This is the Second Annual Address on Church Music, delivered before the students of the General Theological Seminary, at the request of Mr. George Edward Stubbs, Instructor in Church Music in that institution. The first address on the same subject was delivered in eighteen hundred and ninety-three, by the Reverend Henry H. Oberly, M.A., Rector of Christ Church, Elizabeth, New Jersey.
In printing this address the chief object has been to comply in a measure with the requests that have been made for its publication. It is now offered in its printed form as a very humble contribution to the general literature upon the subject of Church Music; in the hope that, in connection with the first address, it may arouse a more general interest in the very important matter of which it treats, and serve to stimulate the study of Church Music on the part of those who are preparing for Holy Orders.
New York, December 1, 1894.
The Importance of Musical Knowledge for the Priesthood of the Church
I HAVE been asked by the Dean, and the Professor of Music, in the General Theological Seminary, and am permitted, by the kind courtesy of the Priest in charge of St. Agnes' Chapel, to address the students of the General Theological Seminary on the subject of Church music. It gives me pleasure, gentlemen, to speak to you concerning one of, what I consider to be, the most important matters within the jurisdiction of the priesthood of the Church of Christ; to which priesthood you are now looking forward, and in which, God grant, you may be "able ministers and stewards of the mysteries of Christ."
The field opened up to us is a large one, and seems to invite the fancy and the imagination, as well as the more prosaic practical faculties of the mind, to large excursions in the region of theory, science, and practice. I shall, however, try to confine myself, as much as possible, to the practical consideration of the subject; leaving it to your professor to lead you through the mazes of theory and science. I should like to say that I have already in another presence spoken upon this subject, and shall not hesitate, at this time, to repeat myself, for decline to use such illustrations as at that time were furnished me by others in the way of quotations.
We find three words in the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer which seem to me to indicate very clearly the general line of instruction necessary for those seeking Holy Orders. Those words are, "Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship." There is no lack of instruction in our seminaries in the Doctrine of the Church. We are taught the doctrines, the history of them, and the philosophy of them; and while we may not be able to resist the seductions of error, nor the temptation to be leaders in some modern form of ancient heresy when we come out into the world, it is not because we have not been taught, but because we set aside the authority of our instructors. There is no lack of teaching in our seminaries upon the matter of Discipline. I spent many days learning how to try a presbyter, and a bishop, and how to excommunicate a notorious evil liver. Whether I should be thankful for it or not, I may not at present say, but the fact is, that I have never had any occasion to put this knowledge to practical use. Presbyters and bishops are not tried now, and seemingly we have in the Church no such thing as notorious evil livers. As to the third division, namely, Worship, there has been heretofore a sad lack of instruction, particularly as to the use of music in worship; but we are glad to note that, in the General Theological Seminary, a chair in Church Music has been established, and we believe with good results. The idea is not altogether a new one, as may be seen from the following statute of the Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts, in 1817: "Sacred music, and especially Psalmody, being an important part of public social worship, and as it is proper for those who are to preside in the assemblies of God's people to possess themselves so much skill and taste in this sublime art as at least to distinguish between those solemn movements, which are congenial to pious minds, and those unhallowed, trifling, medley pieces, which chill devotion, it is expected that serious attention will be paid to the culture of a true taste for genuine Church music in this Seminary, and that all students therein who have tolerable voices will be duly instructed in the theory and practice of this celestial art; and whenever it shall be in the power of either of the said professors it shall accordingly be his duty to afford the necessary instruction; and whenever this shall not be the case, it is expected that an instructor will be procured for this purpose."
This in 1817! how much more important now! When we consider the great advance in musical culture, when we not the demand made for good music, we see how necessary it is for the man who is to have charge of public worship in the Church to have some knowledge of music, that he may be at least abreast of his congregation.
Gentleman of the Seminary, I am not here tonight to put before you theories, untried schemes, nor personal fads, but to bring to you some practical suggestions which, I trust, may be of real value to you in your ministry. Many of you, doubtless, are dreaming, with greater vividness as the time approaches, of the quiet, happy, delightful, little country parish to which you are going after your ordination. Dream on! Far be it from me to call up any hideous spectres that would turn your dreams into horrid visions of the night. Let me not anticipate the trials and frictions and discouragements which will come to you in your parish life; a brave and loving heart, loyalty to your Church, a strong and living faith in your dear Master, will take you safely through them all. But I may make, in the department of music, some suggestions, based upon experience, that may be of real practical value to you.
The first thing to note is, what we have already hinted at, the importance of instruction in Church music. You may be told by some of our elder brethren of whom we may speak as "successful in their ministry," that musical knowledge is not necessary, that they have gotten along without it, and that time spent over it is time wasted. We can never doubt our brethren's sincerity, but their judgment we may question. We are working in our day and generation, just as they have worked in theirs. You younger men must take up the work where we leave it, and work in your day and generation, and it does not take much wit to perceive that in the matter of Church music much greater demands will be made upon you than have been made upon them, or are made upon us. The very condition of the times throws a responsibility upon you which you cannot evade. And when I remember my own Seminary life, and recall how, in my fancied superior wisdom, I thought I knew more than the professors, and so neglected to give proper attention to this or that, I feel moved to caution you, my brothers, in this one particular, and beg you not to regard the matter of education in Church music as of no importance, but to work at it earnestly, and while you have time.
I remember, too, when I was in the Seminary, we embryonic orators were tempted to treat as unworthy of any very serious consideration the chair of elocution. We revelled in the platitude "that if we had something to say, we could say it, and that we need not go through any educational process to learn how." But I bear my testimony to-day to the value of that chair, and have to thank the Professor--the Rev. Francis H. Russell--for hints and exercises that are of the greatest value to me in my public ministry.
The chair of music is, in my judgment, equal, and I am almost tempted to say vastly superior, in practical importance to any chair in the Seminary. And if there be any here who may smile at this statement, and consider it an exaggeration, and point me to the dusty tomes of ecclesiastical controversy and history, let me say that music, too, has its dusty, antique volumes; and that while controversy was raging round the Church, and the centuries were combining to make up history, music stood within the sanctuary, and maintained in hymn and Mass, chant and antiphon, the holy worship of our most holy God.
Not only is a responsibility put upon us by the condition of the times, but you who are to be priests in the Church have a most direct and certain responsibility put upon you by the Church. Canon 25, title i, § 2, reads: "It shall be the duty of every minister of this Church, with such assistance as he may see fit to employ from persons skilled in music, to give order concerning the tunes to be sung at any time in his Church; and especially it shall be his duty to suppress all light and unseemly music, and all indecency and irreverence in the performance, by which vain and ungodly persons profane the service of the sanctuary."
So every priest of the Church has the music of the Church put under his direct charge by the Church; he is enjoined to have a care of it, and to guard the worship of God from all unseemly music. He is allowed a certain discretion in the employment of persons skilled in music to help him, but never is he relieved by the Church from the ultimate responsibility. The priest has no right to say, "I have transferred the responsibility of the music to my organist, or to my music committee." He may have given to them certain authority in the matter; but transfer his responsibility, never!
The priest of the Church, then, should know something about music, even though he be not a professional musician. There is abundant opportunity for him to inform himself, so that he need not be an ignoramus on the subject. He can acquaint himself, to a certain extent, with the principles of Church music, and become familiar with the canons of good taste. He may not be able to sing, or to play the organ, or to know all musical compositions by name; but when he says, "I can't tell one tune from another," he is evincing an ignorance and carelessness that are culpable, or else a natal infirmity which is pitiable. By a little reading and study, and a little contact with musical people, he may acquire, perhaps not knowledge and skill enough to compose an anthem, or play a Bach fugue, but enough at least to enable him to distinguish between the good and the meretricious. A word of warning should be uttered here against the danger of inordinate self-conceit; "a little knowledge puffeth up," and who so puffed up as a smatterer in music? The responsibility, gentlemen, put upon you by the Church should lead you to some effort to prepare yourselves to fulfil your obligations. Organists and choir-masters have no responsibility or authority beyond that which you choose to confer upon them, subject to your own responsibility. Music committees have no recognized standing in the Church as arbiters of what is or is not proper. There is but one person responsible, that person the priest of the Church. And it is as much his business to be informed in Church music, as it is his business to know something of Church history, liturgies, ritual, etc., etc.
If the Church distinctly places upon the priesthood the responsibility in the matter of her worship-music, so she carefully guards her worship from any desecration by a rule setting forth what may be sung. In the Book of Common Prayer, under title "Hymns and Anthems," we read, "Hymns set forth and allowed by the authority of this Church, and anthems in the words of Holy Scripture, or of the Book of Common Prayer, may be sung before and after any office in this Book, and also before and after sermons." The first thing that strikes us here is the use of the words, "Authority of this Church." I have never had any doubt as to the meaning of the phrase myself; but I have heard curious interpretations suggested. It seems to me we should be guided in the matter by the general rules of interpretation of any statute or instrument. The first principle is that words are employed in their ordinary sense and with their ordinary meaning, and that a document means what the ordinary use of language would seem to indicate. If this is not clear, then history and intention must be consulted. Now, when the Prayer Book says "Authority of this Church," it seems to me the phrase has a definite meaning; and that meaning is the ordinary acceptation of the words. The authority to make rules and laws in the Church is delegated by the Church to its General Convention. Its House of Bishops and House of Clerical and Lay Deputies make our laws, formulate our doctrine, regulate our discipline, and appoint our worship. That Convention is the only "Authority of this Church" that we have. Who, what bishop, what priest or layman, what Diocesan Convention, can make any rule or law binding on "this Church"? Can the bishop of any diocese, even in his own diocese, set aside the Book of Common Prayer and take up any form of worship he may please? If not, then he is not the highest authority, the ultimate authority; in fact, his authority to independent action is limited by a higher authority, and that authority is the General Convention. The General Convention says when a bishop may permit in his diocese special services or forms of prayer, and gives him authority to do so. The bishops recognize this, and never set forth an order of services for a special occasion without calling attention to the provision of the Book of Common Prayer. It seems to me that the words "Authority of this Church" mean authority of the whole Church, and the General Convention is that authority. Now, I hold that the expression of the mind of the General Convention is the expression of the mind of the Church; and in whatever way that expression is set forth, by canon or joint resolution, it is the mind of the Church, and we should obey. We are only authorized, then, to use hymns set forth by the General Convention, and anthems in the words of Holy Scripture, and the Book of Common Prayer, not hymns allowed or winked at by any individual bishop. But of course there can be any amount of quibbling on words indulged in by men who consider themselves larger than "this Church;" and when men want their own way, words and phrases easily lend themselves to adaptation and interpretation. But interpretation should be of intention as well as of letter; and when the Church in the Prayer Book says "Authority of this Church" we all know exactly what the Church means. The Church gives to the priest authority to select tunes,--that is, the music; but to no one does she give authority to select words,--she says what words are to be sung. I think we should be very careful and very honest in our interpretation of rubrics or rubrical directions; and if the introduction of a good piece of ritual clashes, for example, with a rubric, loyalty to the Church would let the good piece of ritual go. I read in a parish paper, not long ago, that there were two aspects to the Holy Communion,--first, "when celebrated early, it is essentially an act of prayer; and when celebrated late, it is an act of praise; the rubric before the Gloria in Excelsis, which says, "Then shall be said or sung, all standing," is complied with if the people kneel at an early celebration, because it is essentially an act of prayer." No man loves ritual more than I do; but if I have to resort to such juggling with words to introduce it, I should prefer to omit it altogether, or at least not attempt a justification of it.
The General Convention has set forth by authority a hymnal. There is but one authorized hymnal; a second is permitted temporarily until the next General Convention.
Therefore "Hymns, Ancient and Modern," "The Gospel Hymns" of Moody and Sankey, "The Mission Hymnal" issued by the Mission Committee, although mostly embodied in our hymnal, do not come under the permission of the Prayer Book. Nor have we the right to publish for general use in the Church any selection of hymns from this hymnal, even with the approval of a bishop. I trust that no bishop can be found who will sanction such a thing. It must be conceded, I think, upon the whole, that our hymnal is a great gain. Culled from all sources by men who knew what they were about, and who worked with a consciousness of their responsibility, the hymns therein collected ought to be satisfactory to every one. Why should we want these other unauthorized books? This hymnal ought to satisfy us. The arrangement of hymns is good, the doctrinal statement is strong enough to satisfy the highest aspirations of the soul, and every Churchman should devoutly thank Almighty God for it. Hymnals are said to be historically important. They register the height of the spiritual tide of the time. Our present hymnal, it seems to me, indicates an increased apprehension of the cardinal doctrines of the Church in the clear and fearless statement of those doctrines, and a higher spirituality in the reception given those doctrines by the people. Apart from the Canticles as set forth in course in the Book of Common Prayer, we are permitted to use "Anthems in the words of Holy Scripture, or of the Book of Common Prayer." We may not use any other. We have no right to use paraphrases, nor the English version of the Te Deum, and the clergy should see to it that only proper words are used. Some pet offertory piece may have to be sacrificed; considerable rearrangement of Anglican Te Deums may have to be undertaken, but better all this than any disloyalty to the rules of the Church.
One of the most troublesome things that will come to you is the selection of hymns for your services. So much can be taught through the hymns, and often the bad effect of our own doctrinal errors may be neutralized by the dogmatic statement of our hymns. In Canon Liddon's "Life of Dr. E. B. Pusey" (volume i., page 78), I read: "Of the drift of the sermon to which they were listening they had no idea; to them it was edifying on account of the frequent mention of our Saviour's name. Pusey would frequently refer to this when insisting that God overrules human error so completely as, at times, to make the teachers of error the unintentional servants and friends of truth. He thought that Christian faith was kept alive in parts of Lutheran Germany mainly by the hymns which, happily, corrected the prevalent tendencies of the pulpit." If the Church cannot be certain of our sermons, she can be certain of our hymns.
My own experience leads me to believe that it is best to select our hymns continuously for each service. Sometimes rectors make for themselves official lists; if such lists are constantly looked over and revised, the plan may save trouble. But the objection is that not having the matter of the hymns in mind, we discover, after the service, what we might have discovered before, how much more appropriate and helpful some other hymn might have been; but it is too late then. Sometimes the Church almanacs prepare a table of hymns for the year. Such tables may be helpful by way of suggestion; but they should be used carefully, as they cannot be depended upon absolutely. It should be the aim to set forth in the hymn the teaching of the day; a study of the Lessons and the Eucharistic Scriptures will enable us to make a good selection. I should hesitate to make my sermon the basis of selection. It used to be the custom, and was regarded as a matter of courtesy, to ask a visiting preacher "if there was any special hymn he would like before or after his sermon." Happily, to-day, that is not expected.
And here let me speak a word in reference to your choice of a musical setting of our hymns. Several books are published; I would suggest, before selecting any hymnal for your parish, that you try it by this standard,--dignity, adaptability to use by the congregation, freedom from vulgar, common-place, sensuous tunes. The musical taste of our people may need to be cultivated; if so, let the cultivation go on, on the right lines.
Another reason for the necessity of musical training is that when you go to that dreamed of parish, most likely you will have to be your own choir-trainer; and I advise you, if you can do so, to cultivate the musical taste of your people. Form a choral association, get your people together socially to sing, and to hear any good music you may be able to present to them. Give them an occasional lecture upon music; interest them in the music of the Church,--it is the best way towards securing congregational singing. The subject of the choir will, most likely, be one of the very first things to engage your attention when you enter your parish; and even though it may have been left in good condition by your predecessor, it will not be long before you will have to take hold of matters yourself, and perhaps take an entirely different course from his.
It will be well for us, then, to think a little about the matter of the choir. And from this point, gentlemen of the Seminary, I must ask your indulgence if I repeat almost verbatim what I have already said in a paper read before the Churchman's Association of New York last December. When we speak of the choir, we mean a body of trained singers, whose religious duty it is to render the musical portions of the service. Bingham, in his "Antiquities" [Volume I., Book iii., chapter vii., § 2], says: "From the first and Apostolic age, singing was always a part of Divine service, in which the whole body of the church joined together; which is a thing so evident, that although Cabassutius denies it, and in his spite to the Reformed churches, where it is generally practised, calls it only a Protestant whim, yet Cardinal Bona has more than once not only confessed, but solemnly proved it to be the primitive practice. Of which, therefore, I shall say no more at present, but only observe that it was the decay of this that first brought the order of singers into the Church. For when it was found by experience that the negligence and unskilfulness of the people rendered them unfit to perform this service, without some more curious and skilful to guide and assist them, then a peculiar order of men were appointed and set over this business, with a design to retrieve and improve the Ancient Psalmody, and not to abolish or destroy it."
Choirs are of various kinds. There is the city choir and the country choir, the quartette and the chorus choir, the vested choir of men and boys, and now, we must add, of women and girls. In the city the matter of the choir is not so difficult to deal with as in the country, where it is one of the most perplexing things in the care of a parish. What kind of a choir, how to get it, and how to maintain it, are things which harass many a country rector, and almost worry his life out of him. At present the whole matter of choirs is, as we may say, in solution. The quartette is passing away, but we may return to it again. It has done its work, and a good work, too, in its time. It is often the best for a country parish, being more manageable; but in this respect it has its drawbacks too. So of the chorus choir; it may be best in certain places. It gives personal interest to a greater number of people; it secures more volume of tone, and when well drilled is most effective in keeping up the musical parts of the service.
At present the vested choir seems to be the rage, and is coming into general use, and with it the question of training, and the quality of voice; whether it shall be the thin register carried down, or the thick register carried up, or a combination of both, choir-trainers are divided in their opinion and practice in the matter, and I do not feel called upon here to express my opinion. What kind of a choir you had best have, is not for me to say. Every intelligent priest must determine the matter for himself. We are now perplexed by the question of having vested women and girls in the choir, and we cannot ignore it. Among ourselves, there is no unanimity of opinion or practice. My own feeling is in favor of their exclusion from vested choirs in city churches, but my feeling is no rule for the Church, nor for any part of it. Sarcastic remarks, smart writing, and ridicule of the whole subject may seem to some the best way to dispose of the matter, but to my mind such treatment of the question is neither fair nor edifying. One of the "Highest" churches in the city has women in its choir, and occasionally they sing solos; and in some other churches, we find women and girls vested, going in procession with the men and boys. I advance no theory, but I can see no reason against it. Let me make one or two quotations. Curwen, in his "Studies in Worship Music" [page 318], says: "We have no concern in this place with ecclesiastical tradition. But the fact that among the Jews in England women are constantly being brought into choirs in defiance of this tradition, shows that their exclusion is unnatural. The Roman Catholic bishops all declare in principle against the admission of women, but most of them tolerate it as a convenient irregularity."
Dr. Hullah, in a paper on "Music in the Parish Church" (1855), spoke strongly in favor of women's voices in parochial choirs. He says: "Why must we ignore the existence of half the creation, and that the most musical half? ... It is possible that a proposition to admit, or more properly to invite, the co-operation of women in our choirs will come with a sort of shock to many who now hear me,--the same kind of shock which is caused by the first mention of every attempt to bring feminine tact and energy to bear on any of the thousand good works which still ask their help, and which will never be done completely without them." The Rev. W. H. Jackson, in the "Church Times," says: "My choir consists of men and boys in cassocks and surplices on one side of the chancel, and girls in a uniform dress on the other side. If a country parson wants good singing in his church, the best that the resources of his parish afford, he will find himself driven to some such arrangement as I mention."
We all desire congregational singing, but it can never be attained except the congregation rehearse the music; and even then we can scarcely hope to make a first-class chorus of our congregation. Therefore it seems to me the best way to manage is to have it distinctly understood that certain parts of the service will be given to the congregation to join in as best they can, and certain other parts will be reserved to be sung by the choir only. Hymns and simple chants may be taken by the congregation, but elaborate Te Deums and canticles and anthems had best be left to the choir. The placing here and there throughout the congregation bodies of trained singers may encourage people to sing. If by congregational singing we mean that everybody must vocally take part in all the music, then the sooner the present style of music is dropped the better; but if by the term we mean hearty singing where it is possible, then it seems to me the present method is the best,--certain parts to be sung by the choir only, and other parts to be sung by the congregation too; otherwise we must simply revert to the music of the savage,--a kind of rhythmic howling, devoid of melody or harmony.
Let me speak for a moment of the composition. The first rule is that Church music must be devotional; that is, worshipful, setting forth God's praise, and expressing in music the thought or sentiment set forth in the words. Here once more we come into the region of conflicting opinions. One man wants all the music Gregorian; another wants it all Anglican; another wants only the Mass-music of the Roman Church. The canon of taste and the standard of devotional quality in a vast majority are personal, and the "I like it," or the "I don't like it," is with the man a settlement of the whole question. Most certainly each of these schools is good, although in each may be found works, for one reason or another, not fit for use in the Church. The old Italian and German composers--one may be pardoned for thinking--were, in their day and generation, as devout as many Anglican and American composers of to-day. A Mozart, a Handel, a Beethoven, a Haydn, a Mendelssohn, show as much of the devotional spirit in their work as any of our modern masters. I confess to a feeling of intense fatigue, when some of our critics and so-called purists say that the music of these old masters is not devotional. It is true they may have written to please a monarch; they may have adapted sentiment (I won't say sacrificed it) to musical form; they may have even written their music for pay: but with all this they are filled with the spirit of devotion.
Nor, on the other hand, should we laugh at the man who thinks there is no Church music proper but the Gregorian chant; and who, taking it out of its historical setting and accompaniment [vide Curwen, page 269], gives it even to children to sing, and who revels in the wondrous intricacies of organ accompaniment in the abominable free style. How much really good Gregorian singing is absolutely ruined by the crashing thunder, the howling groans, and tearing rage of an abused organ! Gregorians, accompanied by good diapasons, with an occasional reed, are most effective; but with full organ, and the organist in a "fine frenzy," striving to see how many changes he can get in on one note, they are simply not grand at all. Much of our Anglican music is good; much more of it is wretchedly weak and cold and uninspired. Our Church is large enough to permit the use of all; and some musical knowledge, with some practical sense, will enable a rector to select and to use what is best for his own parish.
Perhaps the greatest trial in your musical work will be your organist. Happy will you be if, content to be your own choir-master, you can find some faithful communicant in your own parish, either man or woman, who can really play the organ,--if they can only play the right notes and keep the time correctly. Imported, or, I should better say, itinerant, choir-masters and trainers, with some very few exceptions, are a trial to the flesh. Of course, if you can have a resident organist and choir-trainer, the chances are you will have satisfactory results; but cultivate your home talent, and you will always have something to fall back upon. Mr. Curwen, speaking of organists, says: "It is far easier to make an organ than an organist. The instrument is ready in a few months, the player is the slow result of years. The organ, moreover, is an instrument which allows boundless scope for indiscretion; its very capabilities are its weakness in the hands of an injudicious or ignorant player. Those organists are fortunate who have sat for a year or two by the side of a wise and masterful player, and formed their taste upon his model. But, unfortunately, only a small proportion of the rank and file of our organists have been trained. This is their misfortune, not their fault. They begin in youth to play in public, and henceforward they have only the rarest chances of hearing the work of men better than themselves. An organist listens to a service as seldom as a preacher to a sermon. The consequence is that the path of improvement is difficult."
Gentlemen of the Seminary, I close this address with the consciousness pressing in upon me that I have not half done what I wished to do. I fear I have not given you any very practical hints to help you in your life-work. But if I have in the least bit been able to impress you with the thought of the importance of some musical knowledge in your profession, I shall feel that, however tiresome it may have been to you, my work is not without value. Remember, Church music comes not under the head Doctrine, nor under the head Discipline, but under the head Worship; and with the matter of worship, we of the priesthood have much to do daily. We should bear in mind that music in the worship of the Church is to serve as the vehicle of man's adoration of God, and not as a pleasing accompaniment to an otherwise tedious formality. We have in the musical portion of our service opportunity for expressing, in relation to God and His worship, every emotion and sentiment of the human heart. The Church, by her direct command, arranges the matter of the words, and raises a barrier against the use of unauthorized words; so should the clergy, under the special authority conferred on them by the Church, guard her worship from all light and unseemly music, and from "those unhallowed, trifling, medley pieces which chill devotion."