BY C H A RL ES A . T IE RN EY III, H EA D OF S C H OOL
The Voice Moody’s baritone rings out in Memorial Chapel.
Wanted: a gramophone to play records made in the 1890s. Yes, Northfield Mount Hermon is all about investing in its future and examining how it can best educate today’s teenagers, so why should I care about acquiring a piece of equipment that’s more than 100 years old? Because for years I have wanted to hear D.L. Moody’s voice. I was talking recently with NMH Archivist Peter Weis ’78 about how much I love old-school typewriters, record players, and cameras, and, in a graceful segue, he produced a pair of gramophone records that contained the actual voice of D.L. Moody, our school’s founder. Weis reported that on the records, Moody was reading from the Book of Matthew and Psalm 91. The records themselves were heavy and Moody’s signature was etched onto one of them. Someone had attempted to digitize the recordings, and Weis shared audio files with me along with the actual records. The sound quality of the files was poor, yet what treasures! As a historian, I often swim about in the past while thinking about how to connect it with the present and the future. I immediately wanted to play these recordings in Memorial Chapel, to have Moody’s voice, which hadn’t been heard in public for almost 120 years, resound in the ears of students, faculty, and staff. I consulted eBay and Craigslist for a gramophone so we could play the original recordings as they were meant to be played. No luck. I decided to forge ahead with the audio files. We are always sharing stories about Moody, but for the entire campus
community to actually hear his voice? It would be incredibly meaningful. The man had a high baritone, and in the decades before and after he founded Northfield and Mount Hermon, he spoke to crowds of up to 20,000 people without amplification. He was an international celebrity, traveling around the world and tirelessly delivering his messages of “Love one another” and “Do all you can to make the world a better place.” In 1891, he spent three months in Scotland, where he spoke three or four times a day for 90 consecutive days. There had to be great power in such a man, and in his message, to draw all those people and hold them. Here and now at NMH, the words “humanity” and “purpose,” which come from Moody, serve as a beating heart; they are the rhythm of NMH, what keeps it at its best. Still, they are abstract ideas waiting to be put into practice. Moody’s voice on those gramophone records, though, gives us his humanness. Institutions do all sorts of things to represent their founders, yet there is nothing purer than a person’s voice to demonstrate who they are, or who they were. We played the Book of Matthew recording sans gramophone in Memorial Chapel on Founder’s Day, our annual celebration of Moody’s birthday. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth …” The sound was subpar, scratchy and faint, without the rich resonance I had envisioned. Nevertheless, it was Moody’s voice echoing throughout the crowded chapel, giving weight to all the stories and grounding us in a real person, not just a figure in a history book. [NMH]
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The Magazine of Northfield Mount Hermon