The American Vocalist
D. H. Mansfield, 1849
The design of the compiler in adding another to the numerous musical publications now in use, is, to preserve in a single volume, the most valuable music now in existence, much of which had been crowded from our churches, by the soulless and unmeaning harmony of the present day.
It is divided into three parts. The First, contains Church Music; the Second, the more important Vestry Music; and the Third, the lighter kind of Vestry music, or that which is more appropriate to particular occasions.
A great portion of the church music, is old. But that it is more generally admired, is evident from the fact, that no publisher dares to issue a collection of sacred music without inserting enough of it, say, just to preserve his book. And certainly, of many singing books published within a few years, it may well be said, the less “original” music they contain, the better the collection.
Another evidence of the inferiority of most modern music, is its short life. What has become of the ten thousand tunes composed within the last twenty years? With few exceptions, they are “dead and gone.” Old “Windham,” and “China,” have acted as pall bearers for half a century, and were it not for “Old Hundred,” and tunes of like character, there had been no music suitable either for a Doxology, or a Benediction upon surviving friends. The fact is, the old composers were probably better acquainted both with God and man. They had studied human nature as well as scientific theories. Many of them were holy men, and their music, composed among the hills and forests of Puritanic New England, is but an embodiment of pious devotion. This will explain the reason why old “Majesty,” and “Fluvanna,” will make the eyes of a congregation sparkle, or “Hatfield” and “New Durham,” make them weep, while modern compositions produce little or no effect.
Another fact. In every part of the United States, even where new music is sung in the public congregation because it is fashionable, let any one mingle with the devout worshippers of God in their social meetings, and he will hear—not the scientific gingling [sic] of imported discord, but the simple harmony of old “Turner,” “Northfield,” the “Union Hymn,” or something that moves the hearts of good men, if it does not tickle the fastidious fancy of infidels.
If it is said that the rules of modern composition are frequently violated by the old composers, we will only say that old rules are as often violated by the new-and then appeal to the effect of their music to prove its comparative value. Every one knows how much old tunes have suffered by the modern “improvements” imposed upon them. Is this volume, the old church music remains unaltered, but the mistakes of printers have not been copied.
The Vestry music has been harmonized expressly for this work, and with the design of suiting the popular taste, and thus being useful, rather than of pleasing a few scientific ears, and thus being, in many instances, totally unfitted for general use. Some tunes, as well as poetry, have been admitted, not so much because they accord with the taste of the compiler, as with the belief, (and I beg the literati to consider this,) that they have been and will be useful to thousands of illiterate persons, who know more of God’s pardoning love, than of Mozart, Beethoven, or the British poets, and whose songs of praise are most assuredly acceptable to Him, though they should prefer the music of old “Canaan,” to that of Haydn’s “Creation.” No tune, however good it may be, is appropriate to every time and place. But it is very easy for persons of judgment to determine when and where a tune may be useful; and it is hoped the following pages contain something appropriate to every occasion connected with the worship of God.
With regard to the law of copy-right, especial care has been taken. The compiler is not aware of a single violation. A few tunes have been written from memory, the origin of which is uncertain; and it is not known that any one claims a cop-right to them. The compiler takes pleasure in acknowledging his especial obligation for favors received, to Lowell Mason, (to whom our country owes a debt of gratitude,) G.J.Webb, Rev. G. Coles, G. Kingsley, I.B. Woodbury, and E.L. White, Professors of Music—to the Boston “Handel and Haydn Society,” and the “Boston Academy,”-to C. Bradlee, O. Ditson, Wilkins, Carter & Co., publishers, and generally to all the Professors, Editors, Publishers, Composers, and lovers of sacred music, since David.
If any one, already predisposed to criticism, should, upon the appearance of this humble work, detect in himself returning symptoms, it is absolutely necessary, in order to any good result, that his heart should be filled with love to God and good will to man. The compiler assures him that much time and labor have been spent upon it, and that he has done all within his power, under existing circumstances, to produce a work that shall promote the cause of virtue and religion; and he sincerely hopes that all who sing from these pages may join the full chorus of “Worthy the Lamb,” in the swelling anthems of eternity.