The National Psalmist
Lowell Mason and James Webb
Church Music may be divided into two classes, CONGREGATIONAL AND CHORAL. By congregational music, we mean such as is designed to be sung congregationally; and by choral music, we mean such as depends for its performance upon a properly organized and trained choir. Congregational music, which should always be within the vocal capacity of all classes of people, must necessarily be mostly confined to the plainest and easiest tunes and chants: while choral music, which may be comparatively complicated and difficult, may include more elaborate Hymn Tunes, Set Pieces, Services and Anthems. Both of these classes of music may, according to circumstances, be employed with propriety in public worship; both have been thus employed from the beginning, or certainly from the time when “sang Moses and the children of Israel” their triumphal responsive chorus on the shores of the Red Sea.
When the church has been apparently weak and feeble, the congregational style has prevailed; while, in times of greater outward prosperity, choirs have been trained to lead the people in the service of song, carrying the music of the church to a degree of excellence that it could otherwise never attain. When, just before the crucifixion, our Lord and his disciples closed their last most solemn and interesting interview by singing a hymn, it is to be supposed that they all took a part, and the voice of the Savior himself, which had doubtless often been heard in chanting the psalms of the Jewish service, mingled with the voices of his disciples in their closing act of worship. The singing on that occasion was congregational. But when, a short time afterwards, the Apostles went out on their high and successful mission, and the gospel spread into all the world, reaching the thrones of kings and emperors, and causing them, with the rich, the great, and the honorable, to do homage to the “King of kings,” learning, science and art were among the offerings that were brought and consecrated to the service of religion. The talent in music that God had given was brought back to him again in songs of holy gratitude and joy.
At the early dawn of the reformation Metrical Psalmody made its appearance in the form of unisonous congregational singing. The singing of psalms was an exercise for the people, one in which they were accustomed to take a part, not only in spirit, but also in its outward form, with voice making melody unto the Lord. This style of singing appears then to have received a direction and an impulse which have influenced it ever since, for even now it generally prevails in the Protestant churches of France, Switzerland, Germany and Scotland. In England early provision was made, not only for congregational singing in the plain psalmody of the parochial church, but also for a choral service in cathedral worship. Both styles were carried to great perfection in the reign of Elizabeth, and “so aptly arranged,” says an English writer, “as to furnish a model for after ages.” In the choral music of the old English masters “there is somewhat,” says Rev. Mr. Havergal, “so spiritually majestic, so serenely noble, and so warmly devout, that few composers of the present day can produce a tolerable imitation.” “The Elizabethan composers were men of profound erudition and excellent judgment. They clearly discerned the requisites of divine worship, and self-denyingly aimed to fulfil them. Instead of indulging in a wanton fancy, or allowing their genius such scope as would fire passions, captivate imaginations, or turn auditors into applauders, they confined themselves to a style, which of all styles contains the most art with the least ostentation;” one which accords with the solemnities of religious worship, and tends to inspire feelings of “awe, reverence, tenderness and devotion.” The parochial tunes too, of that age, contained in the early Psalters, and collected, “composed into parts,” and published by Ravenscroft in his “Whole Book of Psalms,” in 1621, (a work which has with great truth been called the “fount and standard” of English psalmody,) have certainly not been excelled, if they have been equaled, by modern composers. “Simple and easy as they are,” says the writer above quoted, “they are never vulgar, insipid, or boisterous. Grave, but cheerful, dignified and chaste, they are admirably adapted to meet a great variety of language, and to foster a calm and earnest devotion.”
The first settlers of New England brought with them the style of singing to which they had been accustomed in their native land, and which had probably been improved during their residence in Holland. Their singing manual was “Ainsworth’s Psalms,” published in Amsterdam in 1612; a book containing a translation of the Psalms, with a commentary; and also a versification of the Psalms, with tunes. Of the latter the author says in his preface, “Tunes for the Psalmes, I find none set of God: so that each people is to use the most grave, decent, and comfortable manner of singing that they know, according the general rule. 1 Cor 14: 26, 40. ‘Let all things be done unto edifying.’ ‘Let all things be done decently, and in order.’ The singing notes, therefore, I have most taken fro our former Englished Psalmes, when they wil fit the measure of the verse: and for the other long verses, I have also taken (for the most part) the gravest and easiest of the French and Dutch Psalms (Tunes.)”
For nearly a hundred years there seems to have been no material change in the tunes. Other versifications of the Psalms took the place of Ainsworth, but the tunes remained the same. They were handed down from parents to children traditionally, with but little aid from a written notation. Without the means of preserving purity of style, or identity of melody, it is not surprising that errors crept in, that, by such crude attempts at embellishment as uncultivated singers always delight in, the melodies received interpolations, and the proper style of singing was lost, so that the voice of praise had well nigh ceased in the land. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the singing in the churches had so much depreciated that this part of worship could be sustained with difficulty, and about 1720, when the evil had become too great to be borne any longer, several clergymen and others set themselves seriously about the work of reform. One of the first results of their efforts, was the publication, in 1721 of the first singing book of any considerable importance in New England, by Rev. Thomas Walter, of Roxbury, Massachusetts.1 The tunes contained in Walter’s collection are in part from Ainsworth’s psalms, with others mostly from Ravenscroft’s collection. The work contains twenty-four tunes; 16 in C.M., 4 in L.M., 2 in S.M., 1 in L.P.M., and 1 in H.M. They are in three parts, Cantus, Medius, and Bass. Four tunes are in triple measure, but syllabic; the others are in common or equal time. Something of the state of church singing at that time may be gathered from the following extracts from the preface to this work. “Our tunes are, for want of a standard to appeal to in all our singing, left to the mercy of every unskillful throat to chop and alter, twist and change, according to their infinitely diverse, and no less odd, humors and fancies.” “I have observed in many places, one man is upon this note, while another is a note before him, which produces something so hideous and disorderly, as is beyond expression bad.” “I myself have twice in one note paused to take breath.” Again, on the advantages of keeping together in singing, the editor says, “The even, unaffected, and smooth-sounding of the notes, and the omission of those unnatural quaverings and turnings, will serve to prevent all that discord and lengthy tediousness, which is so much in fault in singing of psalms. For much time is taken up in shaking out these turns and quavers; and besides, no two men in the congregation quaver alike, or together, which sounds in the ears of a good judge, like five hundred different tunes roared out all at the same time.”
The efforts which were now made, seem to have been successful in the promotion of musical knowledge and taste, and especially the publication of Walter’s book, which, as it was in parts, led to the formation of choirs, by which only those parts could be sustained. But all these efforts at improvement soon took an unfavorable direction, by the introduction of an inferior style of tunes. Church music had gradually declined in England, and particularly so among those denominations of Christians whose influence was principally felt in this country, and many books of comparatively poor tunes had been published. The works of William Tansur seem to have had a greater influence in this country than any others. In 1734, he published in England his “Complete Melody,” a book of original tunes; and about twenty years after, he prepared another work inferior to the “Complete Melody,” designed especially for New England, called “The American Harmony,” and published it in Newburyport, Massachusetts. In this work we find some of the earliest attempts at that imitative or fugal style in psalmody, which afterwards became so popular. The tunes St. Martin, Barby, and Rothwell, date as far back as the “American Harmony.”
The style derived from Tansur and other inferior English composers spread widely, superseding in a great measure the admirable old “Church Tunes,” and preparing the way for the still lower character of tunes which came up at about the time of the American revolution, and which even now are heard in some parts of the country. In 1770, was published “The New England Psalm Singer,” by William Billings, a book consisting of original tunes in a style of melody and of harmony quite below anything that had yet appeared. The author, if we may judge by his books, was quite ignorant of the principles of harmony and composition; indeed he professes to be governed by no laws but those of his own fancy, and he rejects all those rules to which good taste and experience had led the best composers, and in the observance of which they had been successful. Other works followed, in which the peculiar style of which Billings has sometimes been called the American father, was more fully developed. This consists in an easy and popular (though often low and vulgar) flow of melody for Tenor voices, with harmony parts for a Treble and Alto above, and a Bass below. In many of these tunes, most indeed of those that became favorites, imitative or fugal points were taken up, by the different parts, and treated often with ingenuity of contrivance, but usually without reference to proportion, symmetry, or analogy, and always without regard to the commonly received laws of harmony, canon and fugue. But as these laws were unknown, and musical science wholly uncultivated, no one’s taste was offended by the lawless and awkward progression of chords, or by the incongruous convolutions of the parts; and the tunes were admired in proportion to the popular taking character of the melodies, or to the wonderment with which the different parts were introduced, twisted about, entangled, bewildered, evolved, and at length brought out in safety. As this style gained the ascendency, and amusement took the place of edification and worship, the “Old Hundredths,” “Windsors,” “Yorks” and “Dundees,” were, like the ejected ministers in English and Scotch history, driven away into the wilderness. Congregational singing, of course, went with them; the voices of the people were hushed, and their harps were hanged upon the willows. Devotion, appalled, fled from the presence of such unhallowed strains, and her place was occupied by admiration, wonder, and curiosity. The worship of God seems no longer to have been regarded as the object of psalmody, which had now become a matter of mere entertainment. Our author says in justification of his tunes, “It is well known there is more variety in one piece of fuging music, than in twenty pieces of plain song;” and in describing the effects of his music he adds, “While each part is straining for mastery, and sweetly contending for victory, the audience are most luxuriously entertained, and exceedingly delighted; in the mean time their minds are surprisingly agitated, and extremely fluctuated, sometimes declaring in favor of one part, and sometimes another. Now the solemn bass demands their attention, now the manly tenor, now the lofty counter, now the volatile treble – now here, now there, now here again. O enchanting! O ecstatic! Rush on, ye sons of harmony.” Billings was followed by a host of composers, most of whom were as ignorant as himself, while many of them were far inferior in originality and genius; and the most silly and contemptible trash imaginable in the form of psalm tunes, preposterous and profane, overspread the land like the locusts of Egypt. The very height of the absurd seems to have been reached about the close of the last century, when the abuses of psalmody, again (though under very different circumstances) loudly called for reformation, and intelligent men were induced to put forth efforts for improvement. Several comparatively good books of tunes soon made their appearance; among them we may mention as a leading one, “The Salem Collection of Classical Music.” In the preface to this work the editors say, “It cannot be denied, that most of our modern psalmody is not less offensive to a correct musical taste, than it is disgusting to the sincere friends of public devotion;” and in explanation of their object they add, “With the view of promoting a just taste in psalmody, as well as to further the purpose of public devotion, it has been thought advisable to publish such a collection of psalm tunes as are believed to be most conductive to these two objects.”
“In 1769,” says an English writer, “the Rev. M. Madan published the Lock Collection of Tunes. Then followed the Magdalen and Foundling Collections, and that of the amiable Dr. Miller, of Doncaster. These collections were not destitute of merit, but the first, and the next two especially, gave an unhappy impetus to that taste for ballad-like hymn-tune which has since pervaded choirs and congregations.”2 These works fell into the hands of the editors of the Salem Collection, and unhappily for the cause of good taste and a pure church style, were, to a considerable degree, made the standard of taste in the compilation of a collection of classical music. But, nevertheless, the Salem Collection was, at the time, an excellent book, such a one as very few men then had the taste or ability to prepare; and although it did but little towards the revival of the pure church style, or of congregational singing, it did as much as any one work, perhaps, towards the restoration of common sense and religious propriety in church choirs. It contained a few of the best tunes, and others, from Tansur’s and similar collections, which, although inferior to the old tunes, were far indeed above the prevailing style at the time of its publication.
The “Salem Collection” was followed by the “Middlesex Collection,” “The Norfolk Collection” by Amos Albee, and other books, by which the work of reform was advanced and strengthened. We need not attempt further to trace the progress of improvement; sure it is that not only church music, but music in general, has advanced with rapid strides. Music has recently been introduced into many of our larger towns as a school study, so that now it is hardly too much to say, that the children generally are taught the elements of singing. Instrumental music has also made some progress, and in the churches of almost all denominations, the organ has been extensively introduced, and purity of melody, correctness of harmony, and tastefulness and propriety of performance, (though this comes later and with more difficulty,) have all made no little advance. But while improvement has been made in musical knowledge and science generally, and particularly in church music, it cannot be denied that there has been a strong tendency in the latter to depart from the true ecclesiastical style, and to substitute for it music of a secular character, tasteful and elegant, it may be, but yet too often feeble, without dignity, and without religious associations, and which, though it may musically interest and delight a people, is quite unable to awaken or sustain a spirit of worship. Choral music too, or music depending upon choir performance, has been almost exclusively cultivated, and the original form of metrical psalmody has been so long neglected that the practical knowledge of it has been quite lost, nothing remaining of it but its name in history.
Among the multitude of books of tunes which have been in quick succession issuing from the press, we know not of a single one that has been prepared with any intelligent view either to the preservation of the church style in choral music, or to furnish available congregational tunes; they are filled almost entirely not merely with choir tunes, but with choir tunes which in melody or in harmony, or both, are of a secular character; and if, peradventure, a genuine people’s tune is occasionally found, it is very probably spoiled by transposition, or by a modern or secular harmony, without suitableness or consistency. The old wine has been put into new bottles. “The Old Hundredth,” for example, has been usually printed in A, (quite beyond the compass of men’s voices,) and sometimes as high as Bb, or C. “Let the Old Hundredth,” says Dr. Gauntlett, “be sung in the key of F when the highest tone is C, or in the key of G when the highest tone is D, and the men will be able to sing the melody with the women and children; but change the key to A, or Bb, and one half of the male congregation present are foundered, and compelled to remain silent unless they force their voices upon the E or F tones in a way which is not very solemn in effect, and not often practicable.” Most of the old tunes that have been published have been similarly transposed.3 Add to this, that it has been supposed that the air of a tune should always be the upper part, and be sung by females or boys, and the direction has often been given, “The air must be invariably sung by treble voices.” Now while this is generally true in choral music, it is by no means so in reference to congregational singing. Both the melody and the harmony of a congregational tune should be so constructed as to admit male voices on the air; the melody should be within their compass, and the harmony should be free from such progressions as produce forbidden consecutives by inversion. Indeed we are fully of the opinion that congregational singing can never succeed unless it be mostly unisonous; the parts may and ought to be sustained by a choir, but the singing of the people must be mostly confined to the leading air, or melody, in unison or in octaves. This is also, so far as we know, the opinion of the most experienced musicians and others who have examined the subject. “Surely,” says Dr. Gauntlett, “it is not to be tolerated that this most primitive order of hymning the praises of the Eternal shall be denounced and overturned; and that before being fitted for singing hymns, we must become half instructed in the wailings of a contra-tenor part, or the mysterious grumblings of the bass.” But yet it has been supposed by some who do not know the difficulty of choral music, that it is not only practicable to sing congregationally in parts, but also in the use of difficult choir tunes; such a state of musical cultivation has been urged on congregations as would enable them to do this; and some congregations, driven by the abuses which unhappily so often find their way into choral associations, have made the attempt. It is hardly necessary to add, that a failure in such cases has sooner or later been the result, and then, congregational singing has been condemned as impracticable. With almost as much propriety might a man be condemned for not flying when he has only the ability to walk. On the other hand, members of choirs and such persons as have made some progress in musical cultivation, but who are not aware that there is such a thing as a distinct and available congregational style, say, in view of the difficulties of choral performance, that it is quite impossible for a congregation to sing with tolerable decency, and that any attempt at this style of psalmody is barbarous and horrid. But these two parties are no less at variance with one another, than with the truth; they are equally in error; for, while congregational singing can never succeed in the use of choir tunes, it is certainly quite practicable and comparatively easy, if it be confined to the right kind of tunes, and these, for the most part, in unison. We add with confidence, that it is not merely practicable and easy, but is also eminently useful; it is a most delightful, appropriate and effective form of the service of song in prayer and praise; it may be sublime and devotional in the highest degree, enkindling or awakening in the soul holy emotions of love, gratitude and joy, which can neither be reached or drawn out in any other way. Such the congregational singing described by the poet:--
The multitude of angels with a shout
and such the singing of the “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” described in the Apocalypse of John.
It may be thought that we are disposed to attach an undue importance to congregational singing; but let it be remembered that while we would urge this as an essential form of church music, we would urge with equal earnestness the importance of choirs and of the choral style. Choirs are not only necessary to sustain congregational singing, but the higher style or forms of musical expression can never be reached without them. We feel certain that delight and edification may unitedly result from a well directed choral performance in religious service. To reject a choir then is to reject the beauty and truth of musical art; it is to reject the means of spiritual progress and happiness; it is to reject one of the most effective means of music’s influence, to clip its wings, and limit its power over the heart. While, therefore, we are decidedly friendly to congregational singing, we are equally so to choir singing; they are both legitimate forms of musical truth, derived from the nature of the art, and sanctioned by common experience and by the word of God.
The history of psalmody in New England certainly proves the tow following things; 1st. If congregational singing be left to itself, it will not only decline, lose its interest and its power, but become intolerable, a hinderance and not a help to devotion.4 Such was the state of things in New England at about the beginning of the eighteenth century. See extracts from preface to Walter’s collection, p.2. 2d. If choir music be exclusively cultivated, and congregational be neglected, the singing is in great danger of degenerating to a mere matter of musical exhibition or amusement. So it was in the time of Billings, as is clearly evinced by the extracts from him on p.3, and so if we mistake not, it has continued to be, and is now, to a great extent, in the American churches. We may add, also, as another lesson derived from the same source, that the cultivation of church music in any form leads naturally to the formation of choirs, and to the choral style. These two forms of church music are both necessary to the highest ends contemplated; they are interwoven with each other, and are mutually dependent. Choral music, if it does not kindle the fire of its devotions at the altar of the great congregational offering, may soon cease to burn, at least with a heavenly flame; and to leave congregational singing unaided by the ministrations of a well regulated choir, is “to leave it to be moulded into any shape that the passions of a changing world may please to impress upon it – is but to resign it to decrepitude and imbecility.”
But that we may not be misunderstood, we will again state what is meant by congregational singing, and also, what are the proper offices of a choir in public worship. By congregational singing is not meant the singing of here and there an individual who happens to know the tune, and who therefore joins in it, though it be a choir tune, depending for its proper effect upon choral performance. This, though a very great annoyance, is no uncommon thing. No knowledge or love of music, or ability to sing, or desire for edification, or to unite vocally in God’s praises, can justify this; for we have no right to hinder or interrupt the devotions of others. But by congregational singing is meant the united voices of the whole people in a well known and appropriate tune, and this mostly in unison, each one singing the melody. This last idea we think highly important, for the voice of one who is musically weak and feeble, may be completely thrown off the track and disabled, but coming in collision with a bass or tenor part. This, and this only, deserves the name of congregational singing. In connection with this, a choir has three important offices to sustain: 1st. To lead along, guide and carefully sustain the people in their song.5 2d. To sustain the harmony parts. These parts, which add musical beauty and strength, and, of course, moral power, can only be properly sung by trained voices. 3d. To bring out, independently of the congregation, the higher forms of musical expression. As the minister may lead the devotions of a congregation, while they join mentally, but not vocally, in the form of words which he utters, so may the choir perform the same office in a musical service. In this way a choir may bring out a power and influence of music that can never be obtained by congregational singing; we do not say a greater, or more devotional effect may be produced in this way, but it is a form of church music having important advantages – it is another manner of drawing out the feelings, or of giving them musical utterance; and sometimes one form, and sometimes the other may be the best. We may here remark also that there are many didactic or descriptive hymns (better indeed said that, sung) which, if sung, seem much better adapted to choral declamation, or choir recitation, than to a congregational chorus.
There is, then, on the one hand, a style of psalmody within the capabilities of the people, and in which all may engage; and there is also an artistic music, equally appropriate to religious worship, which can only be properly performed by educated vocalists, or by a well trained and disciplined choir. The Church of England has, as we have before remarked, made provision for both. To her cathedral worship a choir is indispensable, while the singing is congregational in the metrical psalmody and plain chanting of her parochial churches. But in our own country where there is no provision for the higher or more solemn style of service contemplated in cathedral worship, and even in those denominations of Christians who adhere to the simple religious forms derived from the Puritan Fathers of New England, there is abundant room for both, and a congregation were the habits of the people have been trained aright, may have their religious affections awakened and quickened now by the tasteful and appropriate performance of a select choir, and again while uniting in the grand chorus of universal song. Both these styles have their advantages; the congregational, under right influences, leads to the choral; and the choral, properly controlled, sustains and guides the congregational. Helps meet for each other, these two forms of church music seem to have been intended for mutual companions. “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
In the compilation of this book we have kept these two forms of music, congregational and choral, constantly in view, and have, as we think, furnished a sufficient variety in each department. In the congregational department at least we feel certain, that we have selected some of the very best tunes that have ever been written; these are mostly old tunes, such as were sung at the time of the reformation, and by the Pilgrim Fathers of New England. We have not published these tunes, however, because they are old, but because they are good, the very best; acknowledged to be so by all who have made progress in musical knowledge and taste. These tunes have cheered the hearts of Christians of all denominations for ages, and we doubt not they will continue to be sung wherever good taste and sound judgment shall prevail, as long as metrical psalmody and congregational singing shall endure.
The department of choral or choir tunes, also, is very extensive, including every variety, from the simple, easy, and commonly-useful tunes, in a style which may be regarded as between the congregational and the choral, or as a partly belonging to both, to the more elaborate and difficult or exclusively choir pieces; and from some of the beautiful, tasteful, and elegant thoughts of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, down the long way to our own American authors.
It is with confidence then that we present this book to the lovers of church music, feeling assured that they will find it what it purports to be, a Manual of Church Music, or of Psalm and Hymn Tunes, Chants, and Anthems, worthy of the name of NATIONAL PSALMIST.
Rev. Mr. Havergal (whose name often appears in the following pages, from whose publications we have derived much aid, who has furnished us in manuscript a number of beautiful tunes and anthems, composed expressly for this work, and who has especially aided us by his valuable critical and historical remarks, kindly communicated from time to time) says of the old tunes, “If we would have them to perfection, we must attain more of the old-fashioned piety with which we may apply with equal force to the performance of all the music of public worship. We consider it a fundamental principle in relation to church music that it should only be used as an aid to religion. The singing of psalms and hymns, whether congregational or choral, should ever be regarded by ministers, choirs, and congregations as an act of religious worship, requiring the same sincerity and devotedness of heart as any other direct approach to the great and glorious God, or act of communion with him.
The same writer says, (and we would prefer to extend his remarks so as to include in it every member of a worshipping assembly,) “Were it the motto of every choir, ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom,’ our congregations would more efficiently ‘teach and admonish one another, in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.’ BUT IF MUSIC BE SUBSTITUED FOR RELIGION, AND SINGING FOR DEVOTION, THE BEST TUNES AND THE BEST VOICES WILL NEITHER INCREASE RELIGION NOR AID DEVOTION. It is much to be lamented, that display bears rule where it is out of place. Few choirs are exempt from its withering influence;6 while it is generally found that those individuals who encourage it, by most indulging in it, are the first to give trouble by their conceit and self-will. A good, but humble minded singer, is a singer of great value. By his good singing he may edify and encourage others; while, by his becoming modesty, he can hardly fail to check, in his companions, those risings of arrogance which spoil many a choir. Simple as the following remedy may appear, when proposed as a panacea for all the ills of all choral bodies in our parish-churches,” (and for all the ills, too, connected with the singing in a congregation,) “it nevertheless is confidently prescribed, -- When the clerk says, ‘Let us sing to the praise and glory of God!’ let all the choir” (and all the people) “heartily say, ‘Amen.’”RHYTHMIC FORM OF THE CONGREGATIONAL TUNES. We should prefer a greater uniformity in the rhythmic structure of the plain tunes but we hardly felt at liberty to make the alterations necessary to bring all the well known tunes to that standard which appears best. The air of these tunes should, in general, be confined to notes of two lengths only, long and short; each line commencing and ending with a long note, all the others being short; thus it is with the tunes Bava, p.49, Saxony, p.48, York, p.114, London, p.104, Glasgow, p.99, Melrose, p.96, St. Bride, p.144, and Southwell, p.148. These tunes, though written in different notes, (minims or crotchets,) or differently barred, so as to appear different to the eye, are when heard, rhythmically the same; having sounds of two lengths, or long and short notes only. This rhythmic form is favorable to the keeping together of the people in singing, and it has also a tendency to prevent the tedious and inonotonous drawling of the tones, to which congregational singing is peculiarly liable. The barring of the tunes is not regarded as important to the keeping of time, but as only a convenient indication of the beginning, ending or division of lines or verses; nor is it supposed to be necessary that the notes in tunes of this character should be divided into equal measures, since not this principle of equal measures, but that only of long and short notes, is to control the movement.
It should be understood that while in choral performances an ability to keep the most exact time is required, it is not so in the congregational style, in which by keeping time must be understood nothing more nor less than keeping together: mathematical accuracy is not required; and with regard to the long notes it may be observed, that it is not necessary that they should be just twice the length of the short notes, but only that these two kinds of notes should be comparatively long or short.
HOW FAST SHOULD THE CONGREGATIONAL TUNES BE SUNG? “It is a great mistake,” says the Rev. Mr. Havergal, “to suppose that the old tunes should be sung in a heavy, drawling style.” “They were formerly sung in a quicker and livelier manner than is commonly conjectured.” He says also of “The Old Hundredth,” no so “slow, heavy, and dirge-like,” that it was formerly performed as a joyous and animating canticle.” To express our idea of the proper movement of these tunes, we will refer to the tune Uxbridge, 7p.59. We suppose that most choirs would agree as to the time of this tune. Take then the short notes in Uxbridge (when the tune is moderately sung) as the standard of length for the short notes in the class of tunes to which we refer; or let the quarter note in Uxbridge be regarded as representing the same length as the half note in York, Josco, &c. The words then will be deliberately uttered, in a “due mean between excessive rapidity and tedious protraction.” Custom in many places has associated slowness and tediousness with the half note, (minim,) and comparative quickness with the quarter note (crotchet); this association, however, is quite at variance with the best usage in notation, which regards a note not as an indication of the absolute, but only of the relative length of the tone it represents; but since this association exists, and with reference to it, it may be proper to say that tunes written in minims, as Josco, York, &c., should be sung rather quick; and on the other hand, that tunes written in crotchets, as St. Ann, Saxony, &c., should be sung rather slow; meaning by these opposite directions to lead to the same movement. The degree of quickness or slowness in which a tune should be sung, depends also upon circumstances, as the number of voices, size of the building, character of the poetry, nature of the occasion, &c.
CHANGE OF TUNES. No congregation will be satisfied with the constant repetition of the same tunes. Not only is variety necessary on account of that love of novelty which is implanted in the human mind for a good purpose, and which, even in psalmody, it is lawful and proper to gratify within certain limits, but also, because a tune oft repeated, as a necessary consequence, loses its power to move the affections, and so becomes comparatively useless. The required variety may be obtained by judicious changes in the use of the old standard tunes. A tune, for example, may be introduced, become generally known, and be often used for a season, and when it begins to lose its interest may be allowed gradually to retire, giving way to another, which may come up in the like manner and take its place. Then again, in its turn, after having served its generation, is withdrawn, and in due time the first and almost forgotten tune returns in all the freshness, beauty and vigor of youth. Changes like this, we think quite important to the best interests of psalmody; it is important, however, to observe that these changes should be so gradual as to be almost imperceptible. But besides this revolvency in the use of the old tunes, new tunes may be composed and introduced. To compose a tune, however, worthy of congregational adoption, is not an easy thing; whoever would successfully make the attempt must confine himself to the old models. There are those who can write a pretty tune that may be tolerated for a little while in a choir, and then be thrown aside and forgotten; but who can compose a Tallis, p.102, or a Dunfermline, p.119?
IN CHOIR PERFORMANCE variety will be still more desired than in congregational singing. But this is a point on which we do not think it important to stir up the minds of choirs; the tendency to the new is so strong that it is rather necessary to caution against too frequent changes.
TO WHAT EXTENT SHALL THE SINGING BE CONGREGATIONAL? No definite answer can be given to this question; it must depend upon circumstances. It is perfectly safe to say, however, that the form of singing should prevail which, on the whole, seems best adapted, for the time being, to promote the great end in view, viz. the spiritual worship of God. Of this the minister may be supposed to be the best judge, and he certainly will be if he takes the trouble to inquire into circumstances and to inform himself on the subject. It is merely suggested, that in the present state of musical knowledge, habits and associations, the first and second singing be by the choir, and the third (after sermon) by the congregation. This plan has been adopted in some churches, and seems to be a good arrangement, and to give satisfaction.
HOW SHALL CONGREGATIONAL SINGING BE FIRST INTRODUCED? It seems proper that a plain statement of the intention to introduce it should be made by the pastor, with such reasons for it as he may think best to mention, so that the people may have a clear understanding of what is desired. If a few preparatory meetings of the people, the choir also being present, can be held, under the general superintendence of the pastor, at which a few plain tunes be congregationally sung, led by the choir, they will do much to promote the end in view. The choir, who are supposed to lead, will often be required to do it in a self-denying manner; they must be willing to give up music for devotion, and to bear with patience, perhaps, some musical grievances. They must yield to the musical infirmities of the people, and if the time should linger they must not apply too severe a remedy, but endeavor gently to urge along the mass of sound; or if the tune should sometimes err they must exercise a like forbearance. The air should predominate in the choir, and it may be well for it to be sung in part by men’s voices. The people should all be encouraged to sing the melody, leaving the harmony parts to the choir.8 Gentle and judicious measures adopted or approved by the pastor, and carried out with sympathy and kindness on the part of the choir, will insure success.
HOW SHALL A NEW TUNE BE INTRODUCED INTO THE CONGREGATION? Let the choir first sing it as a choir tune, and in the place or time of a choir tune. Let it be thus repeated until the people become familiar with it, and are able to sing it, after which it may be transferred from the choir to the congregational department, and become common property.
SACRED AND SECULAR. This distinction is often made, not only according to the most obvious meaning of the terms, but also with reference to church music, for it is acknowledged on all hands that a secular style prevails extensively in the church. Both in the Catholic and in the Protestant churches there are, on the one hand, those who contend for the exclusive use of the old, ecclesiastical or church-style; and, on the other, those who advocate the use of the modern or secular style. In the Catholic church, while one party urges the use of the Gregorian music, and that alone, another not only approves of the masses of Haydn and Mozart, but objects not even to the strains of the most modern opera. The same conflicting opinions are found, under different circumstances, in the Protestant church. In the choral service of the Church of England there is the old and the new school, or the sacred and the secular style; and in Psalmody and Hymnody there seems to be quite as good ground for the distinction. We are sorry, however, to be obliged to say that in this country the necessity for the distinction seems to be in a considerable degree done away by the almost universal prevalence of the secular only. A taste for ballad-like tunes, for oratorio and opera extracts, for pretty taking melodies, has almost driven away all that is sober, chaste, devout, spiritual and heavenly in Church Music. Ear-pleasing, or musical entertainment, has to a great extent taken the place of devout worship, and of course a different character of tunes is sought for, from that which stoops not to minister to mere outward or sensuous gratification. We hope we have done somewhat in this work to throw light on this subject, and especially to restore to its proper place the most beautiful, effective, and devotional style of psalmody which has ever been known.
WHAT NUMBER OF VOICES IS REQUIRED TO CONSTITUTE A CHURCH CHOIR? If by a choir be meant such a one as may lead the people in congregational singing, it may be replied that a small number of voices may do this part of choral duty quite well; even a single precentor with a good voice may lead a congregation without a choir, as is the case in many places where congregational singing prevails. A choir of six, eight, twelve, twenty or more voices, however, is much better, than the single voice of a precentor, because in such a choir there may be a blending, that will prevent the always disagreeable prominence of any single voice.
But if by a choir be meant a number of voices sufficient to sustain the harmony parts, or what is still more difficult, to give the proper effect to choral music, quite a different answer must be given. Such a choir cannot ordinarily consist of a less number than about twenty-four persons, or say six voices on a part. Unless voices are somewhat equal, and cultivated, a less number than five or six on a part will not be made to blend; and that deserves not to be called choir singing where a single voice, however beautiful, stands out prominent, or is heard distinctly and separately from the rest. It is essential to good choral effect that the voices be made to blend so as to produce, as it were, a single sound. This blending cannot ordinarily be obtained with less than about thirty voices, but it may be much more easily produced in a choir consisting of double that number. It may be remarked here that quartett singing is not choir singing; no choral effect can be produced by a single voice on a part. The singing of a Quartett, Trio, or Duet, is most beautiful in its place, but it belongs rather to the concert room or the parlor, than to the church. The idea of a Quartett Choir is quite absurd; as well might we speak of a Trio Choir a Duet Choir, or a Solo Choir. A good choir will, of course, include a quartett, a trio, a duet, or a solo, but neither a quartett, trio, duet, or solo, is, properly speaking, a choir, for the very idea of a choir is a chorus of voices. The singing of a quartett in church may be beautiful, may be devotional, but a choir, including a quartett, is certainly much to be preferred.
HOW SHOULD THE SINGING IN A SUNDAY SCHOOL BE CONDUCTED? In the congregational way of singing; and in the use of the proper congregational tunes. See Tables I. And II. The introduction of “Auld Lang Syne,” “Drink to me Only,” or other similar pieces that might be named, is educationally considered, most pernicious and destructive of all that is desirable and good in psalmody. Light popular melodies, intended for secular purposes, and associated with secular thoughts, although they may have been united to unexceptionable words, must always have a most unfavorable tendency in the formation of devotional habits in this exercise. It is to be deeply regretted that for the mere purpose of amusing the pupils, such unworthy tunes should be adopted, in an exercise which should ever be regarded as one of worship. This practice is not only most unhappy in its influence on the religious habits and associations of the young, but it lays the foundation for all the secular abuses of psalmody of which good men complain, and under the burden of which it is bowed down even unto death.
“CONGREGATIONAL TUNE BOOK.” To accommodate such societies as wish to introduce congregational singing, we have selected (mostly from this book) a sufficient number of tunes, (including some of the best, with others supposed to be generally known,) and have published them in a small and cheap volume under the above title. If the “National Psalmist” be used in the choir, the “Congregational Tune Book” in the pews will have a tendency to insure success wherever congregational singing may be attempted.
1Three small works had been previously published, but they seem not to have had much influence. For an interesting history of psalmody in this country, the reader is referred to “A History of Music in New England,” by Rev. George Hood. Boston. Wilkins & Carter, 1846. This is a useful and instructive book, and it should be in the hands of everyone interested in the cause of psalmody, or public worship.
2The Lock Hospital Collection, which acquired great celebrity in this country, is often secular and extravagant in its melodies, and meagre, stiff, and monotonous in its harmonies. It contains not a single one of the “Church Tunes.”
3 “The Old Hundredth” in Ainsworth’s Psalms is in the key of F, but Walter, no doubt with reference to choral effect, transposed it to A.
4 The fact, too, that the singing is almost universally so wretched in the parochial churches in England, seems to prove that the congregational style cannot be sustained without the aid of a choir.
5 We may here remark that an organ is of the greatest importance to the full success of congregational singing. The organ well played has great power to sustain, concentrate, and strengthen the people in vocal music. It fills the house with a musically oxygenized atmosphere, giving life and impulse to the voice. It creates an ocean of sound, on the rising waves of which the hearts and voices of the people may float
6 It may be observed too, that others are as fond of that musical display which entertains and amuses the hearer as choir-members themselves; and it is the encouragement which is given to it by ministers or people, or the demand which they (perhaps thoughtlessly) make present state of church music, that the people are best satisfied when they are most amused or musically entertained. The blame attached to musical display must not therefore be charged exclusively upon choirs, but it rather belongs to the people generally, not even excluding “teachers in Israel.”
7 We might with equal propriety refer to the short notes in Wells, Windham, Hebron or Boylston, as a guide; in all these tunes, if we mistake not, there is considerable uniformity of movement observed throughout the country.
8 When any one can sing well enough to take a separate part, let such a one join the choir, and us his (or her) influence there to promote the cause. Are you married? That is no reason why you should put your candle under a bushel, or bury your talent in the earth. Does your husband or your wife desire your company in the pew? Let him or her learn to give up such a personal gratification, to the good of church music – to the praise of God.