|English Common Tunes. 16th & 17th Centuries|
The tunes sung by colonists well into the 18th century came from The Whole Book of Psalms, Collected into English Meter (1562) versified by Sternhold and Hopkins, known as the Old Version , and from other Psalters such as Day's Psalter (1563), Damon's Psalter (1563), Este's Psalter (1592), and Ravencroft's Psalter (1621). Most of the tunes were in one of three meters used in English metrical psalmody, common meter (126.96.36.199), short meter (188.8.131.52.), and long meter (184.108.40.206), and could be fit to any text of the same meter. These tunes came to be known as "common tunes" because they could be used with a number of different metrical psalms. "Proper tunes" were associated with only one text. The tunes were not only of English origin but many were borrowed from the French-Genevan Psalm-singing tradition assimilated by the refugees escaping persecution in Holland and Switzerland during the reign of Queen Mary (d. 1558). PSALM 100 is one of those tunes and comes from the Anglo-Genevan Psalter of 1561.
When the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620, they brought with them The Book of Psalms: Englished both in Prose and Meter published in 1612. The Pilgrims had taken exception to the accuracy of the Psalm translations in the Old Version used by Anglicans in Britain, and published their own (48 Psalms were included) while taking refuge in Amsterdam. Known as the Ainsworth Psalter after its author Henry Ainsworth, it was widely used by colonists until it was supplanted by the The Whole Book of Psalms Faithfully Translated into English Meter. The Bay Psalm Book, as this later book came to be know, was published in 1640 by a group of clergymen from the Massachusetts Bay Colony who were concerned with awkward wording and the retention of exact meaning in the translation in the Ainsworth Psalter.
The 9th edition of the Bay Psalm Book (1698) was the first edition to contain printed tunes. Thirteen common tunes mostly in common, short, and long meter were included, all from the English Psalm-tune repertory. The book's "Admonition," however, suggests that the psalms could be "sung in very neere fourty common tunes; as they are collected, out of our chief musicians, by Tho. Ravenscroft" or to tunes in "our english psalm books." The Ainsworth Psalter contained 39 common tunes "from our former Englished Psalms." Notably there is a wide range of meters represented, unlike most English psalters.
By the early years of the 18th century church leaders in the colonies and those interested in the state of music in the church agreed that the singing had become intolerably bad. The "Old Way" which had prevailed for years with its rote singing and "lining out" of the psalm had led to unbridled improvisation and ornamentation so that the tunes became unrecognizable and congregational singing had become by all reports cacophonous. In the preface to his Grounds and Rules 1721, Thomas Walters commented on the predicament (original spelling, capitalization, italics preserved):
In an essay written in 1720 Reverend Thomas Symmes asked some questions that were prophetic: "Where would be the Difficulty or what the Disadvantage, if People that want Skill in Singing, would procure a Skillful Person to Instruct them, and meet Two or Three Evenings in the Week, from five or six a Clock, to Eight, and spend the Time in Learning to Sing?" (Symmes, The Reasonableness of, Regular Singing. Boston, 1720 as quoted in Richard Crawford, America's Musical Life. New York: W.W.Norton, 2001) He was describing the singing school which became the answer for the advocates of "Regular Singing:" singing the tunes by note so that everyone sang the Psalm tunes correctly. This of course led to the need for teaching materials and this need began to be filled in 1721 by John Tufts' An Introduction to the Singing of Psalm Tunes and Thomas Walter's The Grounds and Rules of Music Explained. Both contained note-reading instructions and a collection of well-know Psalm tunes homophonically harmonized in three parts.