Andrew Law's Select Harmony (1779 Edition): The Context of a Late Eighteenth Century Tune Book

By Green, Bradley L. | Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Andrew Law's Select Harmony (1779 Edition): The Context of a Late Eighteenth Century Tune Book


Green, Bradley L., Journal of Historical Research in Music Education


The 1779 edition of Select Harmony: containing in a plain and concise manner, the rules of singing: together with a collection of psalm tunes, hymns and anthems, by Andrew Law (1749-1821), is an archetypal example of a tune book of the late eighteenth century. (1) The purpose of this research is to consider the contents and production of an original manuscript of Select Harmony in the context of the author's life and the tune books of his contemporaries. This author examined an original manuscript of Select Harmony to illuminate and expand upon existing research regarding it. The present study attempts to contribute to the research by focusing on an extant copy of a single tune book.

Select Harmony was introduced at a time when America's first music educators were seeking viable approaches to the teaching of sight-singing, (2) a problem that is still a central goal of music education. (3) The challenges of differing methods and philosophies encountered by early singing school masters are similar to those faced by contemporary music teachers.

Review of Relevant Literature

The first recorded attempts at improving music making in America involved church music carried from England to the colonies. (4) The early settlers in the colonies sang metrical psalms to familiar tunes, and the quality of these practices quickly degenerated. As a result, the desire for better musical experiences took hold in early America. (5) This movement introduced tools for musically educating the public such as the tune book, easily identified by its oblong shape. (6) A group of singing school masters who rose to prominence during the eighteenth century produced at least 319 different editions of these tune books by (1800). (7)

Unfortunately, these music educators are only mentioned briefly in much of the existing literature on early music education. (8) Their works have been even more sparsely documented. (9) Recent scholarship attempted to remedy this shortage by providing bibliographic information and physical locations of editions of many sacred music tune books. (10) Andrew Law has been favorably highlighted in recent scholarship, revealing his talents as a tune book compiler and musical reformer. (11)

Select Harmony, produced in late 1778, was Law's first attempt at releasing a tune book. Tunes were added to the 1778 preliminary edition, and the 1779 edition was released. This was followed by a second edition in 1782 and a third in 1812. The 1779 edition is similar to many tune books of its time and is not one of Law's more important books. However, the 1779 edition of Select Harmony can reveal information about the nature of changes made to later editions and variations.

Select Harmony made a progressive departure from many tune books of the time; it contained tunes and lyrics together in the same book. Law's next work, A Collection of Hymn Tunes from the Most Modern and Approved Authors and A Collection of Hymns for Social Worship did not include tunes and texts together. The tune book, as the name suggests, was a book of tunes only. The Collection of Hymns contained only text.

Law continued his compilations, adding longer and more detailed theoretical introductions to his works. The four editions of Rudiments of Music, The Musical Magazine, The Musical Primer, Christian Harmony volumes 1 and 2, and The Art of Singing established Law as a strong singing school master. The Art of Singing and The Musical Primer are Law's most often-mentioned works, apparently because they contain his most notable musical instructions.

Andrew Law was influenced a great deal by works of other Yankee tunesmiths. Among the many tune books of the period, four appear to have had the greatest influence on Select Harmony and its later editions: Urania, The New England Psalm Singer, The Singing Master's Assistant, and The Easy Instructor. James Lyons' Urania, appearing in 1761, was found among the possessions of Andrew Law. …

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