Source Readings in American Choral Music

Source Readings in American Choral Music

Source Readings in American Choral Music

Source Readings in American Choral Music

Excerpt

Choral music in the colonial years of this country was inextricably
linked to the church. The early books that the Puritans and other settlers
brought with them usually contained the words to familiar hymns and psalm
tunes that they remembered from their home churches in Europe. Not until
1698 was a volume published in America
, The Bay Psalm Book, which in
its ninth edition finally contained a few hymns with music. Usually books
like these began with instructions to the singer: in the absence of training
institutions, the authors or compilers of these books attempted to outline the
rudiments of reading music and to teach beginning vocal techniques to the
amateur. The singer could then apply his or her new knowledge to the
performance of service music, for that was the principal reason behind the
publication of these volumes. The ministers and musicians who wrote these
“tunebooks” were concerned about the poor performance of music in their
services, for those who might have accurately remembered the tunes from
their home churches across the Atlantic could no longer do so, or had been
succeeded with “American” singers who had neither the training to read
music nor the memory of how to sing the tunes by rote. Two such early
tunebooks were John Tufts's
An Introduction to the Singing of Psalm Tunes
and Thomas Walters's The Grounds and Rules of Musick Explained, both
printed in 1721. The Preface to Walters's book is reproduced here, and it
is useful for perspective on the needs of these ministers and others who with
the publication of these didactic tools offered a solution to the problem
.

By the end of the eighteenth century, especially in and around Boston, this
didactic movement gained momentum. Often known as the singing school
movement, the efforts to educate the church-going public in the reading and
correct vocal performance of music literally exploded. In the course of the
next fifty years or so, hundreds of tunebooks were printed and reprinted, and
the people of the Northeast gathered frequently (it seems) to attend a singing
school, where an acknowledged master would lead them through exercises
and songs designed to make them musically literate. One of the most famous
of these masters was William Billings, a Boston tanner by trade but who
kept fingers in a number of pies. His many publications are filled with rather
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