THE publication of an advertisement offering a premium for "the best approved tract adapted to promote the general cultivation and the highest devotional and spiritual influence of Church Music," implies, on the part of those who set it forth, a two-fold conviction. It may be safely inferred that they are of opinion that Church Music is not "generally cultivated," and that what is cultivated has not such a "devotional and spiritual influence" as such an essential part of Divine Service ought to possess.
That these positions are irrefragable, may well occasion serious thought; and it is a no less melancholy consideration that they have a reciprocal bearing, constantly tending to aggravate the evil which they express. Church Music is not generally cultivated because what is in use is, for the greater part, not calculated to assist devotion, not capable of exerting any thing but a repulsive influence upon either the heart or the understanding, the animal or the intellectual faculties of man--in other words, because it is not good: and yet, improvement is scarcely to be expected until some means shall have been found to direct the general attention of the religious community to this important topic. A good preliminary step has been taken by the originators of the advertisement before referred to, and I for one heartily bid them "God speed."
Church Music is either vocal, or instrumental; or of that mixed kind which results from the combination of the two. To limit the essay within reasonable bounds, I shall confine myself at present to this latter kind, viz. vocal music accompanied by the organ only; thus avoiding all discussion upon the lawfulness or eligibility of the use of instruments in Divine Worship, and assuming that the point will not be disputed, that a good organ in good hands is not a hindrance but a help to devotion.
Church Music may be again distributed into Choral, viz. that which is to be performed by a Choir only, and Congregational. And here we approach a topic, upon which, as there is much misunderstanding and erroneous principle prevalent, it will be well to dilate a little.
A notion, false and groundless as a pagan dogma, is yet entertained by many worthy and pious people, that all the singing introduced in Divine Service should be of such a nature as to permit all persons present to unite in its performance; a notion unsupported alike by reason and common sense, by the analogy of the case, by the authority of Holy Scripture, and by the usage of the Christian Church in all ages.
The use of music of some kind in Holy Offices being recognized by all sects and denominations, with the unimportant exception of the Quakers and cognate enthusiasts, it were irrational and absurd to confine it to its simplest and least engaging forms; thus either relinquishing all the higher and nobler developements of this fascinating and peculiarly sacred science to worldly and profane uses, or virtually condemning them to total extinction. How much better, how much more reasonable is it, that they to whom the gift of exquisite musical talent has been entrusted, and for the use or abuse of which they will hereafter have to render their solemn account, should be encouraged to improve and consecrate it to the service of our common Lord and Saviour, than that they should be thus compelled to hide it in a napkin, or bury it in the earth of cold neglect! But it were absolutely preposterous to suppose that, in this advancing age, the elegant refinements of scientific music either can be or ought to be blotted out from the number of pursuits and occupations of civilized man. The Church may reject them, but the great adversary of the Church is ever ready to avail himself of them and convert them into engines of destruction. Whose then will be the responsibility, if immortal souls are wiled to perdition by those very means which the Church had at command but supinely refused to put in requisition?
And so much for the common sense view of the matter.
Now, if for a moment we turn to the argument from analogy, we shall find much to support the view here taken, and little indeed to countenance the opposite.
That singing is a Christian duty, is conceded pretty well upon all hands. But so also is praying. It will not be pretended that the latter is not fully as binding upon every member of the Church as the former; neither will any sane man presume to assert that the one is not as imperative a congregational duty as the other. Let us inquire then how the duty of public prayer is performed.
In those religious communities which employ a liturgy or form, we shall find three modes of public prayer. There are prayers audibly pronounced by the clergyman alone, others repeated by the people, and a third kind in which both clergyman and people unite. And this is analogous to what it is humbly apprehended is the proper and legitimate application of Church Music, according to which a congregation would sometimes be edified by the exhibition of the consecrated skill of some tasteful singer or well trained choir, and at other times unite with him and them in rapturous ascriptions of praise to the Triune God, adapted to a plain and simple tune, in which--and in which alone--all could join.
In the English Cathedral service, as also in that of the Roman Catholics, the clergyman or priest occasionally chaunts by himself, and in many instances most effective choirs are kept up for the performance of the daily music of the Church: but it must be confessed that good psalmody or congregational singing are rarely to be met with in the Church of England; and if any at all is to be heard (of which I am in some doubt) in the Roman Catholic Church, it must be attributed to the influence of Protestant example. The days are gone by wherein the thrilling sound occasioned by five or six thousand people singing a psalm at St. Paul's cross might be heard far around, rending the air like a peal of thunder.
But the analogy is most perfectly carried out by the United Brethren or Moravians. Amongst them, congregational singing of the best, because of the simplest, possible description, is delightfully general; yet they gladly encourage the cultivation of musical talent by employing, particularly at the great festivals of the Church, disciplined choirs and even full orchestral bands, in the performance of anthems and other pieces of the highest order of scientific composition. In their liturgical services they admit all the modes of singing before enumerated, sometimes the officiating minister chaunting alone, the choir responding it may be, or the congregation; then the choir and people interchanging verses of appropriate import, now and then perhaps relieved by a lino or a verse for women or for children alone; and thus are brought into use almost all conceivable varieties, from the solemn intonation of a single voice, to the resounding doxology bursting from the lips of the whole assembly.
Now this example cannot be lightly pretermitted or cast aside; for, in the Moravian Church must be recognized not only an orthodox but an eminently pious body of men, sound in the faith, spiritual in their walk and conversation, and of primitive simplicity in their manners.
But there are other Christian bodies, and some of these may say "We do not admit forms or liturgies, and therefore nothing that has yet been advanced applies to us."
Let us see. It would perhaps be rather out of place here to draw from the premises an argument for the use of set forms of worship: and yet, without a form, it is clearly impossible that there should be any congregational singing, to which both a form of words and a form of music are alike indispensable. But let that pass, seeing that these very parties (with the exception of the Quakers, the most formal informalists in the world) do tacitly recognize musical forms, and it is no part of the business on hand to inquire into their consistency in so doing.
Instead of that, we will again take up the case of prayer, when it will be found that the argument from analogy is if possible stronger in this case than it was in the preceding.
How then do those sections of the Christian Church to which allusion has just been made perform this important and fundamental duty?
The answer is, that is done by the voice of the minister alone, the vocal participation of the people being, by the impromptu nature of the thing, excluded, at least until the petition shall have been enunciated. And yet, many a good man or woman who approves this mode of conducting the whole of the solemn duty of public prayer, will be among the loudest to condemn any approach to an analogous method as applied to any portion of public praise. Why, however, it should be so highly laudable in the one case, and not at all admissible in the other, does not appear.
Probably there is at bottom, in the minds of the objectors, an idea that none but congregational singing has the sanction of the authority of Holy Writ. Well: let us see whether it be so.
To begin with the Old Testament; we do not, as far as I am aware, find any recorded instance whatever of congregational singing in all that has come down to us concerning the Temple worship; but we do find notices of a host of professional vocalists and instrumental performers regularly employed and statedly engaged in the service. Not having the book at hand, I cannot quote precisely; but if I mistake not, Josephus informs us that the number under Solomon amounted to several thousands. Whether that be so or not, certain it is from various places of Scripture, wherein there is incidental mention of the "singers and players upon instruments," that there was a very considerable body of persons so designated, some of whom were so highly honoured as to have their names inscribed at the head of the Psalms, in the performance of which they bore a conspicuous part.
Let it be noted that the music of the Jewish Church, like prayer itself, was not the subject of Mosaic legislation at all; for the blowing of trumpets on occasion of the new moon, etc. is clearly to be esteemed--like firing a gun or hoisting a flag--rather as a signal to the people, than as an act of Divine worship. Constituting therefore no part of the Mosaic dispensation, the Church Music of the Jews was not abrogated with the Levitical ritual. It descended to the Christian Church; and accordingly when it is said that our Saviour and his disciples "sang a hymn" before the occurrence of the appalling events of Gethsemane, the supposition of the learned in such matters is that the hymn spoken of was that portion of the Psalms of David which the Jews designated as the "Great Hallel." Whether it were so or not, is not very material. If the hymn were not, as to words and music, the effect of immediate inspiration,--and that would take it out of the range of the subject altogether, as being a case sui generis,--it must have been some sacred song with which that then despised but now glorified party was well acquainted, and it must then necessarily have been derived from the "songs of Zion."
If from this we turn to the Apostolic age, immediately succeeding, what do we find? Singing, undoubtedly; but of what kind? The advocates of exclusive congregational singing will be hard put to it to establish their position. They must believe, in the first place, that every man, woman, and child, belonging to the then believing Church, could sing; no matter what their ignorance, their want of training, their infirmities or physical disabilities: and, in the next, they must hold that all were able to begin together, to continue together, and to terminate together; for otherwise some would be singing whilst others were silent, to allow which would be to concede the principle which they oppose. Not only does this absurdity (and such it is) follow, but they must also exclude the introduction of all new tunes for ever; for no congregation can sing music with which they are previously unacquainted. Improvement, in that case, is not to be looked for; and the proffered premium might be as well bestowed in feeding swine as in rewarding the attempt to promote the cultivation of Church Music.
But it will be said "this is again an argument from reason and not from the Bible. Show us your authority for solo singing, duetts, &c."
Nay. The argument for the unlawfulness of these things should first be advanced. The position taken in this essay is that there is nothing in the word of God, either in the Old Testament or in the new, to discountenance them.
An attentive and unprejudiced perusal and consideration of the Apostle's advice to the Corinthian Church (1 Cor. xiv.) will probably however set this matter in its proper light. When exhorting them so to exercise their gifts as to conduce 'to general edification, the drift of his argument is to enforce the expediency of order, and such a mode of conducting their public services as should not exclude the use of the understanding. Among the "spiritual gifts" referred to, singing is one; and the form of expression adopted is such as to be, to my mind, conclusive upon the point that, at that early period, solo singing was known and received by the Church. His words are these,
------"Forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the Church.
Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown tongue, pray that he may interpret.
For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.
What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
Else when thou shall bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?
For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified." (v. 12. et seq.)
In this passage, singing and praying are both spoken of by the Apostle, in precisely the same terms, as exercises conducted, at least occasionally, by one person, others meanwhile silently assenting; and this he tacitly commends as conducive to edification. But, a little farther on, he condemns that strange confusion which must have resulted from the contemporaneous exercise of various and dissimilar gifts in the same assembly. However, the very reproof he administers contains another conclusive indication of the employment of singing by one person.
"How is it then, brethren? [he says] when ye come together every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done to edifying"--i. e. as he elsewhere expresses himself "decently and in order."
The Scriptures then certainly do not conclude against the exercise of a single voice.
To quote the usages of the primitive, more especially of the Eastern Churches, even were the authorities at hand, would probably be of little avail in enforcing conviction upon a mind which would not yield to the considerations already adduced. Suffice it to say that the custom of chaunting the Psalms of David interchangeably by a choir of singing men, divided into parts, took very early and deep root in that very city where "the disciples were first called Christians," viz. at Antioch, and thence, on the cessation of persecution, spread throughout the Evangelized world. An old and anonymous English author cites a passage from Isidore to this effect, "Of the ancient custom of singers in the old church of the Jews, the primitive Church took example to nourish singers, by whose songs the minds of the hearers might be stirred up to God;" adding "And the psalmist or singer ought to be most excellent both in voice and art, that he may the better delight the hearers with the sweetness of his music." ["The praise of Musicke." Oxford, 1586. Chap. IX. on "the lawful use of Musicke in the Church."] In confirmation, he quotes many other of the ancient Fathers and Historians, e. g. Theodoret, Pliny, Zozomenus, Socrates' tripartite history, Hieronymus, Augustine, &c., whose concurrent testimony is equally satisfactory. Wherefore it may be considered as a point firmly and indisputably settled and established, that, as Music was the gift of God to man, partly for the solace and delight of the creature, but principally as the appropriate vehicle for the celebration of His praises;--so it was accordingly cherished and encouraged in the ancient Church by the institution of bodies of singers expressly set apart to "laud and magnify His holy name," and so it has continued in use, with more or less of corruption and decay, and occasional resuscitation, until the present time.
But the employment of an organized choir must by no means be presumed to exclude congregational singing. That will derive benefit and improvement from the association, by the refinement of taste, which, under good auspices, must necessarily ensue.
Probably the framers of the advertisement which has called forth this essay had in view, principally, if not exclusively, this latter species of Church Music, commonly called Psalmody. Accordingly I will proceed, with all deference, to offer my views upon the subject; premising only that I deemed it necessary previously to remove an error which has obtained no feeble hold upon a portion of the Christian world; which error, by shutting out all music hut congregational singing, has in many instances too surely defeated its own object, by driving to other denominations (some perhaps alas! to destruction) those of their members who were favoured by the possession of natural good taste, and by utterly extinguishing the last spark of musical sensibility in those who remained. Indeed I do very seriously question whether congregational singing can be sustained by itself. It will gradually languish and expire. How different such a result to that which would flow from obedience to the apostolic injunction, "Seek that ye may excel, to the edifying of the Church." This would excite a holy rivalry, a pious emulation, which would soon revive the dormant spirit of Christian song. But if the exhibition of excellence is not only checked but absolutely interdicted, study becomes useless, improvement is paralyzed, and the fiat goes forth, "Take the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents." Such is the ordinary course of God's providence with respect to abused or neglected gifts, whether of nature or of grace; for both alike proceed from Him.
Here it may be noted, that the neglect or decay of Church Music is not unattended by other consequences injurious to the congregation or religious society which permits it. The chilling and repulsive influence of its unholy and discordant substitute pervades every department; devotion pines under the infliction, and zeal itself becomes lukewarm. This was felt very severely by a minister in the western part of this state (New-York), on an occasion when an abortive attempt had been made to sing a psalm or hymn. The congregation awaited the commencement of his sermon, but the good man was so much depressed and disheartened by their music, that, instead of beginning his discourse, he thus addressed them: "I must beg you, my friends! to repeat the hymn, for it is impossible for me to preach after such singing."
But it is to be feared that the condition of musical affairs in that particular congregation is not solitary in its worse than worthlessness. Congregational singing is at almost the lowest possible ebb. How happens this? By what causes has it been brought about? What forces have operated to divert the stream of music which once flowed so sweetly and so refreshingly through the sanctuary, into other and less hallowed channels? Music of some sort certainly excites as much attention, and enjoys as large a share of the patronage of the public, as ever it did: nay, probably more money is lavished, more time is squandered upon it than at any former period of its history. And yet, Church Music has declined, and is declining still. This cannot be without efficient causes. Let us enquire into them, and we may then--and not before--find ourselves in a position to perceive the proper remedies.
Unquestionably, one of the causes of the lamentable decay of Church Music is to be found in the prevalence of the erroneous principle of restriction which has been discussed in the preceding portion of this essay. This alone might be esteemed sufficient to account for the effect we witness; for the reason before assigned, that where the higher species of composition are discouraged and interdicted, the spirit of music itself evaporates.
But various other causes have cooperated to the same end; and some of these will be found of a strangely opposite character one to another, yet combining to elicit the same unhappy result.
Thus, whilst on the one hand misguided religious zeal and would-be purism have checked the ardour, and in many cases altogether silenced the attempts, of those musicians who would devote their talents to the service of God; on the other, the spread of latitudinarian opinions, the multitudinous increase of sects, and the growth of infidelity, have tended to produce in many minds a deplorable indifference to all religious exercises, of which singing is one.
Again; ignorance and indiscretion on the part of those to whom the management of this delightful portion of Divine Worship has been too frequently entrusted, have done much towards bringing it into disrepute. Ignorance has foisted upon congregations as devotional music, crude and barbarous attempts at composition, which, were he to come within ear-shot, would well nigh drive an angel mad. Than this, there is no surer method to put an end to the singing of a congregation; for all who have "music in their souls" must leave it, and those who remain, though they may have been able to participate in psalmody before, are unable to keep it up. The choir have it all to themselves, and the minister wonders why the people are mute.
But indiscretion, on the part of conductors, directors, praecentors and organists, has done fully as much as ignorance, towards accomplishing the work of destruction. Whilst ignorance has been palming upon the people false harmonies and jejune melodies--the work of perhaps a good man but a sorry musician--indiscretion has led to the introduction of many enormities, equally pernicious in their influence. Look over the various publications of tune books with which the press annually teems, and what do you find? Specimens of prettiness extracted from the works of the fashionable composers of the age, scraps of operatic songs or ambitious attempts to construct something after the same models, and even well known secular melodies, thus forced into as ludicrous an association with sacred things as a minister of the Gospel would present were he to mount the pulpit tricked out in all the meretricious finery of a harlequin. Nor are the conductors alone and entirely to blame in this matter, for unhappily, alas! the people apparently "love to have it so," and to withstand them might lead to pecuniary loss.
Is it any marvel that devotional singing has declined under such deleterious influences? Were it not for the consideration that the long suffering of God is infinite, the marvel would rather be that those who offered this "strange fire" had not died the death of Korah and his associates, when the earth opened beneath their feet and they went down alive into the pit.
Let me not be reminded of the quaint saying attributed to half a dozen erratic divines, that "it is a pity the Devil should have all the good tunes." It does not here apply. The tunes, how "good" soever as originally appropriated, are not good for solemn uses. The simple fact that they must ever and anon recall worldly if not profane associations, were there no other objection, would be sufficient to subject such abominations to a sacred interdict for ever.
There is another direction, in which, although neither unholy nor ill-written compositions have been employed, congregational singing has been effectually checked. This has been by the introduction of intricate and studied pieces, "fugue tunes" and such like, in the place and stead of plain psalmody adapted to general use; in other words, by the conversion of a psalm or hymn into a regular anthem, which must necessarily be performed by the choir alone. This is the effect of the reaction of the erroneous exclusive principle against which we have been contending. It is curious to note how that very principle which had in view the maintenance of congregational psalmody exclusively, has, in its reflex operation tended to pervert and change the character of psalmody itself, until it has ceased to be congregational at all! This result, however, deprecate it as we may, is perfectly natural, and flows from that desire to "excel," which as we have seen is in itself the subject of high commendation. But I must confess, I like not this smuggling in of choral music under false pretences. Let it come in all its native dignity and grace as an appropriate celebration of praise from the mouths of a disciplined band of" holy singers;" but let it not be thrust in surreptitiously, for such a transaction partakes of the nature of fraud and deceit. It pretends to be a psalm or hymn for the congregation; it is in fact an anthem for the choir, and it robs the people of their appointed place for participating in the musical services of the Church.
Now, leaving the consideration of the style of musical composition adopted, for that of the character of the parties principally concerned in its performance, another grand cause of the decline of congregational music cannot fail to become manifest.
In too many instances has it happened, both in Europe and in America, that a church in the selection of its musical officers, has paid no regard whatever to any but the technical qualifications of the candidates. To be a good singer or player was (and is?) a sufficient passport to a professional engagement to take a leading part in some of the most solemn devotional exercises of Christian worship, no matter whether the party thus engaged were embued with religious feeling or not. In such cases, it has sometimes chanced that the choice has fallen upon a worthy object. But put the reverse. Suppose the choice to fall upon a man who has not the fear of God before his eyes, or upon one who hath said in his heart "There is no God," but one who yet possesses abundance of musical talent; what will be, what must be, the issue? Music may continue, and from the place in which it is performed it may be called Church music, but devotional music there will be--there can be--none. Under the administration of such a man, congregational singing will soon become extinct; for nothing is more exquisitely sensitive than is the popular feeling concerning the manner in which every branch of Divine Service is conducted. Devotion may be excited or repressed, warmed or chilled, by differences of manner, which, technically considered, are so minute as to escape particular observation. The proximate effect, the precise mode in which this want of religious feeling on the part of the organist or conductor operates on the congregation, may not be distinctly appreciated; yet this does not diminish the force of the fact. There are many who never studied music, who yet can understand and adopt the remark once made by a good old lady, "I can always tell when the organ is played with an unction."
It will be perceived that I am not adverting to the introduction of men of flagrantly immoral and infamous character, nor to the ill effect of gross and palpable irreverence of manner, in the performance of Holy Offices; they need no remark: but I refer to the baleful consequences which must ever attend the total absence of religious feeling on the part of those who conduct the devotions of a congregation, whether in the reading-desk, the pulpit, or the organ-gallery. In other instances men appreciate fitness or unfitness quickly enough. It is passing strange that they perceive it not in what relates to our subject. Were a person to put himself forward as a singer of comic songs, who yet was quite incapable of entering into the humour of the pieces he professed to perform, he would be very soon admonished that he had mistaken his vocation. But in the Church it is not always so; and many an ungodly man has vexed the ears of the devout members of a Christian congregation by the exhibition of his skill in the performance of music, in which, although his "understanding" was employed, his "spirit" bore no part.
Candour however here requires the admission, that a deep religious feeling is sometimes to be found in men whose ordinary avocations would, in the estimation of many, seem to preclude its cultivation.
I remember an instance of a very worthy and every way respectable musician, who was not more regularly in his place as a member of the orchestral band at a theatre, than punctual and devout in his attendance and behaviour at Chapel, and that for twenty successive years. Who shall venture to condemn such a man, in that the nature of his vocation and the temporal interests of his large family, induced him, without violating his own conscience, to "bow himself in the house of Rimmon"? "Judge not, that ye be not judged."
On the contrary, I have known men of great religious pretensions, who, by their conduct in the moral relations of life, have too foully disgraced both their professional character, and their assumed zeal in the cause of Christ. "By their fruits ye shall know them."
For the employment of ungodly men, perhaps the plea of necessity will be set up; and in truth it is apparently a strong one. The demand for religious musicians exceeds the supply; and so, as the Church cannot obtain wheat, she contents herself with tares. But why should this be? It is to be feared that the Church will have much to answer for on the score of a culpable parsimony with reference to the support of her musical officers. Among settled congregations, instances are rare wherein adequate provision is not made for the comfortable support of the clergy: but the instances are yet more rare in which any thing approaching to a bare competency for the subsistence of a family is allotted even to the "chief musician" of a flourishing Christian congregation. Probably upon the entire continent of North America there is not even one such instance. How then can an ecclesiastical musician be expected to devote himself to his work? And if, here and there, one should do so, upon what rational ground can a succession of such men be looked for? "Who goes a warfare at his own charges?" What religious young men, although possessed of the requisite tact and talent, will expend their early years in study for a profession, which, sacred though it be, after all, in the present state of society, will bring them neither honour nor emolument; nay, which will not reimburse them for their time and money so expended? Assuredly few, or none.
St. Paul asks his Corinthian converts "Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple?" Such is the rule, and the parties concerned in the direction of Church Music do certainly "minister about holy things;" but alas! that upon which they are to "live" must be sought elsewhere. Hence it unfortunately happens that the profession is generally followed by worldly men, with worldly views, principles and motives; and although the Church makes use of them, she sends them to the world for their subsistence. And the penalty of this niggardliness is righteously exacted, in the quenching of all spirituality in the music of the Church, and in its conversion into a mere exhibition of artistical skill.
What but this dismal result can be expected? When a man must devote all his energies, during six days out of seven, to the diligent instruction of pupils in the art of performing quadrilles and waltzes and all the lighter music of the age, or in teaching them to sing sentimental songs and flippant ballads, or in composing or adapting music of a like character, calculated to meet a ready sale in the fashionable circles of society, how can he be supposed likely to come properly prepared upon the Lord's Day to take a leading part in the deep solemnities of Christian worship? It is perhaps just within the scope of possibility, but it is certainly far out of the range of likelihood. The spirit of the week-day business will too generally and too surely pervade and tincture the Sunday employment: the melodious ballad of the concert room will issue from the loft under the holy garb of a "pretty" psalm tune, and the brilliant fantasia or operatic overture will enter the Church under the disguise of a voluntary. These atrocities are not the mere imaginings of a suspicious fancy, they are lamentable matters of fact. Such things have been, and unless better order be taken, such things will be again. Is it any cause of wonderment that Church Music does not flourish?
But, not to dwell too long upon this unpleasant, and, to a professional musician, peculiarly delicate topic, let us pass on to the consideration of some of the remaining causes of the declension of congregational singing; of which, however, I purpose mentioning but two or three more.
One of these is the prevalence of a silly fashion, which deems it ungenteel to sing in Church. To suffer the voice to be heard swelling the praises of God in the great congregation, would be accounted decidedly vulgar; and, in some cases, to join the choir and bear the reproach of a "psalm-grinder," (that is the contumelious epithet,) were to lose caste entirely. A spurious diffidence and mock modesty may restrain a few, but the "fear of man" actuates far more: such is the tyranny of vicious custom. Many a young lady, who, with slight but not unaffected bashfulness, can stand up bare-faced, and it may be bare-necked, in all the glare of a modern gorgeous drawing-room, and sing a mawkish love-ditty, before an admiring throng of the well-dressed votaries of dissipation, will yet feel ashamed,--yes, although bonneted and veiled, will feel positively ashamed to open her mouth in the house of God. What hope can be entertained for the restoration of congregational singing, whilst so deadly a feeling as this prevails among a large portion of those who profess and call themselves Christians? O! that they would ponder upon the awful words of our Saviour Christ, "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels." (Mark viii. 38.)
It is true that sometimes there may be just cause for silence, even where there is the disposition to sing. If the tune is unknown by the congregation, they cannot sing it. And this leads to the remark that the constant introduction of new melodies operates very injuriously upon congregational music; as also does the great number of metres now to be found in almost every collection of Psalms and Hymns, each metre requiring not simply a tune but a collection of tunes adapted to the varying sentiments of the poetry. To set a cheerful tune to a penitential psalm, or a lugubrious melody to a rapturous poem, would be alike incongruous and indecent. Hence the necessity of perhaps considerably more than a hundred different melodies; for the number of metres rarely falls far short of thirty. How can those persons who visit a church but once or twice a week acquire or maintain an acquaintance with so many tunes? They must be apt learners indeed if they do. But to pass on,
Another cause of the decay of congregational music is to be found in the technical inefficiency of the means and agents sometimes employed to conduct it. Where the organ is used, an instrument of inadequate dimensions and power, or of bungling workmanship and defective mechanism, or harsh and disagreeable in the quality of its intonation, or one which is totally unfitted for any kind of musical expression, will do a great deal towards rendering good psalmody impossible. A very small organ accompanying a large congregation, on the supposition that the people actually sing, is worse than useless; as, not having authority enough to restrain the unavoidable tendency of the multitude to go astray from the original pitch, unlicensed discord and confusion must inevitably ensue. Defective mechanism also must occasion perplexing irregularities, which, even under the hands of an able organist, will be sufficient to check the current of harmony and disturb the devotions of the whole assembly. A harsh, squeaking, grating instrument, giving forth sounds to be excelled in repulsive roughness only by a cannon-borer or by a razor-grinder's wheel, will be still more efficacious in driving music entirely out of the church. And lastly, a machine or barrel organ, as being incapable of expression, or of conveying the impulse of mind and feeling, is open to all the objections already urged against a non-religious performer.
Then again, whether the organ be good or bad, if the organist is unequal to its skilful management, and that too with sufficient ease to allow him to devote his attention principally to the subject matter, the religious usefulness of his accompaniment becomes very problematical.
The worst conceivable case is that of a vile, discordant and crazy instrument, in the hands of a contemptible and unskilful organist, accompanying a graceless band of ignorant and vainglorious singers, in the attempted execution of music beyond the ability of one or the other to perform with decent propriety. In such a case, no matter what the style of music adopted, devotion is out of the question.
The last circumstance which I shall mention, as militating against the prosperousness of legitimate Church Music, is one which must be touched with much tenderness. I mean the frequent meddling and painful interference with the musical department, on the part of men who yet frequently avow their entire unacquaintance with even the rudiments of the science, and who notwithstanding would fain exercise the same controul over the Music of the Church as they claim over the details of their own dining-tables. If a man involved in an important lawsuit, were to call in the aid of counsel, would he dream of dictating to him the steps to be taken or the pleas to be urged? Or if a sick man were to call in the aid of a physician, would he insist upon prescribing his own medicine? If he were so to act, the general sense of mankind would condemn him. And why does it not in the case of Church Music? Simply because the interests involved are not so obviously direct and tangible.
Sometimes the dictatorial interference complained of is exercised by men "clothed in a little brief authority," and sometimes by officious but non-official members of a congregation. In any case it is vexatious and mischievous in its operation. The performance of public duty with that degree of tranquillity and self-possession which it demands, is under such circumstances impracticable. The querulous and snarling censures of perhaps half a dozen ill-conditioned members of a congregation, and more especially the occasional preposterous exhibition of authority on the part of a clergyman, a vestryman, or an elder, must disturb and unsettle the mind of any man composed of materials less susceptible of impression than flint or granite. Organists and musical conductors have feelings as well as other men, a fact sometimes overlooked: nay it may be, that, from the very nature of their pursuits, keeping the nervous system in a state of continual excitement, they are peculiarly sensitive. Let it be remembered, that, although they are the servants of the Church, they are not the servants of every individual member of that body; that, in attempting to carry out the views of one, they will almost certainly incur the censure of another portion; and that nothing will more infallibly tend to offend all in turn, than a plastic, time-serving, men-pleasing disposition, yielding to every breath of popular opinion, and acting upon ho settled principle. If a charge be committed to them, therefore, let them execute it in peace, to the extent of their respective abilities, so-long as they may be retained in office; but, for pity's sake, torment them not. They are confessedly a "genus irritabile," an excitable race; and if He who was "meek and lowly of heart" could speak of King Herod "Go, tell that fox" it ought not to occasion surprise if a musician, worried and provoked beyond ordinary endurance, should at length exclaim, "Go tell that bear, that I serve no longer." This leads to change, and change is itself an evil. New men, new measures; and although the change may be eventually for the better, yet, for awhile at least, congregational singing will be put back. Nevertheless, in some instances, change cannot be too sweeping, ere any improvement be attempted.
Here let us close the catalogue of depressing influences; for, although still more might have been mentioned, more than enough have been adduced to account most satisfactorily for the present miserable condition of Church Music generally.
The main question now naturally comes before us. What shall be done to produce amendment? The answer is obvious. As far as practicable, remove the causes of the evil.
Secure judicious and efficient men to take the lead in this important department, men of religious principle as well as scientific attainments; and grudge not an adequate compensation for their services. Numbers of such men will gradually be raised up, if but the proper opening and call be made for them. Where the possession of both these qualifications, religious character and artificial skill, is so essential to the proper discharge of the duty, it is difficult to decide which is the most necessary. Certain it is that piety will not make a man a scientific musician, and equally so that proficiency in music does not necessarily imply devout affections. Happy would it be for us, were these attributes more commonly combined. But perfection is not to be attained in this sublunary world. The tares will continue to grow with the wheat until the time of harvest.
Some good however may perhaps be done by the adoption of a more solemn mode of investing the musical officers of a church, than the undignified process of a simple hiring. Of old, there appears to have been a form, when the chaunter of any place was chosen, almost approaching to the solemnity of an ordination. The charge prescribed for such occasions by the fourth council of Carthage ran thus, "Vide ut quod ore cantas, corde credas; et quod corde credas, opere comprobes." "See that thou believe with thine heart, what thou singest with thy mouth; and that what thou believest in thine heart, thou carry out in thy walk and conversation." It will be well if this can be rendered the prevailing sentiment of those who undertake the management of Church Music, although no such solemn charge have been administered to them on their induction to office.
This point gained, or something as near to it as circumstances will permit, the other details to be attended to, are the number and the kind of tunes employed, and the quality of the accompaniment. As to the latter, if an organ be admitted, let it be a good one, capable of conveying the impress of mind and feeling, and of guiding and governing the voices of a multitude. Such an instrument, in good hands, will do much towards exciting the musical affections and sensibilities of the people, and directing them into proper channels.
With respect to the tunes, and to the metres also, they should be, in the present state of society, comparatively few, and carrying a full harmony throughout, so as to encourage all the people to sing at all times during the psalmody.
The number of tunes in the Moravian Church is very considerable; but that circumstances cannot be drawn into example for us, unless we adopt their habits as a frequent church-going people. In their settlements I believe they attend services in the Chapel (some of which consist entirely of liturgical singing) once or twice every day throughout the year, and on Sundays and Festivals much more frequently. Thus their tunes are, as it were, even on their lips.
It is no part of my present plan to write technically upon the proper structure of psalm and hymn tunes; but I will observe thus much, that all duett or solo passages are out of keeping with the legitimate character and design of congregational singing. Let the melody be simple (the tune of the Old Hundredth Psalm is a fair type) and the harmony be studiously correct, so that no offence be given even to a fastidious critic.
At the same time, in order to foster and keep alive music of a higher order, let the choir be encouraged to cultivate and to exhibit their gifts in the performance of Anthems and set pieces, praising the Lord "in the beauty of holiness," and seeking to excel that they may edify the Church. Thus may the highest talent be again consecrated to its legitimate use, and "make His praise to be glorious."
Further, let the people be instructed in their duty. I do not mean by this that they should be assembled for musical practice. In the machinery and working of so-called singing schools, I see little or no utility whatever. They are at all events perfectly unnecessary. Under favouring auspices, if the people would but make the attempt, the advancement of congregational singing, though gradual, would be certain, without having any recourse to such fatiguing exercises. Where there is a good organ, every man, woman, and child should be encouraged to try to sing. No particular voice would or could be distinguished, and the full tide of harmony would force into its current those few who might otherwise find themselves unable to sing the tune steadily. The effect would be inconceivably grand, impressive, and sublime; and would more than amply repay the effort. Let false pride and delicacy then be cast aside, and let us unite in loudly celebrating the praises of our Crucified Redeemer.
"Let the people praise thee, O God! yea let all the people praise thee."
How else can we expect the fulfilment of the promise?--
"Then shall the earth bring forth her increase; and God, even our own God, shall give us his blessing."
May it rest upon this humble attempt.