Millersville University freshman Nanga Lin recently helped the choir at Lancaster’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church learn a new hymn in Chinese, which the choir will sing in a worship service at 10 a.m. March 6.
Lin, who was born and raised in China, first came to Lancaster with her mother when she was 12 to attend the 2015 Lancaster International Piano Festival. Two years later, she came back to study in the international program at Lancaster Mennonite High School.
“It felt very natural to me,” Lin said. “It helped me to understand the religion and culture of the community. I absolutely love it here.”
Now Lin, 18, is a freshman at Millersville University majoring in music, with a focus on piano. She studies with Xun Pan, assistant professor of keyboard studies and artistic director of the Lancaster International Piano Festival.
Lin is also a student of Robert Horton, organist and choir master at Holy Trinity, 31 S. Duke St., who is teaching her to play the harpsichord. He asked her to teach the choir to sing the Chinese hymn.
Lin was impressed with how quickly the choir — with just eight members due to the pandemic — learned the hymn.
“It was just one time, just 20 or 30 minutes,” Lin said. “They learned incredibly fast. I taught them how to pronounce the words and — bang — it came out right. ... I was fascinated by how they sang so naturally because they knew the melody. It sounded right. I enjoyed the teaching time. ... When they sing it, I would love to be there.”
Lin also made an audio recording of her reading the lyrics for the choir to use to practice.
Horton said the Chinese hymn translates to “Golden Breaks the Dawn,” with lyrics by Tzu-Chen Chao, written in 1936.
“It’s common for hymnals published in the last generation with 700 to 800 hymns to include 30 or so of them in other languages,” Horton said.
As an example, he said there is a Presbyterian hymnal with “Amazing Grace” in the Navajo language.
Holy Trinity, with the motto “Breaking Barriers/Building Community,” also has several Spanish hymns in its repertoire. The congregation has the option to sing along in either language, an idea Horton picked up from a Polish Catholic Church near Chicago.
“It sounds chaotic, but they have a great time doing it,” he said. “There’s a Puerto Rican member of our congregation — Margarita Shultz — who always has a big smile on her face when we sing in Spanish.”
Raised in Spanish churches, Shultz has lived in Lancaster for more than 40 years. She said she loves to sing Spanish hymns in church because it transports her back to Puerto Rico.
“Holy Trinity has always been interested in building community,” Shultz said. “They have a wonderful breakfast program on Sunday mornings that has been going on forever. It’s a very imposing building, but the people are so open. ... I feel very loved in the church. I’m very comfortable here.”