No doubt you (do or ought to) remember. that about ten years ago, I published a Book entitled, The New England Psalm Singer, &c. And truly a most masterly and inimitable Performance, I then thought it to be. Oh! how did my foolish heart throb and beat with tumultuous joy! With what impatience did I wait on the Book-Binder, while stitching the sheets and putting on the covers, with what extacy, did I snatch the yet unfinished Book out of his hands, and pressing it to my bosom, with rapturous delight; how lavish was I in encomiums on this infant production of my own numb skull[!] Welcome; thrice welcome, thou legitimate offspring of my brain, go forth my little Book, go forth and immortalize the name of your Author; may your sale be rapid and may you speedily run through ten thousand editions; may you be a welcome guest in all companies, and what will add tenfold to your dignity, may you find your way into the libraries of the learned. Thou art my Reuben, my first born, the beginning of my strength, the excellency of my dignity, and the excellency of my power. But to my great mortification, I soon discovered it was Reuben in the sequel, and Reuben all over; for unstable as water, it did not excell.... After impartial examination, I have discovered that many of the pieces in that Book were never worth my printing, or your inspection; therefore in order to make you ample amends for my former intrusion, I have selected and corrected some of the tunes which were most approved of in that book, and have added several new pieces which I think to be very good ones; for if I thought otherwise, I should not have presented them to you. But however, I am not so tenacious of my own opinion, as to desire you to take my word for it; but rather advise you all to purchase a Book and satisfy yourselves in that particular, and then I make no doubt, but you will readily concur with me in this sentiment: viz. That the Singing Master's Assistant, is a much better Book than the New-England Psalm Singer.
It is an old maxim, and I think a very just one, viz. that variety is
always pleasing, and it is well known that there is more variety in one
piece of fuging music, than in twenty pieces of plain song, for while the
tones do not sweetly coincide and agree, the words are seemingly engaged in
a musical warfare; and excuse the paradox if I further add, that each part
seems determined by dint of harmony and strength of accent, to drown his
competitor in an ocean of harmony, and while each part is thus mutually
striving for mastery, and sweetly contending for victory, the audience are
most luxuriously entertained, and exceedingly delighted in the mean time,
their minds are surprizingly agitated, and extremely fluctuated; sometimes
declaring in favour of one part, and sometimes another. Now the solemn
bass demands the attention, now the manly tenor, now the lofty counter,
now the volatile treble, now here, now there, now here again.--O inchanting!
O ecstatic! Push on, push on ye sons of harmony, and
Discharge your deep mouth'd canon, full fraught with Diapasons;
May you with Maestoso, rush on to Choro-Grando,
And then with Vigoroso, let fly your Diapentes
About our nervous system.
Musical composition is a sort of something, which is much better felt than described, (at least by me) for if I was to attempt it, I should not know where to begin or where to leave off; therefore considering myself so unable to perform it, I shall not undertake the task; but in answer to your question, although I am not confined to rules prescribed by others, yet I come near as I possibly can to a set of rules which I have carved out for myself; but when fancy gets upon the wing, she seems to despise all form, and scorns to be confined or limited by any formal prescriptions whatsoever; for the first part [tenor] is nothing more than a flight of fancy, the other parts are forced to comply and conform to that, by partaking of the same air, or, at least, as much of it as they can get: But by reason of this restraint, the last parts are seldom so good as the first; for the second part [bass] is subservient to the first, the third part [treble] must conform to first and second, and the fourth part [counter] must conform to the other three; therefore the grand difficulty in composition, is to preserve the air through each part separately, and yet cause them to harmonize with each other at the same time.
I do not see any more rule for stopping at a double Bar, than at a single Bar, unless there be a rest inserted; because it cannot be done without losing time; and in my definition of a double Bar,(1) instead of saying, that you may stop to take breath, I should have said that you may stop to catch breath; and even that must be done without losing time; but double Bars in Psalm tunes are placed at the ends of the lines, for the benefit of the sight, to direct the performer, where to stop, in congregations, where they keep up that absurd practive of reading between the lines, which is so destructive to harmony, and is a work of so much time, that unless the performers have very good memories, they are apt to forget the tune, while the line is reading. I defy the greatest advocates for reading between the lines, to produce one word of scripture for it, and I will leave it to all judicious people, whether it is founded on reason; and certainly, whatever is founded on neither reason, nor religion, had better be omitted. The practice of retailing(2) the psalm line by line, whas introduced so long ago as when very few people had the knowledge of reading; therefore a reader was substituted for the whole congregation, who was called a Clerk; but at this time when every man is capable of reading for himself; and when we consider the confusion that is caused in the music, by reading the lines, and the destruction it occasions to the sense of the psalm, I can see no reason for keeping up so absurd a practice. Consider further, that according to the practice in country churches, the psalm is three times repeated. First the minister reads it audibly alone, secondly the clerk, or deacon, line by line, and thirdly, it is sung by the congregation; now if we are obliged to repeat the psalm three times over, why are we not obliged to repeat our prayers as often before they would be deemed to be acceptable[?] I expect this doctrine will meet with some opposition in the country, but let who will concur or dissent, I think myself highly honoured in having the approbation of the pious and learned Dr. Watts (that great master of divine song) who in his writings has declared himself to be of the same opinion.
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