Spiritual Songs for Social Worship

Thomas Hastings & Lowell Mason

Anthology of the American Hymn-Tune Repertory


The chief design of this publication, is to present to the lovers of devotional song, a convenient manual for the use of families and social religious meetings.  In the larger and more dignified assemblies, psalmody will continue to hold its appropriate place; but for social and private uses, something is needed which is more familiar, more melodious, and more easy of execution.  The importance of such music has become too evident to escape the notice of intelligent Christians; and the demand for it especially in seasons of revival, has of late been increasing.

It is to be lamented, however that in meeting this demand, compilers have not more frequently had recourse to good music.  Hitherto, the best compilers have done little more for this department, than to furnish occasional specimens among psalms and hymns of the ordinary character. These, though the number has been gradually increasing, have not been sufficiently numerous to satisfy the public. The consequence is, that a multitude of insipid, frivolous, vulgar, and profane melodies, have been forced into general circulation, to the great disparagement of the art, as well as to the detriment of musical reform.

Such a result as this might indeed, have been naturally anticipated, in times like the present. Impenitent men, for example, who might be ignorant of the true principles of devotional music, would, immediately on their conversion, be found to exercise their religious feelings in such melodies, or however they might have been previously connected in the mind of others, with profane or impure associations.  Almost any music which should be applied to solemn words, under such affecting circumstances, would, for a little time, be sung with delight by the young convert, and heard with interest by such Christians as had previously neglected the subject of devotional singing; and such, there is some reason to apprehend, are the majority of professors at the present day.

There is also, one fact in the history of psalmody, which has lent its influence to the result here mentioned.  A number of devotional tunes now contained in the best collections of Europe and America, are known  to have had a secular origin.  The precedent thus furnished has been greatly abused.  Music which is purely the language of emotion, it must be admitted, has sometimes been found susceptible of such changes.  The same strains, for instance, that in one age of the world could express the joys or sorrows of earthly love, could in another age, when the circumstance of their origin had been forgotten, be made instrumental in kindling affection more pure and holy.  But examples of this nature have been comparatively few among the successful cultivators of the art; and they have by no means been sufficiently numerous to constitute any thing like a general rule of adaptation. Such experiments have usually been unfortunate; and in later times have been liable to the most serious and weighty objections.  Yet if the lapse of three centuries has furnished among the innumerable abuses of this sort, some twenty or thirty specimens of a more favored character, it by no means follows, that in the present state of the churches, the same experiment may be safely repeated by every publisher who is unacquainted with music, directly in defiance of the fundamental principles of the art. But this very thing has been done, and the public have been extensively called upon, in these enlightened days of reform, to recognize in the current love songs, the vulgar melodies of the street, of the midnight revellers [sic], of the circus, and the bar room, the very strains which of all other, we are told, are the best adapted to call forth pure and holy emotions, in special seasons of revival! In some instances too, tunes have come to us, not as old acquaintances partially recognized, but in all the freshness of their corruption, still reeking, as is were, with the impure associations which prevail in the haunts of moral pollution!

What was to be done in such circumstances as these? The established rules of musical adaptation furnish the only sure remedy.  These are found to correspond at once with the dictates of sound sense, and the history of past experience.  

1. The first legitimate question on the choice of tunes for devotional purposes, is, whether at the time of selection, they possess intrinsically an appropriate character; and are thence adapted to call forth the right emotions.

Music, it should be remembered, is very variable in its character.  What has been known to edify the people of one age or nation, has often proved insipid to another.

Extraneous circumstances also, will occasionally be found, to give temporary interest to a tune, which is insipid in itself; and where they do so, the tune will to some extent be used; but this is no reason why it should be held up to the public in general as a fair specimen of intrinsic excellence—the use of which would thus be sanctioned and perpetuated.  Such a course would have a tendency to bring the whole subject of music into disrepute. To borrow an illustration from a sister art.  Some very good men, for example will in their own devotions, prefer serious doggerels to the most simple, chaste, and impassioned specimens of lyric verse.  Let them do so. This does not alter the nature of the doggerels, nor render it necessary to force them into more general circulation. The man that does this, ultimately inflicts an injury upon the best interests of literature and religion; and the same may be said of the publisher of music who pursues a corresponding course in his selections of tunes.  The two cases we consider as parallel.

2.  The second question on the selection of devotional tunes, is, whither the specimens before us, though intrinsically chaste and effective, may not, in the minds of a considerable portion of the community, be connected with profane associations.  Where this is ascertained to be the fact, the tune should, for the present, at least, be cast aside as worse than useless. Give it a place among the more favored doggerels, where it may continue to be used in private, and eventually be sunk in oblivion, or if worthy of it, restored to public favor.

We are aware that the full importance of these fundamental principles of adaptation, will not be readily appreciated by those who habitually neglect the cultivation of the art; yet they wear the impress, as we have said, of sound sense and universal experience; and they are principles that have a vital bearing upon the permanent interests of devotional song.

Let the young convert, coming suddenly into a new world of light and love, express his burning emotions in airs that are familiar to him, and let none rudely intermeddle with his joys.  Let the simple-hearted Christian, who suddenly awakes, as by a second conversion, to the glorious themes of the gospel, sing forth in private, in his family, and in the smaller praying circles, the fullness of his glad emotions in the rudest of strains, if nothing more appropriate is at hand. There is not time as yet, for special cultivation, and where only the lame, the blind, the halt, and the torn, can be obtained for the sacrifice, the offering will perhaps be accepted, and the exercise for a while, tend to edification.  But to seize upon this circumstances for the purpose of forcing such unseemly melodies into general circulation, is just as preposterous as it would be to publish all the broken petitions of prayer, or the imperfect expressions of Christian experience that fall from the lips of the new-born soul.  Such things are interesting in their place, because they show the undisguised sincerity of the person who utters them; but certainly they are not on this account to be collected and published as suitable materials for a manual of devotion!

Such are the views entertained by the compilers of this work. On the materials here presented, they have bestowed abundant labor.  Their object has been, uniformly to connect chaste simplicity with the fervor of devotion.  Most of the tunes are simple and familiar.  Many of them have been composed expressly for this work.  Not one of them, it is believed, has been injured by unhallowed associations.  The words have been selected and arranged with care, through the kind assistance of several of the clergy; and not a few of the poetic specimens which are here presented, have been furnished by different hands as original compositions.  These and other favors will be more fully acknowledged in the sequel.  That the work may be proved extensively useful in elevating the standard of sacred music, and in enlivening the devotions of the pious, is the sincere and earnest prayer of the compilers.

January, 1833