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Spring 2003 · Vol. 32 No. 1 · pp. 75–85 

Katherine Friesen: Tabor’s First Instructor in Music

Clarence Hiebert

Tabor College officially began on September 14, 1908. This new school, sponsored by Mennonite Brethren (MB) and Krimmer Mennonite Brethren (KMB), represented the culmination of the hopes and dreams of pioneer immigrant parents who had come from Russia three decades earlier. Though many ideas had been aired about what their own school of “higher education” would look like, there was no unified, pre-established, well-set curriculum. The ultimate focus they envisioned was a college. Diverse opinions abounded, however, regarding the purpose, function, and style of their “own school,” and their rapidly “Americanizing” sons and daughters also had strong notions of what this school should be.

In 1908, twenty-six year old Katherine Friesen was appointed Instructor in Music for which she received the cost of her tuition plus ten dollars for each class she taught.

Mostly, the immigrant parents wanted to emulate their cherished cultural and religious orientation, which did not always mesh with the outlook of their offspring. Many envisioned seeing their children as farmers, tillers of the soil. The available wide open spaces of their new homeland, America, intrigued the parents more than many of their sons and daughters. The parents prioritized a focus on retaining German and Bible knowledge, along with gaining rudimentary skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic. For their offspring this was too limited a scope. 1

By 1908, most of these young newcomers had completed what was available in one-room country schools with some added {76} church-sponsored sessions. Increasingly, these immigrant children wanted “higher education” in exciting new fields, such as the sciences, technology, medical professions, business, education, and music, giving evidence of different aspirations than those of their parents.


The first Tabor College catalogue, which was published after school commenced in 1908, indicates that thirty-nine enrolled at the beginning of the school year, increasing by the end of the year to one hundred. Beginning with two instructors, the college by year’s end could boast four full-time teachers, assisted by several adjuncts. An early report indicates that of the seventy-nine enrolled in the Academy (high school) program in 1908, fifty-four were in vocal music and eight in instrumental music. The report further indicates that sixty-two enrolled in the Bible program and twenty in the Business program. There is no census given for the other two programs listed below.

It is evident that some students enrolled in more than one program because the total in these three programs numbers one hundred sixty-three. None are listed in either Preparatory School studies or College studies. The seventy-nine enrolled in high school studies are probably a total of both the German-English and English options. There is no clear indication in which programs the fifty-four were enrolled who were taking vocal music, nor concerning the eight in instrumental music.

Here follows a brief explanation of the various programs:

  1. Preparatory School studies (two-year course for those who had not completed the eight-year public school education)
  2. German-English Academy (three-year high school studies)
  3. English Academy (four-year high school studies, which were primarily preparatory studies for teacher education courses in the college program)
  4. Bible course (five-year course, all in German, for those who had completed high school and were preparing for church or mission ministries)
  5. College program (four-year liberal arts studies after completion of high school)
  6. Business program (one-year course of studies in business) 2 {77}

In the first decade of Tabor’s existence there was considerable modification and altering of the course offerings to accommodate the many levels at which students entered their studies. We should note that it was not unusual for denominational colleges to make such accommodations to the level of entry of their immigrant children. It was not until 1926 that the number of students enrolled in College studies was higher than those completing high school (Academy) studies. The Academy program was closed in 1949. 3


In 1906 Anna Marion Friesen, from Mountain Lake, Minnesota, married Henry W. Lohrenz, Tabor’s president-elect. In 1908, a year and a half later, Henry received his Bachelor of Arts degree from McPherson College, thirty miles from nearby Hillsboro where about two hundred and fifty Mennonite Brethren attended church between the years of 1898 and 1905. 4 A conversation which Anna, Henry’s wife shared, dating back to those years, offers insight into what the founding of Tabor represented for him. Anna was the daughter of Julius Friesen, an unusually forward-looking person whose family emigrated from Russia to Boone County, Nebraska, in 1879. Julius Friesen attained a physician’s license at age fifty from the Kansas City Homeopathic College in 1895, making him the first MB to attain that degree. His daughter, Anna Marion (1877-1975), graduated with a B.A. from Mankato State University, Minnesota, in 1904, making her the first MB to receive a college degree.

Anna and H. W. married when he was twenty-eight. In 1957, when she was eighty years of age, Anna reflected on her husband’s preoccupation in those early years related to the educational needs of MB and KMB young people. Just four days after their wedding in Minnesota in 1906 the two of them were on a train en route to Kansas to establish their new home. She reported:

We had just settled comfortably in our coach seats. It was then that my companion looked straight into my eyes and said “Was werden wir fuer unsere Jugend tun?” (“What will we do for our young people?”). He had patiently waited till the wedding activities were over and the painful farewells were behind us. Now I could give him my undivided attention to that which was uppermost in his heart. . . . I was a bit puzzled, since I did not know the circumstances of his church. We had not seen each other for nearly four years. He carefully conveyed to me the general trend of his people. 5 {78}

Mrs. Lohrenz was a remarkable person. She had attended McPherson College a few years prior to her graduation from Mankato. She was not only H. W. Lohrenz’s wife but also an academic colleague. Throughout her life she shared common interests, conference ministries, and various other concerns with her husband. She kept abreast of world events, read widely, and was conversant in many areas of thought.

A contemporary, Esther (Hiebert) Ebel, once commented, “H. W. Lohrenz and his wife made up a team—and she was the dominant one in that team. He was reticent; she was more relational in reaching out to people. Together they modeled an ideal marriage partnership.” 6 Later she also studied at the University of Kansas and at other schools when re-location for H. W.’s additional studies took them elsewhere. Later, when needed, she occasionally taught some of his classes at Tabor when other duties necessitated his absence from the College. The Julius Friesen home from which she came seemed to foster an open atmosphere for such broad interests and studies.


One of the first students to enroll at Tabor that first year was Anna’s sister Katherine Friesen, H. W. Lohrenz’s sister-in-law. Katherine was asked to teach music in the absence of any other available teacher and was named “Instructor in Music.” For two years she filled that role in addition to being a student and graduating from a two-year course in 1910. Little is known about the preparation this twenty-six year old student had to teach music. One must assume that this was another one of the broad disciplines she and her sister Anna learned in their home.

Some of this is reflected in comments about the father, Julius Friesen, translated from the German in a 1936 obituary relating to important highlights of his life:

Brother Julius Friesen, our dear father, was born in Muensterburg, Russia, October 30, 1848. When he was fifteen he lost his mother, and at age twenty he became a member of the Lichtenau Mennonite Church. Two years later, through the proclamation of God’s Word by minister Bernhard Harder, he experienced an awakening, which was followed by serious struggles and extensive searching in God’s Word, leading to his being born again to a living hope in Jesus. Through his baptism [based] on this living faith, he was received into the membership of the Mennonite Brethren Church, to which he remained faithful to the end. {79}

In 1875, father married a widow, Anna Enns, born Janzen, and thereby assumed responsibilities for her two children. After four years he participated in organizing a group emigrating to America. Here our parents found a new home in Boone County, Nebraska, experiencing the pioneer years. The Lord faithfully provided for them.

In spiritual matters the faithful Guardian of our parents kept them and their children as well, all of whom were converted, experiencing that which the Lord has promised. On that day none will be missing. As father had opportunities to do so, he participated in the proclamation of God’s Word in Petersburg, Nebraska, where he also served as the church leader. 7


The setting and situation of Julius’ era and his own mind-set offer some insights into the dynamics of his life and into the two influences which undoubtedly have to do with the involvement of his two daughters in these early days of Tabor’s origin. Julius’ “conversion experience,” two years after he apparently routinely became a member of the Kirchliche Mennonite body in 1870, was a radical step. For him to decide to became a part of that new, often despised, “Brethren” body which had seceded ten years earlier from the mainline Kirchliche body, was a bold, highly-charged, and often family-alienating decision. This new, counter-stream movement challenged traditional Mennonite ways, practices, and emphases. To be a “joiner” subsequently shaped not only one’s entire orientation to life priorities and emphases, but also resulted in strained relations with all others in these close-knit families and communities. 8

Some of the practices that resulted from this experienced “awakening” had to do with what happened among themselves when they met together. Though theoretically their basic orientation and teachings on the Anabaptist/Mennonite moorings remained the same, some of the cardinal emphases were rediscovered and practices changed. In particular this had to do with their greater openness to express and share their experienced faith and insights from God’s Word. They were nurtured in the sharing of their experienced relationship to God and to each other.

Another of these distinctives had to do with music-making. They no longer found satisfaction in singing only “die alte, schlepende Lieder” (those old, slow, dragging songs). At first they found some of the pietistic songs used by other Europeans inspirational. They were even more {80} intrigued in discovering and using translated Gospel songs from Britain and America. In particular, Ernst Gebhardt’s Frohe Botschaft in Lieder song collection became a favorite. Those who came to America soon used the 1897 published songbook, Evangeliums Lieder. 9

It is an oversimplification to infer that only these two dynamics were at work. At least two scholars have researched the fallout of this MB readiness to incorporate different music into their new ways. 10 Not only was the genre of Gospel songs introduced, but there was a readiness to move into other new genre of sacred music which the more tradition-bound Mennonites had refused to explore. This new “open window” approach to European and Western world compositions also triggered an invitation to the whole world of classical religious music, according to these historians.

In particular this represented an introduction to extensive choral works and local church choirs, a much broader use of musical instruments and, ultimately, a delight in choral selections and oratorios. 6 It was not much longer after that when most of their mainline Russian Mennonite emigrant colleagues pursued this MB interest—particularly after they readily aligned themselves with the progressive General Conference Mennonites in America who had also found and seceded from their more traditional American Mennonite colleagues and awakened to similar interests in missions, Sunday school, less traditional garb, and other similar changes.


When twenty-six year old Katherine Friesen became Tabor’s first “Instructor in Music,” she taught organ (reed/pump) and vocal music. Nothing is available that informs us what she taught in her curriculum of musical studies or what vocal selections she used. It is clear that her orientation was shaped by some of the underlying progressive dynamics described above.

Between the first and the second year of Tabor’s operation, the June 7, 1909, Board of Directors’ minutes include several matters pertaining to music instruction:

Minute 11: We have a note from Prof. Schmutz from Newton in which he indicates that, under appropriate conditions, he is prepared to offer a complete program of music instruction for our music department. Since we could not arrive at a united response on this, we dropped the matter of this offer for the present. 11 {81}

Minute 12: For music instruction we agreed that Sister Katherine Friesen be appointed again to serve in this capacity as she did the previous year: for her tuition cost and $10.00 for each class if this materializes daily; for the other classes as needed she would be remunerated according to the time spent; organ instruction is left completely to her.

Minute 13: Sister Kath. Friesen raised the question about the use of the organ during the summer. It was agreed that she was free to use it. 12

In an undated report from the faculty for the first year of Tabor’s operation, some statistics for classes and students were listed. A total of forty-four different courses were taught with numbers attached concerning enrollees in the various departments. The report states: “In the Music Department an arrangement was made for there to be two singing classes for students. In addition to this, eight had organ instruction. . . . In order to meet all of the instructional needs, some of the advanced students assisted in providing this.” One cannot be entirely sure what is meant by “singing classes.”

In the first Tabor Blue Jay annual published, covering the academic years 1908-1916, one picture of a male octet is dated 1909. It is likely that Katherine Friesen also served as the coach for this group. Subsequently, male octets became a popular musical ensemble that formed and performed each year for the next half century. Organ and piano instruction was introduced in the early years, with guitar, violin, and wood/brass ensembles forming music ensembles in the decade that followed.

After graduation from her two-year course at Tabor, Katherine moved back to Enid, Oklahoma. She married Cornelius P. Regier (1872-1947) and had a family of three children. Little else is known about her. It is known that her husband embraced new ways and interests appropriate to the broader fields exhibited by the Julius Friesen family. In Regier’s obituary one senses the frustration he felt having experienced only the meager fare which a district, rural school offered. In his adult years his hunger for knowledge led him, at several points along the way, to further brief educational experiences in York and Freeman, Nebraska, and to biblical studies in Fort Wayne, Indiana; Cleveland, Ohio; Rochester, New York; and Moody Bible Institute, Chicago. Though occasionally involved in farming, he was dominantly involved in business ventures in three lumber yards. He was also active {82} in church work as a Sunday school teacher and as a youth worker. For twenty years he served as treasurer for MB Conference home mission ministries. 13


Mennonites of all kinds and in various scattered settings had used different traditional methods of learning music. There are four “song learning” methods, three of which were likely used by some of those who enrolled at Tabor.

Oral Tradition. This approach “handed-down music” by rote-learning methods, either (a) melody and word “lining,” or (b) word only for familiar tunes. A person who had the knack for “lining out” a song would have the singers, upon learning a new or less familiar song, simply repeat phrases sung, or tunes, commonly known in homes or congregations. These were informally passed on to the next generation through common and frequent usage. The frequency of the use of this method is indicated by the proportionally large number of hymnals which were published as “words only” editions.

Cipher (Ziffern) or Number System. This was a doh-reh-me system which indicated note interval through numbers, e.g., doh (1) - me (3) - so (5) chord. These were placed on a staff with dots representing the length or duration that the note was to be held. This method was so popular that one music teacher, H. H. Franz, transcribed complete song collections from “note systems” to cipher singing in order to use the method that people understood best. This system is still in use, for example, by some Mennonites in Russia, Germany, and Paraguay. 14

Notes. This is what most of us are accustomed to using. It is likely that Katherine Friesen was seeking to teach the enrollees at Tabor this method in order to be able to use, by far, the most common Christian and classical musical literature available for both vocal and instrumental music.

Shaped Notes. This is a combination of notes that are “shaped” (e.g., triangle, square, round, etc.) indicating where the pitch falls in a do-reh-me system. This approach, it appears, was never used by Mennonites who came from the Prussian/Russian tradition, but was the most common system used by “American” Mennonites, those who largely had emigrated to the eastern U.S. and Canada from southern Europe in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. It was and is a system widely used in songs of the southeastern U.S. and is often associated with publications historically produced by the Stamps/Baxter Music Company. {83}


The lyrics of Tabor’s popular alma mater, “Tried and True,” written by B. E. Ebel in 1911, was in use by students within a few years of Tabor’s beginning. Its tune, “Carmen,” was a popular one used by other universities at that time, e.g., Yale University.

In the first quarter century of Tabor’s existence there were twenty different, full-time or adjunct, music instructors. Data on how many of these graduated with a major in music, or who went on to make significant contributions in music, is not readily available. In this first quarter century only three served as music faculty members for five or more years. Henry W. Berg, A.B., B.M., served the longest and significantly as professor of voice and theory as well as the Director of the Department for ten years between 1919-1932. He was the first to institute the a cappella choir after 1927. The other two that served for longer periods were Emma Mae Rupp, who served for seven years as piano instructor (1919-1926), and Dorothy E. Cowles, B.M., who served for five years as instructor of piano and violin between 1926 and 1936.

It appears that only about four of the other twenty were of Mennonite moorings. A number had studied at Bethany College in Lindsborg’s renowned Music Department. At least eleven taught instrumental music. The first Tabor College Band, 1913-1914, was composed of nineteen brass and woodwind players and two drums, under the direction of A. E. Janzen. The first “orchestra” was an ensemble of eight guitar players under the direction of H. P. Jantz, 1916-1917. G. Lewis Doll, B.M. (1922-1924), had fifteen violin students. A. D. Schmutz, M.M., conducted A. R. Gaul’s The Holy City, which was subsequently offered by Tabor more than thirty-five times. These interesting developments suggest the value of further research into the early days of Tabor’s music program.


  1. Some literature is available about the stresses felt by the first generation of American-born children of ethnically German immigrants from Russia. Their exposure to so much that was new, to their parents who had been so thoroughly “Mennonite-programmed” in Russia, and to lifestyle and worldview expectations of fellow Menno-nites in their communities was quite intense at times. For a description of these experiences among central Kansas Mennonites by a 1913 Tabor graduate, see Cornelius Cicero Janzen, “Americanization of the Russian Mennonites in Central Kansas” (M.A. thesis, {84} University of Kansas, 1914), copy available at the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies (CMBS), Hillsboro, Kansas.
  2. See the Tabor College catalogue, 1908-1909, on file at the CMBS, Hillsboro.
  3. Wesley J. Prieb and Don Ratzlaff, To a Higher Plane of Vision: Tabor College—The First 75 Years (Hillsboro, KS: Tabor College, 1983), 8-21. This is a good source for a brief history of Tabor College.
  4. Between 1883 and 1927, some forty to sixty MB students enrolled in the Rochester, New York, German Baptist Seminary. This institution was viewed by these immigrants, at least in part, as an extension of the Baptist Seminary in Hamburg, Germany, where some of their former Russian faith colleagues received their education. A number of those who attended the Rochester school also subsequently studied at McPherson College, McPherson, Kansas, and became teaching colleagues at Tabor. Examples include Peter C. Hiebert, Henry F. Toews, and John J. Franz. See Clarence Hiebert, “Mennonite Brethren-Baptist Relations in the United States,” in Mennonites and Baptists: A Continuing Conversation, ed. Paul Toews (Winnipeg, MB and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1993), 147-76.
  5. Clarence Hiebert, “Early Influences in the Shaping of H. W. Lohrenz,” unpublished manuscript, 1993(?), pp. 52-54. CMBS, Hillsboro.
  6. Ibid., 56.
  7. Zionsbote, 23 December 1936, 13.
  8. John B. Toews, Perilous Journey: The Mennonite Brethren in Russia, 1860-1910 (Winnipeg, MB and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1988).
  9. Methodist minister Ernst Gebhardt’s Frohe Botschaft in Lieder (Basel: Splitter, 1875), was a collection of 115 songs, repeatedly published and still in print. Two decades later, many of these were incorporated into the German Evangelium’s Lieder, edited by Walter Rauschenbusch. Some will recognize the following which came from the 1875 Gebhardt collection: “Ich weiss einen Strom,” “In der Felsenkluft geborgen/Unter seinem sanften Fittich,” “Ich brauch’ Dich allezeit,” “So lang’ mein Jesus lebt,” “Ich hoerte Jesu Freundesruf,” “Welch ein treuer Freund ist Jesus.”
  10. Peter Letkemann, “The Hymnody and Choral Music of Mennonites in Russia” (Ph.D. diss., University of Toronto, 1985), available at the CMBS, Hillsboro; Wesley Berg, From Russia with Music: A Study of the Mennonite Choral Singing Tradition in Canada (Winnipeg, MB: Hyperion, 1985). {85}
  11. A. D. Schmutz, who held a Master of Music degree from a Chicago conservatory, taught music at Tabor in 1913-1914. He, more than anyone else up to this point in Tabor’s music department, seems to have offered inspiration in his music-making. In 1917-1918 he returned to Tabor as a part-time professor for a short while, dividing his time with Bethel College, Newton, Kansas.
  12. “Erster Jahresbericht der Fakultaet von Tabor College,” unpublished minutes, no date. CMBS, Hillsboro.
  13. Zionsbote, 19 March 1947, 5-6.
  14. Johann Peter Classen and Elizabeth Horsch Bender, “Ziffersystem,” Mennonite Encyclopedia, vol. 4 (Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1959), 1027-28.
Clarence Hiebert is Professor Emeritus of Biblical/Religious Studies and History at Tabor College where he taught from 1962 to 1991.

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