The art of music has various functions in its relation to worship. In its simplest form it is nothing more than an orderly and dignified method of reading or saying; it rises higher and higher, till it becomes the perfected work of art; it then embodies and expresses the thoughts and aspirations of the composer; and thus it next becomes a teacher, a very forcible teacher, of those who know how to hear aright, owing to its remarkable power of pictorial and emotional narration. Lastly, music in worship should be regarded as a "thing of beauty," presented as a free offering to the eternal Source and Fount of all that is beautiful.
It is evident that in some respects music stands on much the same footing as any other arts which are accessories of worship. In architecture, sculpture, and painting, we find that thought can be expressed, lessons taught, and an offering of the beautiful can be made to God. But in one important characteristic music will be found to stand on a totally different footing to other fine arts. The painting once finished, the church once built, or, when the last touch has been given to the sculptured stone or carved wood, we have before us an outward [3/4] manifestation, a permanent embodiment, of the artist's conception and feelings. Not so in music! The finished composition is absolutely nothing more than a written description of what a composer wishes to have done, and a series of directions how to do it. He has written an account of the tone-picture formed in his mind, but it has to be painted by others, and at every reproduction it has to be repainted. Music being thus so thoroughly dependent on its interpreters for its presentation, it follows naturally that the more advanced a composition is as a work of art, the more does it stand in need of trained and expert performers.
Hence, there has gradually arisen a well-marked distinction between Church music which can only be rendered by experts, and such simple forms of music as plain-song, chants, and hymns, which may safely be entrusted to a congregation for their rendering. Here we find the origin of the demarcation of choir and people, of congregational as distinguished from choral music (i. e., choir music).
The Reformation did not in the least check the production of works of higher sacred musical art; we possess, as you know, a comprehensive and chronologically continuous literature of Church compositions by English composers, of which we may well be proud.
But, on the other hand, though not interfering or obstructing the output of the higher class of Church compositions, the Reformation unquestionably exhibited a tendency to throw a larger share of worship-music into the hands of the congregation than before, and I suppose no one will gainsay the statement that this tendency has been steadily on the increase.
But, surely, there is plenty of room for the existence of both classes of music within our Church; is there any reason whatever why they should be antagonistic, or mutually destructive? The higher form of the art has found its natural home in our cathedrals, in the college chapels of our [4/5] Universities, and in our Royal chapels. Right well has the art thriven in these national nurseries of sacred music, and I venture to say its best traditions have been nobly maintained to this very day. On the other hand, our parish churches, spread like a beautiful network over the length and breadth of our land, have provided, or should have provided the true home of simple congregational music, and their services might have afforded scope for its preservation and growth.
With separate paths so clearly defined, it would seem at first sight almost impossible for any question to arise as to the plain duty of the parish church or the cathedral in the matter of music.
But a rather unexpected turn of events has apparently landed us in a difficulty. It is this:
The great Church revival of fifty years ago made its influence felt on Church music, as on every other art used in worship. Parochial congregations found themselves encouraged to join in the plain-song responses; they were provided with Gregorian psalters, and from the surpliced choir they soon learnt the Gregorian chants; more comprehensive hymnals were placed in their hands, and their worship generally was imbued with more heartiness. But the forward movement did not stop here. Urged by a desire to make the public services as ornate and beautiful as possible, anthems and elaborate canticles were rapidly introduced into many parish churches, and also artistic settings (English or foreign) of the Nicene Creed, Sanctus, and Gloria in Excelsis; in short, in many churches, especially in those where some little antipathy was felt towards the archaisms of Gregorian music, a cathedral form of service, pure and simple, was adopted.
The musical result was exactly what might have been anticipated. Fine choral services could be held in many churches in large towns where the resources, musical and pecuniary, happened to be ample. But in rural and other less favored [5/6] districts, the half-trained or wholly untrained choirs persistently attempted to perform compositions utterly above their powers, until, in a large number of churches, our clergy became at last so constantly annoyed, and their congregations so thoroughly bored, at the hopeless failures and the actual cacophony of these over-ambitious choirs, that a re-action set in,--and no wonder. There now rises from many a parish a strong demand for simple congregational music.
If the sole reason for ejecting elaborate music from our parishes happened to be that their musical resources were not sufficient to ensure a really good choir, and that, consequently, the performances were bad, I should entirely sympathize with the demand; of course, all music which cannot be well rendered in our Church services, should not be attempted at all. But the reasons given for this overthrow of the choir, which I hear from many quarters, are these: first, if a choir sings anything in which the people cannot join, the people are being defrauded of a right; next, the only plea for allowing a choir to sing an anthem or other choral piece is, that they cannot be kept together unless indulged in occasional opportunities of showing themselves off.
Against both these statements I strongly protest. I have quite failed to discover any artistic, historical or ecclesiastical grounds for this sort of universal claim to hum or howl in any portion of our Church services, and I can give personal testimony to the mischief caused by this so-called privilege. I have frequently, within the last few years, had congregational singers near me who have not only entirely disturbed my own worship, but that of everybody within a radius of five yards, sometimes by singing every melody at the interval of a third or sixth below, on one occasion by singing uniformly a perfect fifth below the trebles, and always at the top of their voices. But perhaps my greatest infliction was to have a man just behind me, who, I cannot say sang, but produced the melody of [6/7] everything, two octaves below the trebles, in a bee-in-a-bottle sort of tone, which heard anywhere but in church, would have been a piece of inimitable comicality. To silence such a man would be, I am told, to defraud him of a rightful privilege. For my part, I should say the only privilege such a man would be deprived of, were he silenced, would be the privilege of being hauled up before a magistrate for brawling in church.
Ought not such persons to be told that the most pious and cultured men and women have, for well nigh a score of centuries, been sedulously trying to discover by what means new beauty could be added to the place, the manner, the surroundings, of Divine worship? Why should it be supposed that bad singing is good for church use? It may be urged that the efficacy of an offering to God does not depend upon its artistic merit or money value, but on the motive and spirit of the offerer. May I ask whether we accept this principle consistently? If the adult members of a congregation were to present themselves to their minister, carrying various pots of paint, and were to ask to be allowed to decorate the church, would he permit them to bedaub the fabric because their motive was commendable? If men or women wish to join in the singing in our churches, they should at least take some little trouble to cultivate their voices and to learn music. After this, their musical offering, however poor and weak, at all events would have cost them something, namely, a little trouble. I think unmusical people ought to realize the fact that their untrained attempts at singing stands on no higher level than a child's first attempt to sketch a horse, or paint a cow. I am behind no one in my admiration of good congregational singing--its effect is noble and inspiring, but, surely congregations should be distinctly told in what musical portions of worship they may join, and in what portions they should meditate in silence.
The conclusion I arrive at is this: That congregational rehearsals on a week-day evening should be encouraged as much [7/8] as possible in our parishes. After a few prayers or a short form of service, all the portions of the service in which the congregation can legitimately join should be carefully practised. Such a system would, in course of time, practically turn our congregations into vast amateur choirs, and then the music of the people would be an offering not quite so unworthy of Him to whom it is offered.
Under such circumstances, it may be said that a choir might well be dispensed with; at most, all that would be necessary in our parish churches would be a few trained voices for the purpose of "leading" the people. To this I reply, certainly not; by no means give up your choir. There is only one valid excuse for not having a choir, and that is, inability to pay for it. If any one should ask me what is the use of a choir when a congregation knows how to take its part in worship, I would ask in return, what is the use of those mullions, and that delicate tracery, and richly colored stained glass? Away with it all! Good plate glass in strong wooden sashes will admit twice as much light in winter. and give plenty of wholesome ventilation in summer. If we are to approach sacred art from a purely utilitarian point of view, what is the use of a tower or spire? You cannot have a vestry or an organ up there, or hold a mothers' meeting in it. Ah, but I forgot; as the anthem only exists in order that the choir may "show off," so, perhaps, the spire is a sort of architect's anthem--perhaps church architects cannot be "kept together" unless indulged with an occasional spire; it is, no doubt, merely thrown into the plans lest architects should desert church work and devote their best powers to the construction of municipal buildings and music halls.
I am sure it is unnecessary for me to argue further against the utilitarian view of art in worship; and I may at once say that the function of a trained choir is to sing many beautiful compositions which can never be rendered by the most [8/9] musical of congregations. An anthem rightly listened to, and devoutly sung, is a short sermon to the hearers, and a beautiful offering to God. At those congregational rehearsals which I have just advocated, why should not one of the clergy deliver a short address on the words of the anthem which it is proposed to sing on the following Sunday? The line of thought suitable to them might thus be impressed on the congregation, and the framework of a meditation be sketched out; we should then perhaps no longer see people staring about the church, or settling themselves into a comfortable sitting posture during the anthem, as if it were a horrid tax on their patience; and I sincerely hope we never again should hear it even hinted that an anthem is nothing more than a sop tossed to the members of the choir to appease their insatiable vanity. The anthem, in its present form, seems to be the peculiar and special growth of our English Church, and therefore deserves cultivation and encouragement. When we come to the music of the office of the Holy Communion, we are immediately led to realize the catholicity of our art of music. If the inflection of the priest's part be included, or the melodies of the ancient hymns, our range of selection extends over a thousand years at least. If certain celebrations are set aside for those who do not like music, surely there should be other celebrations beautified with the highest and most splendid resources of our heaven-born art. Every great musician, almost without exception, has contributed the choicest fruits of his genius to the music of the Eucharist. Let us not wantonly cast aside this glorious heritage, borne along on the gathering crest of rolling ages, because, forsooth, John Noakes and Tom Styles cannot take their personal part in the performance of it.
There is one form of worship which our English Church has made thoroughly its own--I mean the special service, with its cantata, Passion music, or oratorio appropriate to the Church's seasons. Here, again, a short course of lectures [9/10] from the clergy on the meaning of the words, and the characteristics of the music, would be invaluable for the purpose of making a congregation fully realize the privilege of listening to Church music. Concert-goers find annotated programmes awaiting them; why should Church-goers be deprived of all information as to what they are going to hear? It is, I think, in these days the duty of all of us, especially of the clergy, to make congregations understand the spiritual benefit, the real edification of listening to music, and of meditating in silence. What a great teacher is this silence! Is it not the most searching introspector of the soul, tearing down sham pretexts and exposing real motives? But silence can do more than probe us to the quick; it can lend us wings to soar above earthly things; it can help us to mount higher and higher on the rising waves of sacred song, until we feel lost in a foretaste of that future angelic music which will more adequately hymn the praises of Divine Love.
The Choral Service and the Training of Choristers. (Delivered at Washington, D. C., March, 1901, by G. Edward Stubbs, M. A.)
Interested as I am, and concerned as all Churchmen should be, in the advancement of the choral service, I wish to thank you for the opportunity, and I may add the honor, of addressing you on the subject of the male choir and the training of boys' voices. My plan is, first, to demonstrate, by means of the choristers present, the chief characteristics of the boy voice, and afterwards say a few words on the history and the perpetuation of the choral service. The training of boys' voices is a specialty and a distinct art in itself. As the subject is complex, I must avoid the danger of attempting to explain too much in the brief hour allowed me. I shall, therefore, restrict myself to the more important points and avert an extensive discussion.
(Here followed an elucidation of the technical terms pertaining to the culture of the boy voice, and a demonstration of the correct method of training. For this demonstration boys' voices, both trained and untrained, were specially provided.)
A full account of the choral service and the male choir would fill volumes. Such a history would be inseparably connected with the history of the Church. This fact is quite [11/12] sufficient to indicate the extent of the subject. In the short time allotted me, I can only touch upon a few cardinal principles in connection with the choral system, just as I have mentioned only the more important matters relative to the training of boys' voices.
The mutilation of the musical service, so common in our churches, proves conclusively that the term "choral service" is widely misunderstood. A service that is partly read and partly sung is a heterogeneous anomaly. When it is found desirable to read the service, it should be read throughout, the choir also reading, with the congregation, their respective parts. In such a service the singing is chiefly confined to the canticles, hymns, and anthems. If the service is to be sung, it should be sung throughout, and nothing should be read excepting the lessons and the sermon. The two kinds of service are quite distinct in their nature, and cannot be mixed together without disregarding the laws of consistency. It seems to me advisable that our Church people should understand that the singing of the versicles and responses at Morning and Evening Prayer does not constitute the choral service. It is remarkable how prevalent is the idea that the singing of certain fragments of the service can throw the dignity of tradition over the whole. The headings printed in our hymnals, service books, and music copies, over the versicles and responses, serve to increase this false impression.
The choral system is something absolutely different. It is built upon the ancient rule that every word recited aloud in the service should be recited in the singing voice. A rule nearly four thousand years old, and consistently perpetuated from the most ancient times by the three great branches of the Church--the Anglican, the Roman, and the Greek. Dr. John Henry Blunt, in his great work on the Book of Common Prayer, tells us: "If we come to historical facts, it will be found that to speak the praises of God in Divine [12/13] Worship, in any other manner than by singing them, is quite a recent invention, and an entire innovation upon the practice of God's Church from the time of Moses to the rise of Puritan habits in the sixteenth century."
Not only is the choral system the inheritance of the Church, but so also is the male choir of boys and men, robed in white linen.
We know a great deal more about the construction of the Temple choir than is generally supposed. History speaks of the number of boys and men in the choir, of their vestments, of their methods of singing, and of their choral duties. The choristers were considered then, as now, members of a special order of the ministry, and their office was looked upon as a sacred one, just as it is now.
Female voices were rigidly excluded from the Temple worship, excepting in the congregational sense. There was a female choir in what was known as "the court of the women,"--an organization entirely separate from the Temple choir. An ancient ruling against female choristers was that "the woman's voice is a physical attraction." Another ruling was that ecclesiastical tradition had never countenanced the admission of women to the orders of the ministry. So in our time we do not have women preachers, neither priests nor deacons, nor do we have women lay readers, nor female crucifers, acolytes, and servers at the Altar.
Now, if all this be so, and if Church tradition is so plain and unmistakable, why is it not more generally respected? If the choral system is what has been stated, why is something different substituted for it? And if the ancient male choir is the inheritance of the Church, why do we have female vested choirs, wearing the ecclesiastical robes of men and boys, and occupying the choir stalls in the chancel?
It is not easy to give a concise explanation of the incongruities and inconsistencies which confront one in looking [13/14] over the field of Church music. There are so many antagonistic forces at work, and these are so various, and proceed from so many different sources, it is difficult to reduce the problem to its simplest terms. Nevertheless, one general answer to ALL of the above questions is found in the apathy shown by many of the clergy toward musical progress on a Churchly basis.
It would he indeed a discouragement of the most serious kind to believe that the clergy do not care for musical tradition. Upon them, and upon their loyalty to the cause of Church music, depends the perpetuation of true or false ideals. As the teaching of the Church is perfectly plain on the subject, we must charitably suppose that whenever the clergy fail to carry out tradition, such failure is rather due to adverse conditions which may be beyond their power to control.
On the other hand, it is unfortunately true that certain parishes in our large cities, endowed liberally with wealth, and resources of great magnitude, deliberately foster spurious forms of musical services, support female vested choirs, and disseminate radical views, to the lasting detriment of Church tradition.
When one thinks of the good such parishes could do, by upholding a pure type of service, with no greater expense than that lavished upon popularity and sensationalism, one is forced to the conclusion that some of the clergy do not hesitate to disregard what the Church has taught, musically, for centuries and centuries.
I have just referred to musical progress on a Churchly basis. One sometimes hears the statement that the choral system is not adapted to modern requirements. Is this true at St. Paul's Cathedral, situated in the heart of the most populous city of modern civilization? No one would be rash enough to say so. It is sometimes claimed that we should break loose from tradition; that we live in a progressive age, and [14/15] that times have changed. But, mark you, this theory, if pursued far enough, would bring about something more than the deterioration of music. It would threaten the cohesion of the Church. Let me quote the words of the rector of Trinity Parish, New York, taken from the introduction to his edition of the First Prayer Book of Edward VI.: "For us, real progress consists in drawing nearer to the ancient Catholic landmarks, not in departing still farther from them; this, only, is the progress which Churchmen should desire to see."
There are those who still maintain that the choral service will never be very generally restored. Such a contention is by no means new. It was made with considerable asperity in England prior to 1834. About that time there was a musically impoverished service in every church, with the exception of the cathedrals. There was practically no such thing as choral service. Eucharistic music was utterly unheard of. The mere mention of it was enough to cause a disturbance. People did not burn up the organs and make bonfires of the musical libraries, as they did before the time of Charles II.; but nevertheless musical prospects were about as dark as they could possibly be. Then came that wonderful awakening called the Oxford Movement, which was in reality a stern, sharp rebuke, calling the people of the Church to RESTORE the ancient principles and practices of the time of Edward VI. We all know the result. Along with the general revival in Church life, came what could not possibly be separated from it--musical regeneration. And now, wherever one may go in England, is heard that glorious heritage of the Church, the choral service.
History repeats itself. The good done in the first half of the past century reached these Western shores, and he who predicts that the choral system lacks vitality, may live to see a musical restoration in this country quite as extensive as that just mentioned. That prejudice exists, and that [15/16] it must be overcome, is evident. There are probably far too many clergymen inclined to say: "Yes, I suppose I ought to work for the right thing; but it is too easy in theory and too difficult in practice. Intoning is disliked, and choir boys are hard to manage. I think it well to keep on the safe side and let the matter alone."
Let us consider the causes of prejudice. Is it surprising that the average Churchman is more or less opposed to the traditional service? Does he know its history? Is he ever taught anything about it by the clergy? Are sermons ever preached on the subject? Are there any musical "tracts" in existence? Are not people apt to think the choral service a relic of Romanism,--a thing abolished at the Reformation and condemned by the revisers of our First Prayer Book of Edward VI.? Until active measures are used to correct the wrong impressions so prevalent, we cannot expect the right kind of cooperation on the part of the laity.
Congregations are taught nearly everything under the sun excepting musical tradition. If the most abstruse and intricate theological doctrines are expounded in the pulpit, surely so interesting and important a subject as Church music might be deemed worthy of occasional mention. Church-goers might be told, for instance, something of the Temple service; of its restoration after the time of Nebuchadnezzar, when the Temple was rebuilt; of the attendance of our Blessed Saviour at the services in the Temple; of the fact that he countenanced the choral system, by actual participation in the Temple worship; of the unbroken continuance of the choral service from the time of Christ to the middle of the sixteenth century; of the perpetuation of that system at the time of the Reformation by the revisers of the Prayer Book of Edward VI.; of the "Common Praier Noted," by Merbecke, and what it teaches; of the rise of Puritanism and its effect upon music; of the Restoration of 1661; of the [16/17] vitality of the choral service, as proved in surviving the period of the Commonwealth; and finally of the influences which led to the musical restoration dating from 1834. This is a mere sketch, simply to indicate what might be said to enlighten people generally. The true musical character of the Communion Office should also be explained.
Unfortunately, prejudice is not confined to laymen. It should be borne in mind that our clergy in this country are without the musical advantages of their English brethren. If I may be allowed to quote from one of my own books, "In none of our educational institutions is the choral service established on a liberal and artistic basis. Influences encountered early in life are the most lasting; it is the school, the college, and the seminary which mould the musical tastes of the clergy. [A Manual of Intoning. Novello, Ewer & Co., London and New York.] The pupils who are educated at Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester, and similar institutions, acquire a reverence for the choral service which seldom fades. The music in the chapels of such schools is of the best type, often equaling, and even surpassing, that heard in the cathedrals. During college and seminary life at Oxford, Cambridge, and elsewhere, there continues the unbroken influence of the daily choral service, rendered by priest and choir as perfectly as the richest resources of choral art will permit.
There is small wonder, then, that the Anglican clergy, whose lives have been spent in boyhood, youth, and early manhood amid such surroundings, are thoroughly loyal to the musical traditions of the Church; and that they take not merely an aesthetic delight in perpetuating those traditions, but rather view the matter in the light of a grave responsibility. All this stands in such striking contrast with the conditions which influence our clergy, at the threshold of [17/18] their careers, as to make it a matter of surprise that church music has been able to score the advance already accomplished. In a comparatively young country religious art develops slowly. Utilitarian ideas tend to crush it. In course of time our schools, colleges, and theological institutions may be provided with adequate endowments for the maintenance of the traditional musical service, in its highest form, which shall serve as a model for youthful minds. In the meantime, and during the want of such a well-founded and direct stimulus to higher musical education, there is needed among the clergy a wider recognition of the fact already mentioned--that it is directly contrary to the intentions of the early revisers of the Book of Common Prayer that the various Offices should lose their ancient choral and musical character."
This does not mean that choral services should be introduced haphazard all over the country. Such services are undesirable where necessary facilities are wanting. The most laudable theories can easily be abused by a lack of common sense. By a wretched, uncultured, drawling style pf intoning, coupled with the singing of a ragged, coarse choir, we cannot worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
The question is, when adverse conditions exist, how are they to be improved? Development must take place in some direction. Shall that direction be traditional and right, or uncatholic and wrong? As it is impossible to disprove the teaching of the Church in the matter, why not strive to follow it as persistently as circumstances will allow?
There is hardly a conceivable situation where the following system of musical evolution cannot be put into practice:
I. The mission field. Congregational singing, led by clergyman or precentor.
II. Small parish. Congregational singing, led by mixed choir, occupying seats outside the chancel.
III. Larger parish. Male choir, vested, in chancel. Simple music. Choral service not attempted.
 IV. Still larger parish. Vested male choir. Possibly choral service, monotonic and ferial uses predominating. Congregation taught to sing the ancient plain-song responses. Taught not to sing the soprano part of the Tallis festal responses, (which belongs to the choir only).
V. Fully developed parish. Full choral service, of the pure cathedral type. Cultured artistic singing, not only on the part of the choir, but also, and very particularly, on the part of the priest.
Accompanying this should be architectural advancement. The mission chapel, though necessarily cheap, should be churchly in design. The fully-developed parish church should represent the highest form of ecclesiastical structure.
One can almost read the musical history of a given parish by simply looking at the church. The meeting-house style of building, and the faultless churchly type, seldom deceive one as to the kind of choir and service likely to be heard in them.
There is an intimate connection between the mutilation of church music and the mutilation of church architecture. By preventing the one we can sometimes stop the other, and vice-versa.
A deformed, untraditional style of building goes hand in hand with a debased, unauthorized musical service. In this regard we sometimes emulate the example of our friends among the denominational bodies. They apparently wander as far as they can from pure ecclesiastical architecture. As they inherit no special musical liturgy, perhaps they should not be censured for their curious forms of musical service. They occasionally borrow from us parts of our choral system. They have what they call "choral responses," "choral sentences," and little odd bits of choral service, put in here and there to make things more attractive. Some of our own parishes seem to copy them in this respect, taking what they please from the historical service and discarding what they [19/20] please. So we actually encourage, in some of our churches, sectarian architecture and sectarian music.
As I have said, progress depends upon the attitude of the clergy. They can either elevate or depress the music of the Church. How different it might all be if they would substitute musical aggressiveness for apathy, and teach their congregations what is right and what is wrong with the same patience with which they teach other things!
Every clergyman should have the ideal service in mind. Sooner or later the time is likely to come when he can develop the music of his parish on strict traditional lines.
It is unnecessary, and I venture to say inexcusable, to develop it in any other direction. Furthermore, it is inexcusable NOT to develop it in the right way, particularly when facilities exist pointing to the practical realization of the highest type of service.
In conclusion, let me say that one of the encouraging signs of the times is the growth of Eucharistic music. We should all feel deeply thankful for the churchly settings for the Communion Office, edited by that sterling musician, Sir George Martin, Organist of St. Paul's Cathedral. There is now a very large number of these settings, and the list is steadily increasing. This shows, in an unmistakable way, the gradual restoration of the Eucharistic Office to its ancient position as the ONE GREAT SERVICE of the Church.
And another good sign is the erection of great cathedrals. They will serve as centres of musical purity, and will be of incalculable benefit in every way.
That the City of Washington is to have such a magnificent building, together with all that it implies, must be a source of inspiration to all who are working in this diocese for the advancement of Church music, and I most heartily congratulate you upon prospects which seem so bright.