, 1973-74. He continued to compose and arrange as he had time.
At Bethel, Moyer taught music courses and served as chair of the music department. At various times, he was acting registrar, director of alumni relations and director of experiential learning.
He wrote numerous choral and instrumental compositions and arrangements, many of which have been performed locally by college, church and community groups.
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 Willms, 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. 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 was involved with the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Choir starting in 1971, almost since its inception. He wrote 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 continued to give individual instruction in composition at Bethel until 2011, when his health no longer permitted it.
Moyer and Walter Jost, also Bethel College professor emeritus of music, retired at the same time and then agreed to take over leadership of the Life Enrichment series at Bethel, geared to retirees from the community. Moyer continued with this until 2009.
Moyer was an active member of Bethel College Mennonite Church his entire life. He sang in the choir, taught junior high Sunday school and served on the Visitation Team.
He belonged to several professional and community organizations, including the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and the Kansas Music Educators Association.
In 2009, Moyer received the Bethel College Alumni Association’s Outstanding Alumnus Award, given on the basis of character and citizenship, service to church/community or college, or other outstanding achievements, honors and recognition.
Moyer and his wife, Rosemary (Linscheid), who survives, have two daughters, Janet (Dwight) Regier, Newton, and Rachel (Clayton) Harrison, Kirtland, N.M., and six grandchildren.