Growing up as an Old Order Amish kid, I was sheltered from worldly music of any kind. In fact, I was so sheltered from worldly music that I remember clearly the first time that I heard rock and roll music.
I was probably about 11 or 12 years old and riding my bicycle to school. As I pedaled my way around a corner in the road, I heard the beautiful clash of drums (any music with drum beats, we called ‘rock and roll’). Some non-Amish person had their home stereo system cranked so that I could clearly hear the music from the road. I stopped pedaling and just listened for a bit. The music washed over me and it was an intensely pleasurable and naughty experience. I knew that if I were a good little Amish boy, I would’ve kept pedaling and would’ve tried to block the music from my awareness.
In our young sheltered lives, we Amish children rarely had the opportunity to listen to worldly music. When picking a local taxi to drive us to town every couple months or so, my Dad would take into account the music that the driver was known to play. We would hire a rock and roll taxi only if it was an emergency. Such was the completeness with which we were sheltered from music.
I’m not exactly sure why the Amish frown on worldly music so much. I guess they fear that it has a corrupting influence on young minds. I suspect that a lot of the frowning stems from the Bible’s proclamation that music should be for God’s enjoyment.
In Amish church services and Sunday evening singings, there would be no bands and no instruments of any kind – there would only be a capella singing. The singing was nice but I would’ve preferred the head-bouncing rhythms of rock and roll.
One of my Amish friends, whom apparently had heard way more rock and roll than I ever had, was pretty good at beatboxing. Every time I heard him do it, I would mentally compare it with the music that I had heard on the way to school that day long ago. Using only his lungs and his mouth, he could belt out rhythms and drumbeats that sounded exactly like rock and roll music to me. It sounded so good to me that I would often encourage him to do it again, and again.
One day, my Amish friend, who was quite the rebellious kid, took me to some English person’s barn. The barn had electricity – the perfect place to hide and listen to a stereo if one had the balls to do it. We were trespassing of course – the owner of the barn had no idea what my friend’s older brother had hidden in his barn. We slipped into the barn, dusted the older brother’s stereo off, plugged it in, and for the first time ever, I heard “Way down yonder on the Chattahootchie”. It was the best ‘rock and roll’ that I had ever heard.
For years after that, I loved country music because of the experience I had listening to Alan Jackson songs in that old barn.
When I was about 14 years old or so, our community had another one of its annual school benefit auctions. This auction drew thousands of Amish and non-Amish from around the nation to buy and sell stuff. A portion of the proceeds went to supporting the local Amish parochial school.
In this auction there were always a lot of vendors selling products from booths (rather than on the auction). These vendors were often non-Amish and not limited by Amish beliefs in what they could sell. Luckily for me, one of these vendors was selling a bunch of little radio sets for about $10 a piece.
I checked around to make sure that no Amish people were watching me and with the encouragement of my two like-minded Amish buddies, I got up the nerve to buy a little radio. After procuring batteries for it, we spent the rest of the afternoon listening to the awesome quantity of rock and roll music that was being broadcast over the airwaves. It was my first big step into the larger universe.
Several days later my little radio found itself in Dad’s possession. I’m not sure how he had gotten hold of it. Perhaps my mom had discovered the radio in one of her periodic checks for contraband in my bedroom. He called me into the shop for a “talk” and there it was – sitting on the desk.
Surprisingly, he was very understanding of my “bad” behavior. He didn’t rebuke me very strongly but he did tell me that he had to destroy it. Having an interest in how things work I decided to give him an alternate course of action. I told him that rather than destroy it, I wanted to take it apart to see how it worked. I promised that after I was finished with it I would no longer be able to listen to music with it. To my surprise, he agreed to it. In this way, he was a very good Amish Dad. Most Amish Dads would have destroyed the radio, preached to the boy about the dangers of worldly music, whipped the boy severely, and then grounded him for several months.
While that was my first radio, it was by no means my last. Over the next several years I acquired quite a few more “boomboxes”. Some of them were destroyed by Dad, and others he never found.
My enjoyment of music hasn’t waned to this day although my preferred genres have changed. I have gone from country music to classic rock to contemporary rock and now I enjoy listening to pretty much everything but country music.