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The Pedagogic Value of the New Movement in Hymnody

By Winfred Douglas

Peekskill, N. Y., 1919.

LAST week appeared in the public press a statement that America in general, and New York City in particular, had become the musical center of the world. If this be really true, we must be the most musical of peoples, and our children must live and grow in such a native air as will make the music teacher's task easier than anywhere on earth. But in what sense is the statement true? New York City probably has more orchestral concerts in winter than any other town in the world. It has long sustained an opera that brings together more noted singers than any other. About three million out of its six million people own expensive singing machines to sing the airs of these singers in their private apartments, or playing machines to domesticate the art of the instrumental star. Most of our people refuse to eat in public places unless orchestras are supplied to accompany the process. The organ has boldly marched out of church to become one of the indispensable necessities of the movie theatre. Our church choirs are better paid than any. Our people will spend vast sums and go in vast numbers to hear skilled and famous soloists perform feats of virtuosity. Obviously, we are the most musical of peoples.

And yet, out of fifty girls of good family entering our school at Peekskill this year, only three could sing a simple melody with sweet and sustained tone. Singing, to the others, meant a staccato shouting, in rough and coarse chest tone, of the appalling rubbish that emanates from Broadway. To practically all of them the place of music in life was that of a rather slight sensuous pleasure from without; almost never that of a necessary self-expression from within. This experience is not isolated; and it points to what I believe to be the chief pedagogical problem confronting music teachers in America: how to make music come from within instead of from without, to the great mass of American children. We must contrive to make out of music a vital and necessary expression of the nobler side of each child's nature. This will be the only possible foundation of a really musical nation.

Of course this can only be done by the guiding of natural impulses possessed by every child. Two such impulses, common to mankind, unite in varying proportions to become the soured of all music. They are the rhythmical, or dance-impulse; and the self-expressive, or song-impulse. We all recognize the fact that music which humanly relates itself to rhythmic expression through bodily motion forms a genuine and sincere music for the child. But it is far easier to teach the child to make the bodily motion than the music. In this field, the music may best be taught by means of the dance, as in the eminently practical and successful work of Jacques Dalcroze.

But the song-impulse, the demand for emotional self-expression through vocal tone, begins very early with every child. Watch one, unseen. Alone in his happy wonder-world, his little voice will soon begin a wavering song, wandering high or low, sometimes absolutely without form or rhythm, sometimes very definitely tuneful. Recently, on the elevated railway, I heard such an unconscious but vital improvisation from a' tiny thing not over two. It finally developed into three strains which seemed to give the baby intense satisfaction, for he repeated them over and over for five or ten minutes, and I noted them down in my book as rather precious evidence of the very birthplace of music in the human soul.

Now, if we can work upon this common heritage of childhood while it is still a field of intense delight and cause to grow therein not the noxious weeds of the contemporary music-hall, nor the dull foliage of mediocrity, but rather the precious blossoms of perfect song, from many lands and many ages, we shall have prepared in some degree for a rich heritage of true musical experience later on. A taste so formed, even in childhood, does not readily change. And the taste will be formed far more readily by making such songs the vital expression of an essential part of the child's nature than by merely offering music of an equal standard to be listened to. We must relate music to life. We must get the child away from what is artificial, from what is conventional, from what is unreal, to music that is founded on something vital and true.

The new movement in Hymnody supplies us with precisely what is needed here, for, in a word, it is a movement to discard the dull, the conventional, the unreal, from our hymnals; and to recover what is great, beautiful, and true from all lands and from all ages. Now, worship is an essential need of every child's life, and if we can supply the satisfaction of this need through pure and noble music, we shall have achieved the desired bond between music and life. I do not worry about my fifty girls shouting jazz, because I know that by this time next year they will be clapping their hands with delight when I begin to play over at their lesson one of the greater Bach Chorales, or a stirring Plain-song tune from the sixth century, or a splendid unaltered melody of Louis Bourgeois.

But in order that we may better grasp the significance of this new movement, and appreciate the variety of treasures provided by it, let us very briefly review the essential points in the history of hymnody. Some one has said that culture " is the constant study of all the best that has been said or done in the world's history." We ought to derive considerable musical culture from the study of the best that has been sung in this particular department of music. It began at the end of the fourth century with those few simple hymns of St. Ambrose, the great Archbishop of Milan, which have come down to us as the living forefathers of so multitudinous an offspring. By the time of St. Benedict's famous Monastic Rule, A.D. 530, the number had become sufficient to supply a hymn at each of the daily services provided for therein. From that time on there is no century which does not provide us with fine tunes, just as vital to-day as when written. For example: In the year 569 A.D., the Empress Sophia at Constantinople sent a fragment of the Cross (then not long recovered from the Persians) to Queen Rhadegund, who lived at Poictiers in France. The Bishop of the Diocese, Vincentius Fortunatus, a good poet and musician, composed two hymns for the occasion of their reception on November nineteenth: the Vexilla regis and the Pange lingua. Both are melodies of splendid beauty. I heard the first sung at Percy Mackaye's Masque of "Caliban" not long ago, and applauded by thousands. Every school-child ought to know and love that tune, and look forward eagerly to the day when its turn comes to be sung.

To the gathering volume of classic Latin hymns a novel and foreign element began to be added in the ninth century. From the East came extended and ornate melodies, at first merely vocalized without words, but afterward developed with new texts, both prose and poetry, and culminating at the middle of the twelfth century in the great Sequences of Adam of St. Victor. Still more popular strains of native song in this field began to spring up all over Europe. The Franciscan movement led to the vernacular Laudi Spirituali in Italy, from which at least one tune is familiar to us all, Alta Trinita beata. In France and the Latin countries, the true Carol, a religious song in dance rhythm, generally centering in the thoughts of Christmas or of the Virgin Mother, developed rapidly. Another type of religious folksong, relying more on melodic grace and beauty than on rhythm, flourished in England, and especially in Germany and Sweden. A typical example familiar to all is that lovely flower of devotion, Est ist ein Ros entsprungen.

Thus early in the sixteenth century, Europe had a very considerable treasure of exceedingly varied sacred song, the common possession of all. With the Protestant Reformation, this normal process of enrichment by accumulation came to a sudden and violent end. Whatever we may think of that great movement of human thought, in praise or in condemnation, we must, as musicians, grant that wholly new methods of hymnody arose on all sides in the sixty years after 1520. First came the Lutheran Chorale, beginning in that decade with at least twenty-four of Luther's own hymns, including so great a masterpiece as Ein' feste Burg. This rapidly growing vernacular art soon replaced or altered the olden treasure of Latin Hymnody in Central Europe.

Meanwhile in France, a different plan was tried. The court poet, Clement Marot, began the translation of the Psalms into French verse in 1533. They were first of all sung to ballad tunes. A little later, new airs were composed or adapted for them during a period of some twenty years by Louis Bourgeois, one of the greatest melodists who ever lived. It is a disgrace to our scholarship and to the hymnals of the last century, as well as to some in this, that most of us know his works only in barbarously distorted versions shorn of all the rhythmical grace which characterized them, to fit square-toed and stupid English words. One of the tasks of the New Hymnody is to restore these heavenly melodies to common use.

England followed the same course as Huguenot France, but at first with less artistic success. Nineteen metrical Psalms were published by Thomas Sternhold in 1549, the year of his death. A complete version of the Psalms with tunes was published in 1562, and for over a hundred years metrical Psalms, often of appalling dullness, but sometimes set to tunes of sober beauty, reigned in England. The hymn proper began to be in use again early in the eighteenth century. To some degree in the Church of England, but far more extensively among the Congregation-alists and Wesleyans, a new type of religious song came into use. Watts, the great outstanding hymn-writer among the Congrega-tionalists, began publishing in 1707; the Wesleys printed their first hymnal, the basis of modern Methodist hymnody, in 1739. The influence of this new Protestant art in America was very great indeed.

At this point, it might be well to point out that by the end of the eighteenth century, in place of that common treasury of historic and sacred song possessed by all Western Europe at the end of the fifteenth, we have an impoverished state of musical disintegration. The Roman Catholics theoretically possessed the ancient treasure, but practically the tunes were altered and distorted to a painful degree. In Germany and the Lutheran countries, only the Chorale was known; and though the Chorale had risen to incomparable splendour in the treatment of Bach, a long decline had set in. In Protestant France, the metrical Psalm alone held sway, as but a short time before had been the case with England. In America, only some of the Psalm tunes, with the novel Protestant hymns, which there, as in England, were often set to florid and semi-operatic airs. This was perhaps the lowest ebb in European hymnody.

Things began to improve in the nineteenth century. England frankly accepted hymns in place of the old dull metrical Psalms. A new interest in the better music of various periods began to be taken. Some of the ancient hymns came into occasional use again. The leader in this eclectic work was Reginald Heber, afterward Bishop of Calcutta. Strong and pure tunes were written by such men as Crotch, Goss, Elvey, Gauntlett, Steggall, and S. S. Wesley. Both in the Roman and English churches, the old Latin hymns began to be translated, and their tunes revived. Indeed, as a result of the Oxford Movement, one famous collection, "The Hymnal Noted," was published, consisting only of translated Latin hymns with their Plainsong tunes. This was of course a return to the false principle of limitation to a single type of music; but that type had been so long and so completely neglected that the work proved musically stimulating in a high degree.

About the middle of the nineteenth century, the last development of the English hymn, from which we are only now reacting, began. It was based more on the secular part song than on any previous models of sacred art. Barnby, Dykes, and Stainer, its leading writers, enriched our collections with many beautiful and dearly loved compositions, but most of them are better suited to performance by a choir than to the real musical function of a hymn; which is group-singing of an inspiring melody by everybody present. To test this, ask a group of children to sing Barnby's popular "Now the day is over" unaccompanied. It is a nice little part-song; not a hymn tune, or indeed a tune at all.

After this all too brief and incomplete sketch of the history of hymnody, we can now easily perceive the aims of the new movement in that art.

They are as follows:

First, to gather the best representatives of each period and country in the whole development of the art into a practical anthology of masterpieces for devotional use. This means the accumulation of a far greater treasure than that existing before the Reformation.

Second, to present the ancient tunes in the purest and best forms available. Many of us little realize how shockingly the older tunes have been distorted in hymnals, or how great is the charm of their original form.

Third, to recover and put to practical use with suitable words numerous treasures of folksong typical of varied racial and national cultures.

Fourth, to encourage composers of the present day to offer new -expressions of the old high ideals, avoiding alike the sentimentalism and the showy display which have somewhat weakened hymnody during the past fifty years.

In more or less complete furtherance of these aims, many important hymnals have been published during the present century-a period which will be for ever famous for the revival of all that is best in religious music. Among them, in England, are the great revised edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern; the Oxford Hymnal; the Yattendon Hymnal; Church Hymns; the Westminster Hymnal; the New Office Hymnal; Songs of Syon; and the English Hymnal. The latter two should be in the library of all who are interested in the subject. Woodward's Songs of Syon is indispensable to the careful student of musical history.

In America, the movement was anticipated by Bishop Young's " Great Hymns of the Church," a large work planned for the study rather than for practical use, but blemished by inadequate musical editing. During the past two years, both the Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church have published important hymnals deeply influenced by these principles.

It has been my happy lot for the past twelve years to utilize such a collection in the worship and practical musical work of a large school; and during this time I have observed certain very great educational advantages in the process. Our children have an effective repertory of about two hundred and fifty hymn melodies of the most varied character, most of which they can sing from memory in their second year. It includes about twenty-five very ancient tunes in the old four-line staff square notation of the twelfth century; many mediaeval carols from various countries; all of the more famous Lutheran chorales, many of which they sing in the great versions of Bach; about a dozen of the old French Psalter tunes of the sixteenth century, chiefly unaltered melodies by Louis Bourgeois; very many tunes from the English and Scotch Psalters of both sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; ancient traditional melodies of English, Welsh, Scotch, Irish, French,

Spanish, Swiss, Italian, Flemish, Dutch, German, Bohemian, Russian, and Finnish origin; classical hymn melodies of the eighteenth century from various countries; and of course, a large body of standard modern hymns of diverse origin.

In conclusion, let me enumerate some of the educational opportunities which have shown themselves in our use of this material:

1. The children have obtained a good working knowledge of the old square notation, in which great treasures of melody are still printed. In this notation, they have learned to read in the C clef as readily as in the G or F clef, and are thus prepared for later participation in choral work using the old clefs.

2. They have obtained a practical skill in rhythm which is somewhat unusual. Nearly all of the ancient hymn melodies, as well as the original unbarred forms of the chorales and Psalter tunes, were in prose rhythms. A widespread desire for similar rhythmic freedom is very evident in the work of living composers. Our children no longer find difficulties in attaining this freedom. They pass from duple to triple rhythmical units and back again with perfect ease and elasticity, and after the first few months are hardly aware of the rhythmical problem in such a melody as Est ist ein Ros entsprungen.

3. The History of Music, in place of being a recounting of unmeaning dates and names, unrelated to the children's own experience, has come to be a delightful field in which they can make excursions of their own and obtain first-hand familiarity. There is no stage of musical development from the sixth century on in which they do not at least know typical tunes which validly illustrate the history of the art. What conservatory graduates in America have any practical knowledge of the great melodic art prior to the invention of counterpoint? Yet our children know many of these venerable historic tunes familiarly and love them dearly; and so are at home in the basic material of classic polyphony. When they hear, later on, some1 a cappella choir sing Vittoria's beautiful Tantum ergo, they will know by heart the lovely old Spanish plainsong tune upon which it is built. I have heard them unconsciously singing some of the older plainsong melodies alone at their play on our wooded mountain-top. If they attend an orchestral concert and hear some one of the many works that quote the Dies irae, the quotation is instantly recognized, with all its emotional connotation. Bach is to them no writer of intellectual puzzles or hated piano studies, but a dearly loved friend whose great chorale arrangements win more spontaneous applause than anything else we sing. The many folksong settings open wide fields of racial musical development. In fact, for these children, musical history henceforth deals with something at least practically familiar and dear.

4. This familiarity with the melody of diverse ages means also practical acquaintance with exceedingly varied styles, with a wide range of esthetic and emotional expression. Sentimentality cannot flourish in such an atmosphere; nor can monotony dull the keen appreciation of essential beauty of each characteristic type of melody. After all, a dull monotony of style is what has made so much of our hymn-singing hateful to musicians and unutterably boring to children, who revel in learning the technique of expression when they have something beautiful and characteristic to express.

5. Our children lay the foundation of a sound and pure vocal style, and form a habit of choral song, which leads very many of them after graduation to eagerly continue in such choral bodies as are accessible to them.

6. Those who are doing actual musical work apart from this general work of the whole school obtain a practical training in melody which is very significant. They all quite unconsciously learn the beauty and value of the modal scales. Only the other day a child of thirteen, in her written melody work, turned out quite a charming tune in the Dorian mode. Melodic invention is one of the points in which modern music is weakest. It is our experience that the daily work with pure melody in the hymns strengthens the capacity for it very perceptibly.

7. But the most important educational gain brought about by the work is the close association of all this varied music-making with the best and highest side of the children's lives. What makes music worth living for and toiling for; what makes the only adequate reward of the music teacher's life, is the fact that music is the voice of the soul, and not alone of the body or of the mind.

And when our children, as so many of them do at Peekskill, have formed the habit of expressing the aspirations and ardors of their souls in the great heritage of pure song, we may justly feel that we have at least done something to make America a musical center in fact, and that our work as music teachers has been worth all that it cost in preparation, in effort, and in sacrifice.

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