Wholesome usages, or those of any other kind, must have their beginnings somewhere. The little ecclesiastical structure upon the hill of Mount Ida has been called a "Church of First Things," for the reason that many of our customs--reverent methods and fitting ornaments of service now firmly established--made their first start, and had their American introduction, at the Church of the Holy Cross in Troy. Here was settled the due observance of the Holy days of our Lord and of Saints' days. Here was started, for all America, the preaching in the surplice; the introduction of flowers as an adornment for the sanctuary; the turning toward the East in Gloria and Creed, and the use of colored stoles. Trifles they may be--at least so somebody has styled them--but they are the outward signs of an inward moving.
At this late day it may be difficult to realize the amount of agitation which accompanied the effort to bring about a simple restoration of that which belonged to this branch of the ancient Church of Christ. Prejudice, when once it has hold, dies hard. Witness an extract from a newspaper--published about the time whereof we write, in 1846-- wherein the request that clergy shall appear in surplices at a Church consecration, is denounced as an "unwarrantable liberty," calling for protest and resistance.
Consecration of Trinity Church. [New York.]--This new edifice, erected by the Corporation of Trinity Church, will be consecrated on Thursday next, 2ist instant (Ascension Day). We have not received any information to enable us to answer the inquiry of one of our clerical correspondents, "H. G.," whether the "clergy are to be invited to appear in their surplices, and if so, by what authority?" We are not willing to suppose that our worthy acting bishop is prepared to recommend or sanction such an innovation, believing that "as our own bishops have heretofore contented themselves with requesting the clergy to appear in their gowns, one officiating temporarily will be satisfied to do the same." By whatever person or persons such a request may be made, we question whether it is the duty of the clergy to submit to it, because, to give no other reason, it is clearly an innovation upon the established order of the diocese.
The misunderstandings concerning the disuse of the black gown have gone down into history, as is further betokened by an illustration in one of Thackeray's novels, where a stout and irate woman parishioner trounces out of the church, slamming the pew-door behind her, as the parson pops up in the wine-glass pulpit, arrayed in a full-blown white surplice.
Dr. Fairbairn calls attention to the prompt decision and action on the part of the young incumbent of the Holy Cross, when he asserts that Mr. Tucker preached at once, at the beginning of his pastorate, in the surplice. "He never used the black gown."
Among other features of restoration, distinctly traceable to the work at Troy, was the use of the Choral Service.
In this connection, the credit of a founder--far-seeing and wise--must be attributed to Nathan B. Warren, Mus. Doc. The son of the patroness, while yet young in years, was devoted to the idea of a sung service long before the thought was carried out among us. Far back, even before the day of the building of the Holy Cross, he played chants, and had them sung to the ordinary Canticles--a proceeding then pronounced not pious by many good people.
At one time he made a tour of England, largely for the purpose of the study of the Cathedrals and the Cathedral service. In the parish of St. Paul's Church, Troy, when the children belonging to his mother's industrial school were formed into a choir, trained to sing at special services, and when upon occasion Mr. Warren used to act as organist, it will be remembered that, at a children's Easter service, he introduced portions of the old choral use.
What wonder that when the "Holy Cross "was erected and services started there the choral method should come into rapid and permanent adoption! About this speedy development, we are certified by records, made at the time, by Mrs. Warren and by the Deacon in charge. The latter was himself a musician and a solid Churchman. He was ready and happy to work along the lines desired by the foundress and her sons.
The term "full choral" covers many variations of meaning. Mrs. Warren makes use of it in her Christmas entry, applying it to a service in which there was no intoning at all; the latter feature--the chanting of the prayers--is mentioned in the Journal of Services as a new thing, just introduced, in the year 1846. Mr. Tucker himself gives his own definition of the phrase "full choral": "by 'full' I mean here the Versicles and Psalms for the day." Even so, as it turned out, he meant only the choir responses to the Versicles, for he writes, 27th September: "The minister's part in the Versicles (Evening Prayer) was intoned," i.e., the minister's part was first sung or chanted on this date.
Nowadays by the phrase "full choral "we understand a rendering in which everything is sung or chanted--everything except the lessons. To that sort of completeness the Church of the Holy Cross soon attained. Witness the entry made on the 14th of April: "I chanted the Morning Prayer, the choir responding' as it is given in Tallis' service." That was indeed an achievement, a thing unknown in America before. It was a restoration of primitive usage as emphatic as any occurring in the later history of the Church. The tones, the vocal harmonies then sounded out in Troy, were in very truth "first things," also great things for the people of God in the new land. After this they sang as they journeyed on their way; their lips were opened to show forth His praise. Gradually they are coming to claim their right and heritage, to make complete use of the powerful agency of music in their efforts to pay worship to the Most High.
While the method is yet a novelty to himself, we find Mr. Tucker debating in his own mind the question whether he can intone and avoid the feeling that he will make an exhibition of himself. But he soon discovers the value of the "praying tone," and adheres to it for the remainder of his earthly career. He is intellectual and at the same time artistic; on both grounds he is sensitive to the inconsistency of a proceeding in which half of a verse is read and the remaining response is sung.
Would that he had many followers in our own day! The fitness of things is sometimes lost sight of. Not long since a cleric from the region of New York was a visitor in Troy. He met there a Rector of a Church in that city. The conversation turned upon "choral services," with which both are familiar. The visitor remarked upon the strange fashion which had come up in certain parishes, in accordance with which an officiant would read a Versicle and the choir sing the Response; also read a Collect and the choir sing the Amen. The Troy Rector was incredulous; at first he doubted the accuracy of the report. He said: "Do you expect me to believe this? "Later, however, he rehearsed the story to another, speaking of it as an unheard-of "half-hitch "arrangement, as an abomination in the aesthetics of religion.
The fine artistic sense, the Church poise and musical training, were efficient guides for the inexperienced deacon. He would not be likely to violate the proprieties. For the same causes he kept himself separate from any and all modern fads about the vesting of his women choristers in cotta or surplice. Good taste was ever the law with him. He could not be induced to dress up his girls in boys' clothes, and this too as a public spectacle before men! Naturally, he tended toward the side of refined culture.
The Choral Service has had much to fight against in the course of its American development. Not only has there been an invidious distinction depreciating the musical participation of the priest or the chanting of a prayer, but in many cases the examples of the function as heard by the people have been against it. Surpliced choirs and Choral Services used to go together; the one implied the other. But that day has passed. "Boy choirs "have been multiplied beyond their natural proportion--even in localities where singing boys are not to be had or made, and where no suitable trainer is at hand. As a consequence, it is not unusual now to hear a choir in which the treble voices are strained or nasal, strident or squalling, in which the whole body sings out of tune and the cultivation of tone is manifestly at a discount. Naturally, when this sort of a choir essays a choral office, the effort does not recommend itself; there is little possibility that it shall work for the edification of man or the glory of God. Again, faulty training and conducting will come to the front. It may happen that the words of the Psalter will be taken at such a rapid pace or so indistinctly that the people can take no part, and the backbone of a sung service will be broken; or the Responses may be sung so languidly, to such a quartet-like dying strain, that worshippers will have naught to do with it. They are left out in the cold. That which ought to be warming, inspiring and arousing, becomes a source of frigidity.
So it will appear that sufficient reason may be found to explain the apparent fact that the choral use is not as popular now as it was ten or twenty years ago.
But to return to our Mission. Another of the "first things "there introduced was the adoption of the Gregorian tones, sometimes as settings for the Canticles, eventually for the Psalter. For the last-named portion of the service the Gregorian setting came to be the invariable rule. In what may be called the middle age of the Holy Cross choir, when they used the Helmore pointing, where each word is printed under its appropriate note in the "black notation," the method of pointing, and the way in which it was read by the singers, seemed to affect their delivery. They were deliberate; they bestowed well-considered emphasis. They were free from the feeling, almost unavoidable when the words of a recitative are accumulated under a single note, that these must be got through with after an expeditious fashion, in a glib, "let-her-go "style, which is ruinous to congregational participation. I have been told by a worshipper who had in large part lost his sense of hearing, that when the choir sang from the Helmore pointing he was able to detect the words and to follow with ease. When other I pointing was employed he was not able. So it was, during a large part of its career, that the choir of the Holy Cross recommended the Choral Service, by its careful and reverent rendering of the Psalter--the chief feature of the entire function.
Of course the clamor of opposition was not wanting. Tongues did wag for a time. Hard things were said about the institution and its clerical head. But both lived through it and outlived it all.
Early in the history of the choir--two or three years after the opening--there began to be doubts within, among those most interested, about the advisability of the continuance of the Choral Service. The thing was yet an experiment. It was a novelty even to the Pastor, and he was willing to let it go; at one time he pronounced it a failure. Others agreed with him. But Nathan B. Warren held to it and carried it through; he was sure of its ultimate success. So he it was who began and who continued the traditionary use.
In fact, as the Rector says in a sermon preached not long before the "Jubilee," almost all the "novelties "introduced at the Holy Cross were the results of lay effort. It was not a case of priestly autocracy, not that of a clergyman crowding down his whims upon an unwilling congregation. There was no "aggrieved parishioner." The parishioners themselves planned and suggested that which was carried out.
Perchance it may be said that the Church revival as set forth at the Holy Cross represented the aesthetic rather than the sacramental side. There would be a certain amount of truth in the remark, in so far as the one phase was made more prominent, more in evidence, than the other.
True it is that the congregation did not attain to the degree of "advancement" manifested by many at the present time. Eucharistic vestments did not come into use; there was only one silk chalice veil--a white one--and many prayer books were scattered about, or set in divers locations, upon the covering of the altar slab.
Yet the strong obligation of the highest service was recognized and acted upon; and this in a day of "the careful and niggardly economy of the Holy Communion which omitted the Celebration on the first Sunday of the month, if Easter or Whitsunday came just before or after it." The Rector of the Holy Cross acknowledged the purpose of the Church, to make the Eucharist a frequent or a constant offering. He saw in the Prayer Book a plain requirement, demanding a Celebration whenever a Collect, Epistle, and Gospel were provided.
So the weekly Eucharist was established, together with a "pure offering" upon each Holy day. Therefore was it that attacks and abuse, railing and contumely were multiplied.
At the Holy Cross most of the Sunday Celebrations were early; the late ones occurred only on the festival of the "first Sunday of the month" or other chief feasts. Soon this later Celebration came to be completely choral, even as to the part taken by the Priest.
The Rector refers to this in the sermon just quoted: "We had in this Church a Choral Celebration of the Holy Communion, when there was not a Cathedral in Great Britain which dignified and honored the Celebration of the blessed Eucharist with the accompaniment of music--that is, with the Trisagion and Gloria in Excelsis." As says the Bishop of Albany: "With the marvellous impressiveness of many a service in the English Cathedrals ringing in my ears--from St. Paul's in London, where the most majestic offering of worship on this earth is rendered to Almighty God, to the Cathedral of some small English town, where daily the beautiful harmony of choral matins and evensong makes the outgoings of the morning and evening to praise God--with these ringing in my ears, I have a sense of reverent pride, when I remember that here in the Holy Cross, in its day of small things, the Holy Eucharist was offered with its full musical accessories, when there was-not a choral Celebration of the Holy Communion in any English Cathedral."
The leaven began to work. There was a slow waking up throughout the American Church, a growing perception of the power of music in religion; along with this, people began to talk about the Choral Service. The fame of the "Holy Cross" had already gone abroad.
The old New York Ecclesiological Society took up the subject. We read about a certain evening, early in the "fifties," when Mr. Edward M. Pecke --then a layman--read a paper, "On the Choral Service of the Church." Thereafter there is a discussion, but it is all on one side. Doctors Vinton and Haight, Mr. Pecke, and the Rev. Mr. Hopkins are the participants. The principal talk is about the singing of the Psalter--the legal and rubrical right of the method.
A "Church Choral Society" is organized in New York city, in order that the members may have the satisfaction of taking part in offices so conducted, and that examples of the vise may be given to the people. Nathan B. Warren is elected Vice-President. John I. Tucker is an officiant. A first public service is held at Trinity Church; a second at the Church of the Annunciation. Upon the latter occasion the clergy in the chancel comprised Drs. Berrian and Vinton, the Rev. Messrs. Mahan, Weaver, Tucker, Hopkins, and others. Mr. Tucker intoned the opening part of the office, John Henry Hopkins the Creed and prayers.
Dr. Hodges, first organist of the Society, presided at the instrument. As yet nothing more elaborate is attempted than double chants for the Psalter and Canticles. It was reported in the papers that the service was "decidedly better done than the first at Trinity"; also that "the Choral Service with its chastened fervor, its sweet simplicity, dignity, and solemn devotion, is winning its way more and more deeply into the hearts of the people."
But the question was still mooted for and against the musical style of service at the Holy Cross. Dr. Warren tells us that he asked a prominent divine from a chief city what he thought of it. The wise divine answered that the Choral Service would never "go" in America, "because here we have no aristocracy."
Dr. Croswell came on from Boston to hear it. He was impressed and was persuaded of its "success." He went back, intending to introduce it in the New England capital. He then started Dr. Cutler along the same line.
Trinity Church, New York, sent on a delegation to Troy, expressly to hear this service and study its effect. They went back, and the parish authorities introduced it on Saints' days only. It was soon noticed how remarkably the attendance picked up on those Holydays which had musical observance; as a consequence the officials decided to try it there on Sundays.
In the city of New York the "Voice of the Ages" encountered a stronger opposition than at Troy. Jerome Hopkins in a recent article, speaking about American composers of opera, writes as follows: "The hostility they encountered reminded one of dear old Dr. Eel. Hodges's first attempts to introduce that 'awful Popish ritual ' now known as 'the Choral Service' in the Episcopal Church, and now as common as boy choirs. The first trial thereof [in New York] was at St. John's Chapel of Trinity Parish, and stones were thrown at the windows by outsiders, while insiders giggled and snizzled because 'the intoning was so funny.'"
If the Holy Cross had been built and worked (or nothing else than the establishment and perpetuation of the old choral use as a prime accessory of divine service, it would yet be a thing worth while.
Sir F. A. Gore Ouseley was a man of fortune, a Priest and a musician. Whilst he was engaged in the active duties of his professorship of music, at Oxford University, he was with a liberal hand pouring out his private means for the founding and building of a new college and Church. He had selected a lovely and picturesque location; there he erected a Church building noted for its surpassing beauty. But when utilitarians look on it, they ask, "What is the use of St. Michael's College?" The establishment trains young men in music, first of all in order that they may sing or play in the constant Choral Services of St. Michael's Church. The Church was built for that. The place has been styled a sort of cross between a monastery and a music school. Its use will be comprehended when we read the words of a reviewer: "We do sincerely sympathize with its founder in his desire to raise ' a thing of beauty ' as an offering to God, not for the admiration of men; and to gather within its walls efficient musicians to carry on a daily full Choral Service, not for the pleasure of a large congregation (the Church was often empty), but as1 offering his and their special gifts to God's glory." So Sir Gore Ouseley founded and equipped a Church, that in it the Choral Service might be offered regularly and at its best estate.
It has been asserted, as proven by undoubted history, that no great religious movement--quickening and uplifting human life--has ever taken place apart from the use of music as a prominent agency. Reformers have worked that way. Politicians recognize its value in another connection. Music and life are indissolubly associated, especially in religion. Were the Holy Cross to exist then--like St. Michael's College--solely to teach and emphasize this feature of service, it would be well; especially in view of the further fact that the method of art employment, to which she has devoted all these years, is that which is identified with the history and usage of the Church of God from the first beginning on. Whether in the older or newer dispensation, the divine society has ever been a "singing Church." It is a good thing when she is taught to sing now.
However, let it be remarked, that the Church of the Holy Cross has existed for more and higher ends than the maintenance even of the Choral Service, as those who know her best can testify.