THE subject of this sketch, J. H. Kurzenknabe, was born m Moenchehof, Kurhessen, Germany, June 18, 1840. He was left an orphan in childhood, and spent part of his early years in Cassel attending the public and industrial schools. On September 13, 1854, when emigration fever in that city was at its height, he secured the necessary papers, and with $400 in gold started for the promised land, America.
The long voyage in a sailing vessel via Bremen to New York lasted seven weeks, forty-nine days of storm and sunshine. Being already at his early age, fourteen years old, a clever violinist, he made friends on board by his frank manners and sweet music so obligingly rendered. An incident occurred here which in after time came back to bless and assist him : - Among the passengers was an aged lady whose children had preceded her to America, and then later sent for the old mother. She suffered from seasickness and weakness almost the entire voyage. The German lad, mindful of the loving kindness of a mother, of whom he was so early bereft, ministered to her wants, and paid her every attention until they landed in New York. Her children, who were there to meet her, soon learned of the kindness of the boy. " Save the boy ; - the boy who was so good to your mother." In the family he found a temporary home and friends, and in after years was not forgotten.
J. H. Kurzenknabe is a born musician and followed the bent of his mind; later he went to school in a Pennsylvania seminary, where he attained an English education, and prosecuted his musical studies to make for himself a name as a teacher of vocal music, and of the violin. Still later he studied under Wm. B. Bradbury, one of America's greatest musical writers, and one of the noblest of men. Then he associated himself with that prince of musicians, Geo. F. Root, for a short time, and after that travelled through the states of New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and back again to Maryland, teaching classes, choirs, conventions, cornet bands, orchestras, and leading the music of teachers' institutes. He settled for time, with headquarters at Hagerstown, Md., where at the age of nineteen to twenty he married a sweet-faced girl bride of fourteen and a half years, who brought sunshine to his life. He resided successively in Baltimore, York, Pa., Philadelphia, Camden and Moorestown, N. J., New York, Boston, Dedham, Mass. ; then the Civil War came on and he went back again to Hagerstown. Then Sunbury, Mercersburg, McConnellsburg, Mechanicsburg, and at last Harrisburg, Pa., claimed him as a citizen, and would not permit him to get away. Here for the past forty years has been his home, where he has been engaged in writing songs, teaching music in almost every town and city in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and together with his sons has charge of a piano and music store.
Professor Kurzenknabe is highly esteemed in his home city for his generous disposition, his unbounded enthusiasm and social qualities. He has always been an untiring worker, active in measures for the best interests of Harrisburg. He was chairman of the Publication Committee of the Board of Trade for the first twelve years of its existence, and is honored wherever he is known.
In 1894 the professor was the president of the Pennsylvania State Music Teachers' Association, including in its membership all of the foremost teachers and musicians in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and the leading cities and towns throughout the state.
J. H. Kurzenknabe's Sunday-school, day school and church music books of which he has been the author and publisher are known wherever song is loved. All of them attained a large sale ; one of them, " Sowing and Reaping," sold over 300,000 copies, and all have yet a fair demand.
Orders for his books, "The Reward," "Song Treasury," "Peerless Praise," "Gates Ajar," "Songs and Glees," "Music at Sight," "Wreath of Gems," "Rudiments of Music," "Songs and Hymns," "Sowing and Reaping," "Fair as the Morning," "Gospel Trio," "Kindly Light," and "Sweet Silvery Echoes," have come from almost every state and territory in the United States and Canada, and books have been shipped to England, Germany, Porto Rico, Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan, and some of his songs have been translated into German, Spanish, Hungarian, Swedish, Chinese and Japanese.
St. John's Reformed Church, Harrisburg, Pa., where he worships, he organized as a Sunday-school in 1893, and in 1899 as a congregation ; there his remarkable activity and faithfulness find their reward in advancing years, happy to enjoy the fruit of his labors through grace of the Lord Jesus, which has sustained him in all his pilgrimage with richest mercies.
In 1901 Professor Kurzenknabe, accompanied by one of his daughters, paid a visit to the home of his childhood, and remained for three months in the Fatherland. Happy days were these, never to be forgotten. He kept a diary of his ten days' sea-voyage to Bremen, and to Cassel, to Frankfurt and eisbaden. Thence down the German Rhine, the charmed river, to Mayence, Bingen, Ruedesheim, Saint Goar, Coblenz, Alternach, Remagen, Bonn, and on to Coeln (Cologne), eight days on the beautiful Rhine. Thence through Westphalia, the once kingdom of Jerome Bonaparte, back to Cassel and the many cities to Erfurt, Meiningen, Eisenach, to the Wartburg, and back to Cassel, and the scenes of his childhood days, thence to Berlin, Hanover, Bremen, and return passage to New York. Notes are gathered for a splendid lecture with which to delight his audiences wherever it is delivered by the professor.
In 1906 he niet with the first serious illness of his life. Out gathering offerings for his beloved St. John's chapel then building, he received a stroke of paralysis, ascribed by his attending physician as due to over enthusiasm, since which time his weakened health debarred him from following his loved profession of teaching ; however to-day his body, every member, is again restored to its normal state, enabling him to meet lecture engagements, etc.
Professor Kurzenknabe is the author of a number of fine essays on topics very popular wherever delivered before a music-loving audience. " Music for the Masses" (a forcible plea for music to be taught in the public schools), "Church Music," "Musical Culture," " An Evening with Song," " Music in the Sunday School," " ost Opportunities," and the above described German lecture, entitled " An Evening Abroad."
Professor Kurzenknabe has several important works in manuscript ready for publication.
Professor Kurzenknabe and his charming wife are cheered by their eleven surviving children, all musicians : three sons, prominent musical writers, three other sons, overseeing the music business, with two daughters assisting, and three other daughters, well settled in life. His declining years are serene and happy. The Golden Wedding of their honored parents on November 13, 1909, surely will linger in their memory.
Two daughters and two sons have fallen asleep. "What a gathering that will be" when, reunited, all join in praising "Him who is worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing, forever and ever."- Amen.
Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers by J.H. Hall, 1914.