The University of Mississippi

Music 526: Music in the United States

The Old Way of SInging

That the whole congregation may join [in the singing of psalms], every one that can read is to have a psalm book; and all others, not disabled by age or otherwise, are to be exhorted to learn to read. But for the present, where many in the congregation cannot read, it is convenient that the minister, or some other fit person appointed by him and the other ruling officers, do read the psalm, line by line, before the singing thereof.
--Directory for the publique worship of God (1644)

Then out the people yawl an hundred parts,
Some roar, some whine, some creak like wheels of carts:...
Discords and concords, O thick they jumble,
Like untamed horses, tearing with their throats
One wretched stave into a thousand notes.

--Elias Hall (1706)

I have observed in many places, one man is upon this note while another is on the note before him, which produces something so hideous and disorderly as is beyond expression bad.

[Tunes] are now miserably tortured, and twisted, and quavered, in some churches, into an horrid Medley of confused and disorderly Noise.

Our tunes are, for Want of a Standard to appeal to in all our Singing, left to the Mercy of every unskilful Throat to chop and alter, twist and change . . .

--Thomas Walter, 1721
They use many Quavers and Semiquavers, &c. And on this very account it is they are pleased with it, and so very loath to part with it.
--Rev. Nathaniel Chauncey (1728)
Where there is no Rule, Men's Fancies . . . are various; some affect a Quavering Flourish on one Note, and others upon another which (because they are Ignorant of true Musick or Melody) they account a Grace to the Tune; and while some affect a quicker Motion, others affect a slower, and drawl out their Notes beyond all Reason; hence in Congregations ensue Jarrs & Discords, which make the Singing (rather) resemble Howling)
--A brief discourse (1725)
Most of the Psalm-Tunes, as Sung in the Usual Way, are more like Song-Tunes . . . ; because you've more Supernumerary Notes & Turnings of the voice in your way, than in ours. An Ingenious Gentleman, who has prick'd Canterbury, as some of you Sing it, finds no less than 150 Notes, in that Tune, in your way, whereas in our's there are but 30.
--Thomas Symmes, Utile Dulci (1723)

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