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Johannes Dillner was born of Jamtland peasant stock in the parsonage at Selanger in 1785. His father was a pastor and known for his learning and eccentricities; his mother was a cultured lady, but not very religious. Johannes was given a good education and was ordained as a minister in 1809 at the age of twenty-four years. He became recognized as a pulpit orator and was a member of a coterie of intellectuals in Stockholm known as the Gothic Society. Dilner had a good voice, loved music, and was popular with his friends.

Pastor Dillner was a very prominent figure in the history of the Swedish Psalmodikon. There were others who played the Psalmodikon during that time, but Dillner’s name is most often mentioned. We are uncertain if Sweden got the idea of the Psalmodikon and the use of Sifferskrift from Norway or Denmark. But it is reasonable to believe that Dillner and Lars Roverud had knowledge of each other’s work. They agreed the Psalmodikon was the solution for the betterment of hymn singing.

In 1819, a new hymnal was published by J.O. Wallin (text) and Johann Christian Friedrich Haeffner (melody). This new Psalmbook was prescribed to be used in all the churches in Sweden. Many of the hymns were unfamiliar and because many of the church members could not read music, the congregational singing became an uproar. This upset Dillner because he felt that “it was as important to teach people to sing as it was to read, because music is the language of the heart”. In 1830, Dillner published “Psalmodikon Melodies for Swedish Church Psalms”. He also published instructions for building Psalmodikons and for using the Sifferskrift or numerical notation.

In 1839 Dillner became Pastor of the Ostervalla Church. Pastor Dillner encouraged the people of his parish to make their own Psalmodikons and learn to play them. The Psalmodikon became very popular in the schools and homes as well. There were several different styles and shapes of Psalmodikons. Some were very sophisticated and had several extra strings for resonance. At that time, it was said there were at least 10,000 Psalmodikons in all of Sweden. Dillner’s method of playing the Psalmodikon was so popular in Sweden that when the Swedish pastors started immigrating to America, they carried with them Dillner’s Songbook and a Psalmodikon to lead the singing of hymns in their newly formed congregations. Thus, Dillner is remembered for the revival of congregational singing in Sweden and for writing his numerical version of church hymns, which became known as “the Dillner method”.

Pastor Johannes Dillner continued to serve in the Ostervala Church until his death in 1862. He is buried in the cemetery located next to the church and his Psalmodikon was placed in the archives of the Ostervala church.