14. English West Gallery Music

"West Gallery music" or "Gallery music" (or, less commonly, "Georgian psalmody") is music performed by English parish church and chapel bands (singers often with instrumentalists) in the 1700s and early 1800s. As pointed out by Sally Drage, it was sung in both Anglican and non-conformist churches, and was not limited to rural areas or necessarily sung in "galleries". Most but not all of the composers were amateurs. This large and until recently neglected body of music is the antecedent and model for the musical idiom employed by New England tunesmiths of the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Compiler's Note: The West Gallery Music Association (WGMA) website, is the foremost place to go for information about West Gallery music resources. The present chapter, which is oriented toward musicians in the United States, lacks most resource descriptions found on the WGMA site but presents some resources readily available in the U.S. and a few resources not presented in the WGMA guide.

Note on international purchases: The easiest way to order something from abroad is to use a major international credit card. If that is not possible, one can purchase an international bank draft or foreign denominated draft in Sterling or other hard currency from firms specializing in currency exchange. The reader is advised to consult online "yellow pages" for such a firm.

West Gallery Music Association and its website

The West Gallery Music Association's website states: "The West Gallery Music Association is a charity. Established in 1990 as an association of singers, instrumentalists and scholars, it became a charity in 2017. The Association was started by Gordon Ashman and Dave Townsend, two of a network of researchers with an interest in the sacred and secular music and dance of the men and women who performed from the west galleries of parish churches, in chapels, and around the towns and villages of England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although our interests mainly centre on this period and form of music in the United Kingdom, we are also interested in many aspects of the history and popular culture of the English-speaking world which have influenced or been influenced by our musical and singing traditions. Since 1990 research has gathered momentum gaining respect in academic circles. The Association has staged many highly successful workshop, study and performance events, and members have appeared on national and local television and radio. Many offshoot performing groups have been formed around the country and there are presently over 400 members. Abroad, we have active members in Australia and the United States." The Web site contains the following sections:

West Gallery Music Association Facebook Community Page

Tunebooks, Psalters, and Music Books

NOTE: The reader is referred to the West Gallery Music Association website for current information. A few resources not on this website are listed below:

Village Carols, an organization created and led by Prof. Ian Russell has produced books of village carol music and recordings. It also organizes popular festivals and workshops in the UK. Check the website for availability, pricing, and an order form.

An American Christmas Harp, Third Edition 2009, compiled by Karen Willard. This tunebook, described in more detail in the Tunebook chapter of this resource guide, includes approximately six tunes of English origin, including three apparently not published in America previously. The webpages cited above have been down for several years but may return. In the meantime, email Karen at kayren-dot-willard-at-gmail-dot-com for ordering information.

The New Oxford Book of Carols and The Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols, compiled by Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott. The NOBC (1992) is a landmark compilation of Christmas carols, mainly from the U.K. and America, but also some from the Continent. It contains 744 pages and 201 Christmas carol texts in over 300 musical settings. Carols of West Gallery and American shape-note origin are well represented. The editors favor historically informed performance practices, and as a result shape-note and West Gallery selections are presented with the melody in the tenor part. There are extensive and valuable editorial notes, including an appendix on the English "Gallery" and American "Primitive" traditions. These books are out of print at the publisher but may be ordered through Amazon.com.

Additional sources of traditional English Christmas carols: The liner notes by Ian Russell of the CD "English Village Carols: Traditional Christmas Carolling from the Southern Pennines." has an extensive bibliography listing numerous books of carols and their publishers. This list will not be reiterated here because its scope extends beyond West Gallery music. The recording is described in the Recordings section below.

Books About English Gallery Music

NOTE: The reader is referred to the West Gallery Music Association website for current information.

Internet Resources

NOTE: The reader is referred to the West Gallery Music Association website for current information. A few additional websites of interest are listed below:

The Hymn Tune Index: A Census of English-Language Hymn Tunes in Printed Sources from 1535 to 1820 by Nicholas Temperley, assisted by Charles G. Manns, and Joseph Herl. The description by the publisher of the print version of The Hymn Tune Index states: "This unique reference is the first systematic guide to the history of the English-language hymn tune, as represented in printed sources from the earliest (Coverdale's Goostly Psalmes) to 1820. Using a simple numerical code to represent the first two lines of each melody, the book allows the reader to look up any of nearly 20,000 British and American hymn tunes without advance knowledge of the composer, name, or text. The online search engine can be used to query the Hymn Tune Index database for specific information, including tune name, incipit (beginning of melody), composer, and attribution, as well as hymn texts (first two lines). For example, one can find all listed tune(s) having a given incipit, all listed tunes by a given composer, or all listed tunes associated with a given text. Information on musical sources in which a given tune appeared can subsequently be obtained."

West Gallery Quire in the Boston (Massachusetts, US) area. Sacred Harp and Gallery music singer and composer Bruce Randall holds monthly workshops on English parish church music. This website provides information about workshops, concerts, and music performed.


NOTE: The reader is referred to the West Gallery Music Association website, Recordings page for current information. A few recordings not listed there or else easily purchased in the U.S. are listed below.

"Under the Greenwood Tree: The Carols and Dances of Hardy's Wessex," played by the Mellstock Band and Choir. This 1993 British recording reissued on CD in 2011 (Saydisc CDSDL360) presents rural English church and town music from the time of Thomas Hardy, considered to be antecedents to music of the New England late 18th-century tunesmiths. Stylistic similarities between the two musical traditions, in England and later in New England, clearly indicate the influence of the former on the latter. This recording includes pieces for choir alone, band alone (with period instruments), and both together. The singing sounds as unpolished as that at Sacred Harp singings. The CD and downloadable tracks are available on Amazon.

"Early American Choral Music, Vol. 2" performed by His Majestie's Clerkes conducted by Paul Hillier. This is a reissue of a recording originally entitled "Goostly Psalmes: Anglo-American Psalmody 1550-1800," This beautiful 1996 CD recording (61 minutes), traces the development of harmonized hymn- and psalm-singing from British sources (Tans'ur, Farmer, Parsons, Dowland, Knapp) and follows its development in the American colonies (Massachusetts Bay Psalm Book, Billings, Morgan, Wood, Swan, Read, etc.). (The word "Goostly" (pronounced by Hillier as "ghostly") means "spiritual" and came from the title of a 1535 London psalm book.) The 23 selections are sung with great beauty, discipline, and perfection, and in some cases (particularly the American songs and fuging tunes), spirit. Accompanying the original "Goostly" CD is 70-page booklet with an informative essay and song texts in English, French, and German. The reissued CD is budget-priced (around $7.00) and may not have the booklet. Harmonia Mundi HCX 3957128.

West Gallery Hymns sung by Maddy Prior with the Carnival Band and Mellstock Band and Choir. British folk singer Maddy Prior fostered interest in West Gallery hymnody through several British recordings issued issued in the 1980s and 90s on cassette tapes and reissued more recently on CDs. Most of the tracks feature solo singing by Ms. Prior with instruments rather than choral singing in harmony.

Village Carols: Christmas Carols Book/Cassette Sets as Sung in the Pubs of England. Ian Russell has recorded traditional carol singing by British villagers at Christmastime in at least nine pubs and taverns in Derbyshire and Yorkshire. While this is not West Gallery music, perhaps over half of the selections were originally from the West Gallery tradition, and the forthright (and sober) four-part harmony frequently resembles West Gallery singing. According to Berkley Moore, about one-third of the selections on each record are fuging tunes. Each is accompanied by a 40-60 page book of music. At least 11 of these sets were produced, along with a few CDs without booklets, but only a few are currently available, as indicated on the Village Carols website and order form. Interested persons can join the Village Carols Facebook Group

"English Village Carols: Traditional Christmas Carolling from the Southern Pennines." This 71-minute CD contains 16 carols "recorded live in pubs [around Sheffield], filled with spontaneous joys of singers, the clinking of glasses, and murmur of the other patrons." The 28-page booklet has an outstanding detailed essay by the foremost Village Carol authority Ian Russell, with photos, a map, and an extensive bibliography. This album would be an appropriate introduction to the Village Carol genre. Smithsonian Folkways Recording SF 40476.

"Fire and Sleet and Candlelight," Regional and Historical Carols and Songs from Midwinter Traditions performed by Coope Boyes & Simpson with others. This recording issued in 2003 on the NoMasters label (NMCD21) by a trio of English gentlemen with guest singers contains quite a few carols from the West Gallery and Village Carol traditions, according to Berkley Moore.

"Nowell Sing We Clear: A Pageant of Midwinter Carols" performed by John Roberts, Tony Barrand, and Friends. British folk singers John Roberts and Tony Barrand (the latter an editor of the "Northern Harmony" tunebook), along with other collaborators, have produced since 1977 at least ten Christmas albums containing traditional Anglo-American midwinter carols from both sides of the Atlantic. Every album includes some carols from the British gallery music and village carols traditions and the American shape-note tradition. Some are sung a cappella and some are accompanied by fiddle, accordion, concertinas, etc. Roberts and Barrand have produced numerous other CDs featuring British folk music. These records are described in detail and sold online on a page of the Andy's Front Hall website.

Steven L. Sabol (sabol@his.com)
HTML version by Warren Steel (mudws@olemiss.edu)