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From PSALTERS to SINGING SCHOOLS and Beyond. one lens for the history of western music education. James F. Daugherty, Ph.D. Historiographical Note :.

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from psalters to singing schools and beyond


one lens for the history of western music education

James F. Daugherty, Ph.D.


Historiographical Note:

The “Singing School” and its predecessors have to date served as the primary starting point for histories of American music education. Edward Bailey Birge (1928); Lloyd Sunderman (1971); James A. Keene (1982): Each begins pretty much with Pilgrims in Plymouth,MA.

Edward Bailey Birge, History of Public School Music in the United States (Bryn Mawr, PA: Oliver Ditson, 1928/1937; Lloyd F. Sunderman, Historical Foundations of Music Education in the United States (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1971; James A. Keene, A History of Music Education in the United States (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1982).

A. Theodore Tellstrom (1971) begins essentially with the Protestant Reformation. A. Theodore Tellstrom, Music in American Education: Past and Present (NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971).

Michael Mark & Charles Gary (1992) start with Hebrews and Greeks, but are in Colonial America by page 44. Michael L. Mark and Charles Gary, A History of American Music Education (NY: Schirmer Books, 1992).


Historiographical Note, continued:

We do not yet have a history of American music education that fairly and fully treats contributions of indigenous peoples. Nor do we yet have a history of American music education that tells the story primarily from the perspective of minorities, women, indentured people, etc.

As we prepare to attend the KMEA convention, itself arguably a descendent of the Singing Schools, it is appropriate to rehearse and celebrate the saga of music education as a product of psalm singing instruction and its heritors. It is also appropriate to keep in mind that such a perspective provides but one lens, albeit a dominant one currently, on the history of American music education.

monodic chanting of words important for edification of the faithful and for the doing of theology
monodic chanting of Words important for edification of the faithful and for the doing of theology
Psalms found throughout the Judeo-Christian scriptures, not just in the Old Testament book called Psalms

Sometimes these psalms re-appear in new guises even within the Scriptures

example the magnificat in luke s gospel is a psalm i e meant to be sung
Example: The “Magnificat” in Luke’s gospel is a psalm, i.e., meant to be sung

And Mary proclaimed:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior,

For He has looked upon the lowliness of His handmaiden. From now on will all ages call me blessed.

compare hannah s song 1samuel 2 with mary s song luke 1
Hannah prayed and said,

"My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God.

Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth;

The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.

And Mary proclaimed:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior

He has…dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he as filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.

Compare: Hannah’s Song (1Samuel 2) with Mary’s Song (Luke 1)
to keep in mind
To Keep in Mind:
  • Psalms and hymns of Judeo-Xn tradition are functional, contextual, dynamic and adaptable.
  • Earliest Christians were also Jews. Aside from Magnificat, the “Gloria” is a Hebrew psalm that found its way pretty much intact into the ordinary of the Roman mass, as did the “Sanctus” in truncated form.
  • With the Edict of Milan in 313, which legalized Christianity, Christian singing flourished.
  • Augustine was among early Christian thinkers who set a philosophical foundation for this phenomenon by embracing both the ancient doctrines of symbolism (the math of music reflecting transcendent reality) and ethos (power of music to mold character and stir emotions). Such a framework empowered music as an essential part of Christian education.
bono lead singer for rock band u2 on the continuing appeal of psalms 1999
Bono, lead singer for rock band U2, on the continuing appeal of psalms (1999):
  • At age 12, I was a fan of David. He felt familiar, like a pop star could feel familiar. The words of the psalms were as poetic as they were religious, and he was a star -- a dramatic character, because before David could fulfil the prophecy and become the king of Israel, he had to take quite a beating. He was forced into exileand ended up in a cave in some no-name border town facing the collapse of his ego and abandonment by God. But this is where the soap opera got interesting. This is where David was said to have composed his first psalm -- a blues. That's what a lot of the psalms feel like to me -- the blues. Man shouting at God -- "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?" (Psalm 22).
bono lead singer for rock band u2 on the continuing appeal of psalms 199913
Bono, lead singer for rock band U2, on the continuing appeal of psalms (1999):

Psalms and hymns were my first taste of inspirational music. I liked the words but I wasn't sure about the tunes -- with the exception of Psalm 23, "The Lord is my Shepherd." I remember them as droned and chanted rather than sung. Still, in an odd way, they prepared me for the honesty of John Lennon, the baroque language of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, the open throat of Al Green and Stevie Wonder. When I hear these singers, I am reconnected to a part of me I have no explanation "soul," I guess.

Years ago, lost for words and forty minutes of recording time left before the end of our studio time, we were still looking for a song to close our third album, WAR. We wanted to put something explicitly spiritual on the record to balance the politics and the romance of it, like Bob Marley or Marvin Gaye would. We thought about the psalms -- Psalm 40.

fast forward to the protestant reformation
Fast Forward to the Protestant Reformation
  • Recall, in broad strokes, such events and ideas as monasteries, cathedral schools, parish schools, universities, the long development of music notation, Guido and his hand, private music instruction, the beginnings of conservatories, etc., etc.
  • Recall that Renaissance humanism began to move the conceptual symbolism of music from “science” to an “art”of human expression.
  • In its musical outcomes, the Protestant Reformation was, in one sense, a theological protest against some of the excesses of this humanistic movement: too much polyphony, excessive embellishment, difficulty with the whole congregation being able to offer musical service to God, and some emerging concerns about the proper use of instruments and instrumental music.
the reformers
The Reformers
  • By and large, still valued music highly.
  • But they sought to solidify the functional nature of music in Christian contexts by recovering some of the roots of Christian music in Hebrew psalm-singing: simplifying, adapting, and using music in ways conducive to the “priesthood of all believers.”
  • These reformers, by and large, also valued education highly. They sought to transfer education from the Roman Catholic Church to the state. Luther, Melancthon, Calvin, and others envisioned a universal education that would serve the common people as well as the wealthy.
  • Central to this vision was the ancient notion that proper education included music. Abetting the vision was the invention of printing that assisted musicians to share their “secrets” in writing, and others to devise and expound various “best methods” for teaching the rudiments of musical literacy.
reformation calvinists
Reformation Calvinists
  • Into this emerging matrix, the metrical psalmody of Reformation Calvinists would play an important role in defining some of the roots of American music education.
  • Calvin (1509-1564) advocated psalm singing not only in church, but also in homes and even the workplace.
clement marot jean calvin
Clement Marot & Jean Calvin
  • The history of the Calvinist psalters begins in the Catholic court of France, where, in 1537, the poet Clement Marot, a valet to King Francois I, completed rhymed translations of 30 psalms.
reformation calvinists jean calvin clement marot
Reformation Calvinists: Jean Calvin & Clement Marot
  • These metrical psalms were very popular at court. There are reports that members of the royal assembly sang them to popular tunes of the day.
  • Jean Calvin used these Marot translations in his first psalter, Aulcans pseaulmes et cantiques mys en chant, issued in Strasbourg in 1539. This book contains 13 Marot psalms and six psalms and canticles by Calvin. It is a psalter with melody lines.
reformation calvinists jean calvin clement marot theodore beze louis bourgeois
Reformation Calvinists: Jean Calvin, Clement Marot, Theodore Beze, & Louis Bourgeois
  • In 1542 Marot fled to Geneva, as had Calvin slightly before him, to escape religious persecution.
  • There Marot revised his first 30 psalms and added 25 texts to the Calvinist repertory.
  • Various psalters appeared between 1540-1560, including the versifications of Marot, Calvin, and Theodore Beze.
  • Louis Bourgeois, active in Geneva as a musician since 1545, was responsible for the melodies appearing with these versifications in a 1551 psalter edition.
  • Although he apparently did not contribute to other editions, Bourgeois’ melodies were preserved and replicated in subsequent psalters.
reformation calvinists jean calvin clement marot theodore beze louis bourgeois23
Reformation Calvinists: Jean Calvin, Clement Marot, Theodore Beze, & Louis Bourgeois
  • The complete volume, subsequently known as the Genevan Psalter, was published in 1562.

Sing from Genevan Psalter:

“I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art”


reformation calvinists jean calvin clement marot theodore beze louis bourgeois25
Reformation Calvinists: Jean Calvin, Clement Marot, Theodore Beze, & Louis Bourgeois
  • Interestingly, Bourgeois and others, notably Claude Goudimel, also wrote harmonized and polyphonic settings of the metrical psalm texts. The melody generally appeared in the tenor or superius.
  • A large number of these arrangements were printed, well over 3,000 in France and Switzerland alone.
  • More than 100 of these psalm settings even appeared in instrumental publications, such as Le Roy’s Tiers livre de tabulature de luth (1552), which contains 21 settings for voice and lute.
  • Far from being dour and rigid, the Calvinist musical heritage was rather rich and varied. Such composers as Clement Janequin, Jacques Arcadelt, and Pierre Certon incorporated Calvinist melodies into their compositions.
meanwhile in england and scotland
Meanwhile, in England and Scotland:
  • The death of Henry VIII in 1547 opened the way for the Protestant reforming party to replace Latin services with English liturgies, and to introduce other changes.
  • Throughout the brief reign of Edward VI (1547-1553) the Puritan party increasingly found favor.
  • These English Reformers, unlike the Lutherans, held that psalms were divinely inspired and thus preferable to any merely human compositions. They introduced metrical psalm translations on a large scale so that these texts could be sung by the people as a whole.
meanwhile in england and scotland27
Meanwhile, in England and Scotland:
  • Important for our purposes is the publication in 1549 of Thomas Sternhold’s Certayne Psalmes, dedicated to King Edward VI. This small beginning (19 psalms) became the nucleus of both English and Scottish psalm books.
  • The full title: Certayne Psalmes chose out of the PSALTER OF DAVID, and drawe into English metre, by Thomas Sternhold grome of Ye Kynges Maiesties roobes.
  • Sternhold died shortly after its publication.

Certayne Psalmes, 1549, bound in embroidered silk

meanwhile in england and scotland28
Meanwhile, in England and Scotland:
  • When Mary I ascended to the English throne (1553-1558), she reinstituted Catholic rule.
  • Numerous Puritan and Anglican Reformers were obliged to go into exile. Some went to Frankfurt, still others to France, the Netherlands, and many to Geneva, where, of course, they came under Calvin’s influence.
  • They took Sternholds’ psalter with them. Indeed, there were at least three Genevan editions of the Sternhold & Hopkins during this time of exile.
meanwhile in england and scotland29
Meanwhile, in England and Scotland:
  • When Queen Elizabeth ascended the English throne in 1558, many of the Protestant exiles returned.
  • Metrical psalm singing was now tolerated, assisted by Elizabeth’s Injunctions of 1559 that stated in part:
  • “…for the comforting of such that delight in music, it may be permitted thata in the beginning or in the end of common prayers, eyther at mornying or evenying, there be sung an hyme, or such like songue, to the praise of almighty God, in the best sort of melody and musicke that may be conveniently devised, having respect that the sentence of the Hymne may be understood and pereceyved.”
meanwhile in england and scotland30
Meanwhile, in England and Scotland:
  • 1562: Sternhold’s versifications were supplemented by John Hopkins, and the Sternhold and Hopkins Whole Book of Psalms was published by John Day in a four part edition.
  • Sometimes referred to as the “Sternhold & Hopkins,” other times referred to as “Day’s Psalter,”this psalter went through more than 600 editions, the final printed in 1828.
sternhold hopkins 1562
Sternhold & Hopkins, 1562:
  • Old Hundredth, melody in the tenor
sternhold hopkins 1594 edition
Sternhold & Hopkins, 1594 edition:
  • The Whole Booke of Psalmes; Collected into English Metre, by Thomas Sternhold, John Hopins, and Others, Conferred with the Hebrue, with Apt Notes to Sing Them Withall (London, 1594).
  • Printer John Windet thought that solmization was useful in sight singing. He had initials for the syllables U R M F S L printed beneath the notes.
  • According to his preface:
  • “...I have caused a new print of note to be made with letter to be joined to every note: whereby thou mayest know how to call every note by his right name, so that with a very little diligence thou mayest more easilie by the viewing of these letters, come to the knowledge of perfect solfeying... the letters be these U for Ut, R for Re, M for My, F for Fa, S for Sol, L for La. Thus where you see any letter joyned by the notes you may easilie call him by his right name, ….”
1612 the rev henry ainsworth 1571 1623
1612: The Rev. Henry Ainsworth (1571-1623)
  • Published Annotations upon the Books of Psalms. Written in Holland for the English separatist reformers who did not return to England with the advent of Elizabeth’s reign.
  • Brought on the Mayflower in 1620 by the Pilgrims to the Plymouth Colony.
1612 the rev henry ainsworth 1571 162338
1612: The Rev. Henry Ainsworth (1571-1623)
  • Ainsworth’s psalter contained 39 different unaccompanied tune from English, French, and Dutch sources, a multicultural solution to the lack of musical notation in the Bible.
  • Ainsworth wrote: “Tunes for the Psalmes, I find none set of God: so that ech people is to use the most grave, decent, and comfortable manner of singing that they know, according to the general rule, I Cor. 14, 16.40. The singing notes therefore I have most taken from our former Englished psalmes, when they wil fit the mesure of the verse: and for the other long verses, I have also taken (for the most part) the gravest and easiest tunes of the French and Dutch pslames.”
  • Separatists in Holland and later in America could sing all 150 psalm texts to these 39 tunes, as several could work with more than one psalm.
1630 puritans established massachusetts bay colony
1630: Puritans established Massachusetts Bay Colony
  • Their psalter of preference was the Sternhold & Hopkins.
  • Keep in mind:
    • Pilgrims (sailed from Plymouth, England on the Mayflower): Plymouth Plantation, MA
      • Dubbed “Pilgrims” by Daniel Webster in 1820
      • smaller of the colonies
      • 102 passengers on the Mayflower, only 30 on board for religious reasons
    • Puritans (England): Massachusetts Bay Colony
      • sailed on the ship Arbella in spring of 1630
      • by 1631, about 21,000 English men, women, and children traversed the Atlantic in about 200 ships
      • strict and staunch Calvinists
    • Eventually (around 1692) the Plymouth and Mass. Bay Colonies merged
1640 bay psalm book
1640: Bay Psalm Book
  • There had been dissatisfaction with the accuracy of the translations found in the Sternhold & Hopkins.
  • Even before the 1644 Westminster Assembly of Divines in England argued for a newer psalter closer to the original Hebrew, New World colonists were already on task.
  • The Reverends John Eliot, Thomas Weld, and Richard Mather (grandfather of Cotton Mather) published the Bay Psalm Book in 1640.
  • Full Title: The Whole Book of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, Whereunto is prefixed a discourse declaring not only the lawfulness, but also the necessity of the heavenly Ordinance of Singing Scripture Psalmes in the Churches of God
1640 bay psalm book42
1640: Bay Psalm Book
  • Interestingly “Bay Psalm Book” does not appear on the cover or elsewhere in the book
  • One of the first things the Puritans did was establish Harvard College, 1636, and one of the first things they equipped it with was a printing press.
  • The “Bay Psalm Book” was the first book off this press. The first book published in North America was a music book. Its preface began with three questions:
  • “First, what psalmes are to be sung in churches? whether Davids and other scripture psalmes, or the psalmes invented by the gifts of godly men in every age of the church. Secondly, if scripture psalmes, whether in their owne words, or in such meter as english poetry is wont to run in? Thirdly, by whom are they to be sung? whether by the whole churches together with their voices? or by one man singing alone and the rest joyning in silence, & in the close, saying amen.”
1640 bay psalm book44
1640: Bay Psalm Book
  • Mather, Weld, and Eliot, answering their own rhetorical questions, made the case for Davidic and scriptural psalms in English poetic meter sung by the whole church and dedicated their book to that task.
  • At the end, in an “Admonition to the Reader,” they wrote that they intended people to sing their verses to tunes by Thomas Ravenscroft, noting that their versifications of the psalms fit into six meters for which tunes were readily available.
  • Ravenscroft’s The Whole Booke of Psalms, with the Hymes Evangelicall, and Songs Spirituall (London, 1621) contained music in four-part arrangements by Ravenscroft and other leading English composers. Most colonists used the Ravenscroft tunes as melodies for the Sternhold & Hopkins texts.
bay psalm books
Bay Psalm Books
  • The “Bay Psalm Book” proved very popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Remember, that far from being isolated, the American colonists through heavy ship traffic, had an interdependent relationship with their counterparts in England.
  • Over a 30 year period, the “Bay Psalm Book” went through 70 editions, 18 of them in England and 22 in Scotland.
  • The third edition, a definitive one, was known as the New England Psalm Book. These early editions, while containing preferred texts, contained no music.
  • The first edition known to contain music was the ninth (some say the twelfth) edition in 1698.
  • This 1698 edition was the first known book printed in the colonies that contained music.
bay psalm book 1698
Bay Psalm Book: 1698
  • The tunes that appeared in the 1698 edition were taken from John Playford’s book, An Introduction to the Skill of Music, a self-instruct in the rudiments of music published in 1654.
  • Another important feature of the 1698 edition was the addition of solmization letters printed below the tune notes.

1698 Edition: Melody and Bass with mi-fa-sol-la letters printed beneath the staff. The diamond shaped notes were standard musical notation at that time.

  • assigns syllables to degrees of the scale to assist singers’ finding/hearing/seeing pitch relationships
  • European hexachord (6 note system) of Ut-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La was codified by Guido d’Arezzo (990-1055) in the eleventh century.
  • This continental system was simplified in England to a 4 note syllable system: Fa Sol La Mi, with Mi being the leading tone of the scale. It was this FaSoLa system that the English colonists brought with them to the New World. It was this FaSoLa system that appeared in the 1698 edition of the “Bay Psalm Book.”
  • SING: Old Hundredth from 1698 “Bay Psalm Book”
two ways of singing psalm tunes in new england note vs rote
Two Ways of Singing Psalm Tunes in New England: “Note” vs “Rote”
  • The “regular” way was reading by note. The use of FaSoLa was intended to teach this way.
  • The “old” way, as it came to be known, was officially endorsed by the Westminster Assembly in 1644 to assist the musically illiterate to participate fully in psalm singing.
  • On the continent, the “old” way was called “lining out.” In the New World, it was called both that and “deaconing.”
  • The lining out process entailed a deacon reading a line or two of a versified psalm. A song leader, or precentor, gave out the pitch for the tune and led the congregation in singing the words to one of a relatively small number of tunes comprising a memorized repertoire.
lining out
“Lining Out”
  • Apparently, the practice of “lining out” had some variations.
  • There is suggestion, for instance, that the deacon or leader might have sung the psalm line rather than read it, before it was repeated by the congregation.
  • And there is considerable indication that when the congregation sang the line, whether it had been read or sung beforehand, a smorgasboard of sound ensued. Some liked to embellish or ornament the line. Others even made fugal or canonic statements of it. And because it was an essentially a cappella endeavor, various folks might sing in the range (or lack thereof) most comfortable to them, and at varying speeds.
lining out52
“Lining Out”
  • The Rev. Thomas Walter writes, early in the 1700s:
  • “The tunes are now miserably tortured and twisted and quavered in our churches, into a horrid medley of confused and disordered voices. Our tunes are left to the mercy of every unskilled throat to chop and alter, to twist and change, according to their infinitely diverse and no less odd humours and fancies. I have paused myself twice in one note to take a breath. No two men in the congregation quaver alike or together. It sounds in the ear of a agood judge like five hundred tunes roared out at the same time, with perpetual interfearings with one another.”
singing by rule and art
Singing by “Rule and Art”
  • Such assessments, coupled with the fasola edition of the “Bay Psalm Book,” led in many quarters to a desire to improve congregational singing by the use of “rule and art” and the “recall of notes,” as music reading was then termed.
  • These attempts at reform often met with violent opposition, splitting congregations and ministers and even families.
  • In much of New England, the reformers gradually won out.
  • Various changes were instituted. Better singers, for instance, began to sit together as a group, from which grew the idea of a choir, and the choir was eventually given recognition and seated together in a gallery.
  • With choir leadership, the practice of “lining out,” or as some detractors called it “bawling out,” became a moot issue.
  • But now the need was urgent for instruction in the rudiments of music and singing. Out of this need arose the Singing School. And with the Singing Schools came the need for printed instructional materials.
singing instruction
Singing Instruction
  • The first practical instruction book on singing in North America was written by the Rev. John Tufts of Newbury,MA, and printed in Boston about 1712.
  • It was entitled: “A very plain and easy Introduction to the Art of Singing Psalm Tunes; With the Cantus, or Trebles, of 28 Psalm Tunes contrived in such a manner as that the Learner may attain the Skill of Singing them with the greatest ease and Speed imagineable.”
  • Tufts’ book was very successful and reprinted in many editions.
  • Tufts’ book used fasola syllables written on the staff to replace notes altogether. Duration was indicated with punctuation: a period signifying a half not, a colon a whole note, and no punctuation meaning a quarter note.
  • Tufts was the first American to advocate an alternative notation to simplify music reading. (Keep in mind that solmization was not Tufts’ invention but had been used in the 1698 Bay Psalm Book, although under the staff and not on it).
  • Iin addition to his notation innovations, Tufts’ book included an appendix with instruction in rudimentary music theory and for tuning and using the voice. The third edition of his book also advocated singing by women and children.
symmes and walter
Symmes and Walter
  • The Rev. Thomas Symmes wrote a pamphlet in 1720, entitlted: “The Reasonableness of Regular Singing, or Singing by Note: An Essay to revive the true and ancient mode of Singing psalm-tunes according to the pattern of our New-England psalm-books.” It had considerable influence upon those agitating for an end to the “old way” of lining out.
  • Also influential was a book published by The Rev. Thomas Walter in 1721: The Grounds and Rules of Music Explained or An Introduction to the Art of Singing by Note. It used conventional notation.
singing schools
Singing Schools
  • Assisted by the impetus of books such as those of Tufts, Symmes, and Walter, Singing Schools were conducted by music teachers or singing masters who held classes in communities where people were interested in learning to sing by note. In some ways, they were similar perhaps in concept to the earlier scholae cantorum and choir schools of Europe.
  • American singing schools began to be established around 1720, the year that Bach and Handel were 35 years old. Though records are scanty, there was a singing school in Charleston, SC in 1730, New York City in 1754, and in Bethlehem, PA around 1750 (Moravians).
  • Singing Schools were in their heydey from about 1720-1790, the same period in which colonial wars had been fought, the Revolutionary War won, and the U.S. Constitution adopted. They continued, however, well into the latter 19th century and in some places continue to this day.
singing schools moses cheney b 1776
Singing Schools: Moses Cheney (b 1776)
  • “The sessions were held either in the homes of the members or in the school house. At the first meeting boards were laced on kitchen chairs to answer for seats and all the candidates for membership paraded around the room in a circle, the singing master in the center. The master then read the rules, instructing all to pay attention to the rising and falling of the notes. Books containing individual parts, treble, counter, tenor and bass, were distributed, and directions for pitch were given. Then the master commenced. ‘Now follow me right up and down; sound.’ So the master sounded and the pupils sounded and this way some learned to sing by note and others by imitation. At the close of the session the singing master agreed to give instruction for one shilling and six pence per night and to take his pay in Indian corn.”
singing schools harry s perkins school music may 1908
Singing Schools: Harry S. Perkins (School Music, May 1908)
  • “It is interesting to retrospect that our early singing-school experience, when old and young, great and small, piled into a a big box upon the bob-sled and with a generous quantity of straw upon the bottom and buffalo robes over us with many other wraps to shield us from the twenty degrees of coolness, and the sled being hauled by a yoke of well-bred oxen down the steep hill two miles to the valley’s schoolhouse by the side of a stony brook where the interested class assembled once a week through the long winter. We not only sang every exercise, tune and anthem, to doe, re, mi, with a tallow candle firmly standing upon the back of the desk to furnish us with what John G. Saxe, the Vermont poet, called ‘The Light of Other Days,’ but at the close, after father had invoked the divine blessing upon the school and the efforts which had been made to cultivate the heart and hand, we escorted the prettiest girl, to our thinking, home, especially if she was going our way, and we got ahead of the other fellows below. We could only stop at the door long enough to say one ‘good night,’ for we must catch up with the oxen team. Those were the halycon days. We learned to read and sing from the musical notation at first sight.”
singing schools assistance from the great awakenings
Singing Schools: Assistance from the Great Awakenings
  • Awakening = quickening, revival
  • First Great Awakening
    • ca 1725 pietist roots - Theodore Frelinghusen in Middle Colonies
    • 1734 - Jonathan Edwards - revivalism in New England
    • George Whitfield (from England) visited the colonies and helped spread the movement, basing operations at Savannah’s Independent Presbyterian Church.
    • The Wesley brothers, John and Samuel, also visited at various times
  • Second Great Awakening
    • 1798: swept through the rural south and newly settled west
singing schools led to singing societies in some locations
Singing Schools: Led to Singing Societies in some locations
  • In early stages, both the Singing School and the Singing Society used the same musical material, namely psalm tunes
  • The Singing School gave intensive study to music reading; the Singing Society tended to concentrate more on practice in singing
  • Eventually, Singing Societies took on more demanding choral works, such as oratorios and masses, especially in late eighteenth and early to mid nineteenth centuries
  • Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society
singing schools advent of singing school conventions
Singing Schools: Advent of Singing School Conventions
  • Groups of Singing Schools and Societies meeting in convention
  • One of the first such conferences convened in Concord, NH in 1829 under the leadership of Henry E. Moore
  • 1840: Lowell Mason organized what he called the National Music Convention. Major purpose was teacher training.
  • Such conventions seen as sources of inspiration, better voice training, teaching techniques, and new musical literature. Sound familiar?
singing schools tune books and instructional materials
Singing Schools: Tune Books and Instructional Materials
  • Aims of the Singing School controlled the make up and content of the “tune books” (as the instruction books were called).
  • These books consisted of a “Rudiments” section devoted to an exposition of the elements of notation, a particular system for reading music, along with exercises for practice.
singing schools tune books and instructional materials67
Singing Schools: Tune Books and Instructional Materials
  • The bulk of the tune book contents consisted of collected and/or arranged psalm tunes and anthems
  • Later, glees and other part songs came to be included
  • The “Rudiments” sections freely borrowed from each other
    • Early tune books evidence rather atomistic, unconnected approaches to teaching and learning
    • Logical presentation evolves
    • By the 1830s, “Rudiments” sections evidenced some attention/resemblance to methodical, comprehensive lesson plans, especially in materials by Lowell Mason, Thomas Hastings, and their contemporaries
native composers and tune books
Native Composers and Tune Books
  • Most compilers of tune books were themselves singing school teacher, and some were also composers as well.
  • James Lyon, Uranania, 1762, Philadelphia
  • William Billings, Boston
    • New England Psalm Singer, or American Chorister, 1770 (age 24)
      • first published compilation of entirely American music by a single American composer
    • The Singing Master’s Assistant, 1776
  • Other composer-teachers included
    • Supply Belcher (1751-1836)
    • Daniel Read (1757-1836)
    • Oliver Holden (1764-1828)
    • Jeremiah Ingalls (1764-1828)
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Native Composers, Tune Books & “Fuguing Tunes”
  • The style of psalm tune most cultivated by the native composers of the last decades of the 18th century was the so-called “fuguing tune,” of which hundreds were written.
  • This style of music comprised almost the entire repertory of some church choirs at the time.
  • Fuguing tunes had two parts:
    • the first section was homophonic
    • the second section contained simple imititation (not a “fugue” in the classical, formal sense of the term
  • Fuguing tunes were not exclusively American. They had developed in England from the British version of the Singing School.
  • SING: “Kittery” by William Billings
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Native Composers, Tune Books & “Fuguing Tunes”
  • Some singing masters were black
  • Among those documented are Newport Gardner (1746-1826?) and “Frank the Negro” (ca 1746)
  • Both said to have had contact with Andrew Law
notational systems in tune books
Notational Systems in Tune Books
  • One important, interesting facet of tune books was the notational system devised by numerous authors to simplify music reading
  • John Tuft’s early effort already mentioned (A very plain and easy Introduction….1712), but many others followed.
  • Whirlwind period of American invention generally.
  • Perhaps one of the most revolutionary ideas was the “shape note” or “patent notes” system, where a different shaped note head was assigned to each of the four fasola(mi) syllables.
  • This particular system part of an “endless tinkering” with music notation in latter 18th and early 19th century America.
shape note books
Shape Note Books
  • Some controversy about who was the first to devise/use the shape note system
  • Appears now to have been resolved in favor of William Little and William Smith, who compiled The Easy Instructor, published 1801.
  • Little & Smith did not invent the shaped notes they used. John Connelly, a Philadelphia merchant, invented the system and patented it in the late 1790s. First U.S. copyright/patent law passed in 1790. Little & Smith bought the rights from Connelly in 1798.
  • The other contender: Andrew Law, who published his Musical Primer in 1803. Law used staff-less notation with shaped note heads similar to Little & Smith.
the sacred harp tradition
The Sacred Harp Tradition
  • Shape-note singing traditions persist still today.
  • One of the most enduring books ever published in the four-note tradition was Benjamin Franklin White and E.J. King’s The Sacred Harp, 1844.
  • Most recently revised in 1991.
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Lowell Mason (1792-1872) and the “Better Music Boys”
  • Church organist and choir director, Savannah’s Independent Presbyterian Church
  • Successful businessman, promoter
  • Popularized certain aspects of Pestalozzian educational theory
  • Began teaching vocal music as a curricular subject in Boston’s Hawes Grammar School in 1837.
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Lowell Mason (1792-1872) and the “Better Music Boys”
  • Director, Boston’s Handel and Haydn Singing Society
  • First professor, Boston Academy of Music, 1833
  • Enterprising publisher of music books, instructional aids, etc.
  • Maintained that European music was more “scientific,” “genteel,” and “tasteful” than vernacular American musics, specifically that found in shaped note and fuguing tune traditions
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Lowell Mason (1792-1872) and the “Better Music Boys”
  • Miss Augusta Brown, writing in the Cincinnati Musician and Intelligencer, 1840:
  • “The most mortifying feature and grand cause of the low estate of scientific music among us is the presence of common Yankee singing schools, so called…Hundreds of country idlers, too lazy or too stupid for farmers or mechanics, ‘go to singing school for a spell,’ get diplomas from others scarcely better qualified than themselves, and then…itinerate to all parts of the land, to corrupt the taste and pervert the judgment of the unfortunate people who, for want of better, have to put up with them.”
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Lowell Mason (1792-1872) and the “Better Music Boys”
  • George Pullen Jackson, White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands: The Story of the Fasola Folk, Their Songs, Singings, and ‘Buckwheat Notes’ (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1933):
  • Lowell Mason and his ilk responsible for
    • replacing vernacular a cappella tradition with imported “art music” accompanied by pianos, organs, orchestras
    • actually reduced the quality of congregational singing with the advent of paid quartets performing “better” music, etc.
    • deprived American school children of “real” music in favor of a bland “school music”