Project Canterbury

A Short History of the Organs and Music of Trinity Church, New Haven, Connecticut,
Prepared for the 200th Anniversary of Trinity Church 1752-1952

By G. Huntington Byles.

New Haven: no publisher, 1952.

II. The Music and the Choirs of Trinity Church


In gathering data concerning the five organs in Trinity Church there were a few documented facts available; the details had to be exhumed from newspaper files of the day. In the case of the music and the choirs, the problem has been much more puzzling. Except for an occasional reference to a person or persons performing, no mention whatsoever is made of any specific musical selection sung until about 1866. In the period under consideration, it is known that some practices were followed in church services, and we may conjecture that Trinity Church was no exception; however little can actually be proved from the records.

Metrical psalms "lined out" by the clerk, and Anglican chants were the accepted musical forms of the day. There is nothing to tell what instrument was used, if any, to assist the congregation in its singing before the first organ of 1785. The bass viol, or trumpet, were common, but if there was no other instrument, the clerk undoubtedly had a pitch-pipe. The Tate & Brady Psalter was used as early as 1780, and the first American Prayer Book of 1789 included some twenty-seven hymns at the back of the book, but without tunes. Congregations remained seated for singing, and standing for this act of worship was not introduced in Trinity until 1811. It is doubtful whether any anthems would have been used during this period, but in 1803 it is noted that the organist, Mr. Salter, was directed to play an "anthem" rather than a voluntary at the places where voluntaries were to be played. This directive is a little difficult to interpret since anthems require singing rather than playing. It was the practice to have the organist play a voluntary after the psalm and at other places in the service, perhaps at offertory. Preludes and postludes were not customary in these times.

After the organ had been installed, a sophomore at Yale, named De Lucena Benjamin, played for a few months while the first organist, Moses Bates, was learning the instrument. In 1788, it can be noted that Bates combined the duties of organist with those of church sexton, for which he was allowed his house rent.

In 1791, Daniel Salter began a tenure which lasted, with a few interruptions, until 1818. Since he received his musical education in England, it may be supposed that his organ voluntaries featured current organ music of the day in England. It is interesting to note that Salter's duties also included the tuning of the organ. His salary in 1796 was 30 pounds, about $150.

Enos Alling was the first clerk and also the first "chorister". His position in front of the pulpit was afterwards transferred to the organ gallery. The "chorister" (or choir director) was a salaried position from early times. In 1816, at the consecration of the present building, the particular mention has already been made of the excellent vocal music directed by Mr. Eli Roberts.


Because his eyesight had failed, Daniel Salter resigned in 1816. His son Cleaveland succeeded in the position and caused the Rev. Harry Croswell, rector 1815-59, to declare he was not so "skillful" a player as his father. Later, Rebecca Salter, Daniel's daughter, became organist and remained until 1832. In all likelihood the son and daughter carried on a similar musical pattern. Around 1839, musical historians indicate there was a general awakening and increased interest in church music, particularly in the use of the anthem. John H. Phoebus, a teacher of singing, was director of the choir during this period and Dr. Croswell often made mention of him in his diaries. More frequent reference is made to the "excellent" music around 1817 after the Erben organ had been installed, an instrument of greater resources. The combination of John H. Willcox, organist, and William Ludden, chorister, seems to have produced particularly successful performances, and Dr. Croswell entered in his diary the following observation concerning the Easter services that year:

" ... The church very full in the afternoon, partly because St. Paul's was closed and partly because of the music in Trinity, which far excelled that of any former occasion. Several extra pieces having been performed besides the old Easter anthem improved."

It can be noted, also, that the treasurer's records began to show an increase in music expenditures.

The first hymnal was issued in 1826 and was doubtless in use at Trinity. It is unfortunate that no service lists remain to suggest more definitely the anthems or canticles used. The anthems of Boyce, Croft, Purcell and Handel were widely used during the middle years of the nineteenth century, and it is quite possible they were sung here.

Trinity Church did not begin the printing of service lists until 1888.


In 1858, the music budget was listed at $1,000 and in 1881 it had reached $3,000. This was a much more flamboyant period in church music. It was the era of the "quartette choir". In view of the newspaper quotation noted below and the photograph of the interior of the church showing the Hook organ, one is led to conclude that the organ gallery would scarcely have accommodated a large chorus. Perhaps the quartette, or octet, which was used in this period was augmented for special occasions. Orchestral instruments were introduced from time to time, and at the Easter service in 1885, according to newspaper account, the choir was supplemented by a ten-piece orchestra.

The music in this era would have been strongly influenced by the anthems of Handel, Haydn, and later Spohr, Mendelssohn and Gounod. A new hymnal was authorized in 1871 by the General Convention. In 1866, at the time of the opening of the Hook organ, two numbers from Handel's "Saul" were performed by the choir.


According to the late rector, Dr. Charles O. Scoville, Dr. Edwin Harwood, rector 1859-95, made several trips to England where he heard the cathedral choirs, and it was largely at his urging that the Trinity vestry began to consider the change from a choir of men and women to a vested choir of men and boys. The chancel was extended during 1884-85 and, after prolonged discussion, the vestry voted (February 1885) in favor of Dr. Harwood's suggestion and engaged Warren R. Hedden of New York to organize the choir. After nine weeks of rehearsing, the first service with the newly-formed group took place on Sunday, May 3rd. The church was filled with a capacity congregation and each of the New Haven newspapers reported the event at great length. One of the most interesting comments was published in the New Haven Union dated May 4, 1885, and it is worthy of quotation here:

"Trinity Church has had some good music in the past, notably some excellent quartette choirs and most accomplished soloists, but yesterday for the first time a New Haven congregation heard the musical portions of the service of the Episcopal church rendered as the history and spirit of the church require.

"It was never intended that the service of the church should be interspersed with a concert, more or less sacred. The musical portion of the service should be in harmony with the service, form part of it. The music should, indeed, be pleasing, and should satisfy the ear, but it should always be characterized by dignity.

"The choir of men and boys that Mr. Warren Hedden has been training for but nine weeks, showed a result that is most creditable to him. From the opening hymn throughout the whole service they sang steadily with full beautiful tone and with admirable enunciation [...] good musicians frankly admit that the result so far obtained is surprising. It is only fair to say that Mr. Hedden has found his task of training the boys made easier by the fact that most of them come from the public schools where under Professor Jepson's instruction they had learned to read music....Trinity Church has reason to be satisfied and will soon be very proud of its choir. It is to be congratulated in having the services of Mr. Hedden. He is an enthusiastic, accomplished and thoroughly trained musician and an excellent organist. Yesterday his selections of Mendelssohn and Bach were admirably given."

All was not serene, however, for there were those who objected to the introduction of a vested choir, a sharp departure from accepted tradition.

During Mr. Hedden's regime, an annual choral festival was inaugurated. The program which took place in April 1887 included the Magnificat in D, Field; Hallelujah Chorus, Beethoven; and excerpts from Mendelssohn's "Hymn of Praise". Monthly musical services were established when works such as the "Messiah" and "The Creation" were performed with soloists from New York. Due to Mr. Hedden's untiring zeal, the choir was put on a firm and lasting basis. He left the position in 1893 to become organist of the Church of Zion & St. Timothy, New York. From 1893 until 1896, the training of the boys seems to have been divided between the Rev. Clarence Bispham, Precentor, and F. H. Chesswright. Also, Mr. Hedden continued to lend a hand for about a year by means of weekly trips from New York. Mr. Harry J. Read became organist in 1896.

Warren R. Hedden was born in New York in 1861 and at an early age entered the choir of Trinity Church, New York; and while there began his studies of organ and harmony under the celebrated Dr. Messiter. He served in churches in New York and Jersey City and frequently assisted Dr. Messiter at Old Trinity before coming to New Haven in 1885. He was called to this position by the late Dr. Harwood. In 1896, he became one of the "Founders" of the American Guild of Organists. He was noted as a brilliant solo organist, as well as an exceptionally gifted trainer of boys' voices.


1896 marked the beginning of the long tenure of the late Harry J . Read as organist-choirmaster, when the choir won increasing recognition and acclaim. He continued the monthly musical services inaugurated by Mr. Hedden, which attracted large congregations. On March 18, 1909, the late Horatio Parker conducted a performance of Gounod's "Redemption" in Woolsey Hall with the New Haven Oratorio Society, the Derby Choral Society and the New Haven Symphony. Prof. Harry B. Jepson was at the Newberry Organ. In this performance the choir boys of Trinity and Christ Church participated, taking the part of the "celestial choir". The Journal-Courier for March 19th had the following comment in part: "In the final chorus there was abundant fire, sonority, and dramatic force and the choir boys made an effective contrast in the passage for "celestial choir".

In a letter written to Mr. Read, Dr. Parker spoke of the "excellent tone" of the Trinity Boys.

The music in the church services during this period was chiefly the anthems, canticles and cantatas of the mid-Victorian composers such as Stainer, Barriby, Maunder, Spohr, Woodward and Smart, to name but a few. This is quite understandable. Their compositions enjoyed wide popularity and the music by these composers was tailor-made, one might say, for the boy choir. The music of Horatio Parker, late Dean of the Yale School of Music, was also prominently featured in Trinity's service lists.

Mr. Read was greatly beloved by all the men and boys who served under him. In 1935, at the Fiftieth Anniversary of the founding of the Choir, when one hundred and twenty-five former choir "boys" returned to sing the morning service and attend a reunion banquet in the Parish House, the proposal was made and unanimously adopted that a Plaque be placed in the church in his memory, and a collection was taken at that time for its erection. The Memorial Plaque was later set in place on the wall beside the organ console.

Harry J. Read was born in 1868 in Birmingham, England, and sang as a choir boy in that city, where he also received his early musical education. After coming to the United States, he served in churches in Baltimore and in Washington, D.C., before coming to Trinity. Mr. Read left the position in 1904 and went to London, where he was associated with a music publishing firm. He was recalled to the position by the late Dr. Scoville in 1906. During the interim, William Irving Lyon was organist-choirmaster.

Since 1933

Robert G. Barrow, a student in the Yale School of Music, substituting during Mr. Read's illness, carried on the choir very successfully and was appointed to the position upon Mr. Read's death in 1933. In June 1934, Mr. Barrow was awarded the Ditson Fellowship for European study and obtained a leave-of-absence from his duties here. The present choirmaster was engaged to take over the work during the interim, and in the course of the year received the appointment to the position.

Robert G. Barrow resigned his position at Trinity while abroad to become the organist of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., a position he held until 1939. He is now Professor of Music at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts.

It was a great challenge to come to Trinity Church, with its long established musical tradition and its highly trained choir of men and boys. Since then it has been both stimulating and satisfying to be organist in a church where such interest is taken in the music and the choir, not only by the Rector and the Music Committee, but also by the parishioners themselves.

In recent times, the choir has made frequent appearances outside of Trinity Church. Since 1936, it has been a regular feature of the Christmas Concert of the University Glee Club for the Trinity Boys to sing with them as Woolsey Hall. The choir was requested in1939 to come to Hartford to sing at Trinity College Chapel; and, except for the war years, this has since been an annual event.

1940 saw the beginning of the Christmas Eve Communion Service in Trinity, at which the choir sings a program of Christmas Carols.

Early in 1942, the present organist was called into military service and spent almost four years in the Navy. One by one, several of the choir men were also called into the armed forces. Trinity Church was most fortunate in having had the services of Mr. Robert C. Young as acting organist and choirmaster during this period. Mr. Young, a native of Bristol, England, had been organist-choirmaster of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Shanghai, China, for sixteen years before becoming a resident of New Haven in 1941. With his long experience, he demonstrated his ability to cope with the difficulties and carried the choir through the war years with admirable success.

Since 1946, there has been a continued change and expansion in the choir repertory. It is good for both choir and congregation to encounter some new music along with the old and familiar. For those it may interest, this is the repertoire of the current year, September 1951 to June 1952:


Andrews, Lord of all being
Bach, Jesu joy of man’s desiring
Bairstow, Though I speak with the tongue
Bullock, Give us the wings of faith
Bullock, O for a closer walk
Byles, Kneel and adore him
Byles, The Storke
Candlyn, The Royal Banners
Coke-Jephcott, Blest are the pure in heart
Davies, God be in my head
Davies, If any man hath not the spirit
Dyson, Lauds
Farrant, Call to remembrance O Lord
Farrant, Lord for thy tender mercies
Ford, Almighty God who hast me brought
Franck, Psalm 150
Goss, O Saviour of the World
Handel, Let the bright seraphim
Handel, Hallelujah Amen
Handel, And the glory
Handel, O thou that tellest
Ireland, Greater love hath no man
Jacob, To my humble supplication
Jacob, Brother James’ Air
James, By the waters of Babylon
James, I am the Vine
Jennings, Springs in the desert
Macfarlane, Christ our Passover
Mackinnon, Sleeps Judea fair
Mendelssohn, Behold a stair
Naylor, Behold God is great
Naylor, And there shall be signs
Oldroyd, Prayer to Jesus
Purcell, Thou knowest Lord
Rowley, Praise
Sampson, O Lord most high Eternal King
Shaw, G. Worship
Shaw, M. With the voice of singing
Stanford, And I saw another angel
Taylor, I saw three ships
Thiman, O Christ the Heaven’s Eternal King
Thomson, My shepherd will supply
Vittoria, O Magnum Mysterium
Warlock, Balulalow
Wesley, Lead me Lord
Williams, V. O how amiable
Willan, Sing we triumphant songs
Wood, O thou the central Orb


Te Deum Laudamus

Ireland in C
Stanford in B flat
Vaughan Williams (Festival)

Jubilate Deo

Noble in D
Ireland in C
Wood in A flat
Stanford in B flat
Brewer in E flat

Benedictus es, Domine

Rowley in E flat
Matthews in A flat
Willan in E flat
Thiman in F
Hall in D


Vaughan Williams in C


Byles in F minor

During the forty-two weeks that the choir sings there are three weekly rehearsals, two with boys alone. In addition there is a preparatory or training choir which meets apart from the regular group. The training choir, through which each boy is processed before he enters the regular ranks, not only prepares him vocally, but also establishes a first-hand knowledge of sight-singing and rhythm. Without this, the yearly repertoire given above would not be possible.

The Girls' Choir

A Girls' Choir was formed in 1903 by the Rev. Dr. Thomas, Curate, to assist in the singing of the Church School services. Mr. Paul Heinig was appointed choirmaster. In addition to singing at the services of the church school, this group sang on the f i r s t Sunday of each month at the New Haven Hospital where Dr. Thomas conducted a service. Just how long this organization continued is uncertain.

In 1936, the Rev. Thomas van B. Barrett, Curate, again organized a Girls' Choir. Since that date, the Girls' Choir has made a very real contribution to the services held in the Parish House and in the Church. Besides singing at the Sunday services held in the Parish House, this group regularly sings at services held in the Church; on Saturdays in Lent; at Church School Pageants; at the monthly corporate communion service of the Church School; and at the service of Holy Communion at 9:00 a.m. on Easter Day. The Girls' Choir of 25 voices is now under the direction of Miss Joan Gebel.


In concluding the story of Trinity's music for the first two hundred years, tribute must be paid to all those singers and musicians who, through the years, have unselfishly given of their musical talents to add beauty to the church services, and in so doing have woven a fine, indelible pattern into the fabric which is Trinity Church. To their sincere devotion we owe the musical traditions in which we take such pride today.

Especial mention should be made of the many hundreds of boys who have passed through the ranks of the choir since those first days 67 years ago. Their love for the music of the Church and their instinctive love of singing have far outbalanced the drudgery of rehearsals and the necessity of sitting quietly during what may have seemed to them long services. Their faithfulness and enthusiasm are truly amazing, and have been a continual source of inspiration to the present choirmaster, as they must have to the choirmasters who went before him.

To the many boys who have sung in the choir since 1931, as well as to the many choir men, the present choirmaster owes a deep debt of gratitude for continued loyalty and enthusiastic support.


It is to be regretted that this list of names and dates is incomplete. Each treasurer recoded in his own way certain sums of money paid to the chairman of the music committee for “music.” The names of the musicians, unfortunately, are often omitted.

De Lucena Benjamin, July 1785 (for a few months)
Moses Bates 1785
Daniel Salter 1794-98; 1799-1801; 1802-18.
John Ives 1799, 1801.
Cleaveland Salter 1818-22
Rebecca Salter 1822-32
George Grib 1834
Peter A. Smith 1838
Henry Pilcher 1839-44
[Henry Pilcher left New Haven in 1844 and later established the Pilcher Organ Company in Louisville, Kentucky.]
John J. Willcox 1844-47
William Ludden 1847-52
Joel S. Smith 1853-55
M. N. Whitmore 1855
Charles S. Elliott 1875
Warren R. Hedden 1885-93
Ella D. Babcock
G.F. Goodale
F.S. Chesswright, 1893-96
Harry J. Read 1896-1904; 1906-33
William Irving Lyon 1904-06
Robert G. Barrow 1933-34
G. Huntington Byles 1934—
Robert C. Young, Acting Organist 1942-46

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