John R. Parker.

A musical biograhy: or Sketches of the lives and writings of eminent musical ... online

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•ed society.

Our present business is with those only who object to in^
strumental music, particularly the oi^a^ voluntary. What
is sufficiently remarkable is, that the parties so objecting

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are generally, if not unirersany, found to be of the class
tisusdly called Evangelical : not, it is imagined, that there
Is any necessary connexion between Evangeltcal religion
and a dislike for music ; far if so, what a heathenish place
heaven must be !

The objections brought against this ceremony are prin-
cipally the following : That as instrumental music only, it
expresses no sentiment and consequently is of no use ; that
tt adds to the length of a service, already sufficiently ex*
tended ; that it distracts the attention, which should be fix««
ed on better things ; and sometimes, with great propriety^
that it is abused to a mere display of dexterity. Of these
in their order.

If the religion of Christ were a system of pure sentimen-
talism, if it had onl^ to do with the head and were not in-
tended to affect the heart, if the spirit only were to be en-
gaged and the body to operate upon it as a mere clog, then
indeed the first injection would be fatal. But such is not
the fact, religion has more to do with the heart than the
head, with l£e affections than with the understanding;
and upon the very same partof our nature, has mi^
sic also its most powerful hold. Harmony is not ad-
dressed to the intellect, but to the feelings.; that it
is therefore of no use, is far from self-evident ; it
only follows that it is of no use to those who have no
feeling for it, and who are on that account, provided
they thrust not their stupid insensibility in the way of tte
enjoyment of others, to be rather pitied tiian contenmed.
lliey want a sense.

Concerning the time which it is said to occupy, it may
be urged that a few minutes* do not seem of any very great
Importance; but if they should bte so esteemed, perhaps
there is some other part of the service from which more ttian
an equivalent may b,e subtracted, without serious loss or in-
tjonvenience . At all events, the objection does not apply to
the voluntary before or after service. The former would
evidently have the tendency te produce a more punctuid
attendance {of the musical part of the congregation at
least, ] than is now at all times observed ; and iiie latter
could not possttbly interfere unpleasantly with the time of
any, because none are under the slightest obligation to re^
toiain to hear it.

^ The voluntary should not exceed fiye minutes.

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But the objection to which most weight is by a certsdi^
party uniformly attached is, that it takes off the attention
from better things ; or with reference to the " playing
out," that " it drives, the sermon out of the people's head/'
A serious charge certainly ; but to support it, it should first
be proved that the sermon would otherwise remain there .If
sit so loosely as this assertion supposes, is it not more than
probable that the act of widking home, or at least that of
eating a good dinner, produces jwecisely the same effect '(
.and if such be the case, is it not better that the sermon be
displaced by what does partake somewhat of a sacred char-
acter, than by that which is altogether secular ? If there
were any weight in this objection, it would follow that
the prayers are in like manner " driven out" by the sermon,
and consequently that the latter should be conscientiously
interdicted. But in a mind of common capacity, when re- .
ligiously disposed, neither the one nor the other effect takes
place. With suclvan one, an appropriate voluntary (and
only such are here defended) has the tendency to fix the
impression which the preceding discourse may have pro-
duced, in the same manner tha^ a good varnish preserves
the colors of a painting. But were the objection, ever so
valid, it applies with very small force to the voluntary af-
ter the psalms, and with none at alTto the prelude before
. the service.

To the more mighty" objection drawn from the abuse
it must be conceded/that voluntaries have been heard, in
which, apparently/ the only effect was to get over the
greatest number 6f notfis in a given space of time, or to
educe as much noise as the utmost powers of the instru-
ment could furni^i) or most effectually to remove all seri-
ous impressions frjpm the minds of the hearers by light and
trifling airs, and even sometimes by the music of well known
profane scmgs^ so as infallibly to call up gross and wanton
ideas. It is not pretended that the language of the confes-
sion, ^^TVe hone left undone those thms^ which we ought
io have done, and we have done those thui^a which we ought
not to have doney^ is not as well adapted to the race of or-
ganists as to any other class of human beings. But what
of all this ? Must it be repeated, for the millionth time,
that the abuse does not disprove the use ? or are only
those things to retain their rank which have never been
abused ? What then will be left to us ? No psalms, no
bymns, ho voluntaries ;; no prayers, no speecjies, no ser-

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mom ; no music, no- painting, no poetry ; none of the arts
of civilized, none even of savage society.*

True, the voluntary has been abused. Now if this be
the real objection, let it be candidly stated, and let the
transgressing organists clearly understand that there is not
sufficient confidence reposed in them to discharge their duty
with becoming decorum ; and let them be cashiered as in-
efficient ; and let this stigma remain indelibly affixed to
their characters. It is more than probable, that* in the
event of the adoption of such a measure, the next genera-
tion of professors may renounce the folly of their prede-
cessors, and so the good old custom be completely re-es-

The marks of design, manifest in the formation of those
parts of the human system which are destined to the pro-
duction of articulate and melodious sounds, are abundant
proofs of the divine origin of the art of music. That there is
a charm in the powers of the human voice, far surpassing
the sweetness of the most exquisite musical instrument, is
a position, the truth of which is incontestible. These have
such a ductile flexibility and ineffable energy of intonation,
as alone to constitute it a machine of truly wonderful ex-

? session ; but, as combined with the faculty of speech,
cave every other at an immeasurable distance.


There ar^, who commend the voice to the disparagement
of instruments ; and there are also, who unjustly exalt
the vsdue of instruments, and utterly disallow the preten-
sions of the voice. Both are in egregious error. Neither
the one kind of music, bot the other, is exclusively good.
Much as the one excels the otlier in pathos, and the excite-
ment of the softer feelings of our nature,it is equally behind
it in power and compass and consequently in the develops
ment of the grandest harmonic combinations. But when con-
foined,the defects of both are supplied. Each derives addi*

* « Nihil prodest quod non laedere posset idem ;
Jgne quid utilius ?" *

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tional beauty or effect from the connexion with its ii?al;
and hence tiiiej present a not unapt resemblance of the
connubial relationship. The majestj of the organ h thus
blended with the sweetness and expression of the human
Toice ; it lends a richness, a brilliancy, a fulness, and even
a solemnity which the voice otherwise eould never acquire;
but receives in return an animation, an impress of mind, a
glow of devotion, to which merely instrumental music can
never approach. Besides all this, the voice is actually in-^
4ebted for its perfection to the use of the very instruments,
which some would banish from our places of wc»^hip, as so
many ambassadors from " the prince of the power of the
air." It is universally found that accuracy and precision
of execution, not to be met with under other circumstan-
ces, are results of a habit of singing to a good instrumental
accompaniment ; so that in the very instances wherein vo-
cal music only, to the exclusion of instrumental, has been
commended, it will be foimd to have been the case that the
parties performing have acquired their correctness from
previous constant, or at least occasional, accompanied prac^
tice ; and it may be at almost any time observed, that in
those places where instruments are never allowed, the
singing partakes of an unsteady, disorderly, pot-house quali^
ty, resulting from the natural defects of the human voice,
aggravated tenfold by the want of cultivation. How should
it be otherwise ? How should a school-boy learn to write
straight without lines ? and in wtmc, what is any congrega-
tion, taken collectively, but a mob of children ? Is it
seemly, is it right, that the Lord of tiie Whole earth should
be thus put off with stuff, misnomered, singing, such as if
heard in a common parlour would excite only ridicule or
disgust ? and this too from choice. Surely whatever we
offer to the Deity should be the best we can procure. But
congregational singing never will be, never can be, even
tolerable to but hsuf instructed ears, till led by some stefedy
guide, which shall gradually accustom the voices to a de-
gree of order and discipline, and on emergence be in readi-
ness to correct extravagancies.

Vocal music is either congregational or choral : that is,
adapted to the use of the whole, or of a part ; of the merits
and uses of each of which, more will be said hereafter.

It may not be amiss here, before we enter minutely up<»
the various kinds, to advert to its general attributes.

Unquestionably then, all church music, as well vocal as

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instrumental, should partake of the character of the place
and occasion of its performance. It should be solemn, yet
not gloomy, — ^learned, yet not abstruse, — appropriate to
the occasion, yet not affected, got up in the best manner,
yet with no view to the gratification of vanity or conceit.
If aone can act quite up to the letter of such instructions,
they may yet not do the worse for keeping them in view.
No one can err by fixing his standard of perfection too

The works of nature are infinitely deversified, and the
species into ^hich they are artificially divided, exceeding-
ly numerous. The shades of difference between one spe-
cies and another are so minute, that it is often difficult,
sometimes impossible, to decide, concerning an individual,
to what class it belongs. *

£ven so is it with the objects of the doctrine of sounds.
It is impossible to ascertain precisely at what point saying
terminates, and singing commences.— Singing indeed is on-
ly a melodious saying, and saying an irregular singing. In
common unaffected speech or conversation, the inflection
of voice employed by persons not at all connected with the
study of music, is a field of most curious and interesting
observation. The number of distinct souhds, so produced,
in a very short space of time, any one of which, continued
for a moment, would be found to admit of musical admeas-
urement, is truly astonishing.

^^ Musical harmony (saith the judicious Hooker) wheth-
er by instrument or by voice, is but of high and low in
sounds a due proportionate disposition." in conversation
this is not sought ; in singing it is. But where is the stan-
dard ? What is a due and proportionate disposition of
high and low sounds ? Herein music labors under pecu-
liar disadvantage. It has not, like painting, a direct appeal
to any model in nature. It is the pure offspring of the
imagination and of the feelings — a creature of taste.

Unquestionably there is music in speech ; but it has not
been subjected to rule . The intervals it expresses are al-
most infinitely small, and human ingenuity has not yet dis-
covered a method of confining and embodying them in
any system of notation. Nevertheless, it may he remark-
ed that every speaker has what may be termed a key-note,
and his pronunciation is said to be pleasant or unpleasant,
according to the manner in which he manages the modu-
lation or progression about this fundamental note or sound.

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132 VacAL MUSIC.

Accordingly, it may be noticed, that no two persons do or
cran pronounce the same words precisely in the same man^
ner. Independently of the different qualities of tone or
sound, and the pitch of the key-note of particular voices,
each has a peculiar method of inflection. In various par-
ties, this is done in dissimilar ways, to the production of
widely differing effects. Hence one man shall speak as
'* having authority," and all shall attend to his admonitions
with the deference due to a superior being ; and another
shall repeat the very same sentences, and his words shall
pass unheeded. The sound of the^ voice of one shall so
captivate his hearers, that though on an errand of blood,
their purpose shall be arrested ; and the effect of the
speech of another, though intended to melt the very soul,
shall be only to move t« laughter. The reason is to be
sought in the constitution of our nature.*

At first all this may seem foreign to the subject, but a lit-
tle consideration will induce a different opinion. If what
has been advanced bq correct, it will follow that no two
persons can speak or read together, in the ordinary way
without producing an unmusical dissonance, which will be
proportionally augmented by an increase of the number
of the parties so engaged.

But let the same nilmber of individuals read or repeat in
one even tone, which may be accomplished almost without
effort, and the most fastidious ear needs not to be displeas-
ed. To effect this is only required a Precentor possessed of a
strong, clear, tenor voice, which may be distinctly heard
of all present. Such a Precentor in parochial churches is,
or should be, the clerk ; wbo is to officiate as bellwether
to the flock. As has been premised, it is necessary that
he read in a continued even tone, seeing that otherwise it
is absolutely impossible for the people to follow him, and
the harsh discord which is the inevitable consequence of a
different method of proceeding, is obvious to the most un-
musical ears. Some parish clerks, as though infected with
the would-be-reforming spirit of the age, have recently
modified this part of their duty, and betaken themselves to
a style of reading, to spes^k the most respectfully of it,

♦Doubtless the remote cause of this diversity is, that some feel
the force the language which they express, and others do not ;
and even if those who do, each in a different degree : but a con-
sideration of this subject would lead a long way about, and
therefore it has been thonspht proper barelv thus to glance
at it. ^ ' , . •

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highly inappropriate . Where the people do not take the
trouble to repeat the parts of the service allotted to them,
which is shamefully the case in many places, it matters not
much in what manner the clerk conducts himself ; but
where they follow the directions of the Rubric, his demean-
or becomes a matter of considerable importance . When
he reads in a full steady tone, the people naturally repeat
in the same, or in some other, having a musical relation to
it ; but when he turns one word Up and twists another down,
now exalting his voice, and now depressing it, after the si-
militude of a certain animal as notorious for his musical
taste as for his exemplary patience — the undisciplined and
xmrestrained voices of the multitude run into a mass of jar-
ring sounds, a chaos of noises, in which nothing is to be dis-
cerned but discord and confusion. The one may be com-
pared to the march of a veteran regiment, the other to
the scamper of a tumultuous mob.


Reading in an even tone is the first step to chanting.
ft is the lowest species of Church music, and one in which
it may be reasonably expected that every one should join.
The monotony, of which some might feel disposed to com-
plain, is relieved by those parts assigned to the minister
alone, and who as reading singly, of course very properly
takes advantage of all the means of expression in his pow-
er. The pitch should not be so high, but at most might
comfortably reach it ; nor so low but that those who felt
so disposed might make use of its octave.* But some may

*It may be proper to remark, tliat it is not intended that
very part of the service should be read in tiie same pitch
or elevation of voice. There are some parts wherein a low-
er, and some wherein a hig-her tone is desirable ; as for in-
stance the Confession, which is directed to be said " with an
))umble voice," and the Lord's Prayer, which, when occurrinflf-
\k\e second time, is ordered to be said " with a loild, voice."
Common sense will supply other varieties.


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object that this will utterly {Movent the giring of proper ex-
pression to the words. IVue, it maj remove one kind of
expression, but much is left.

Emphasis and accent not onlj depend upon the rela*
tion to a key note, but upon the quantity or intensity
of sound, the duration of time, and other circumstances,
connected with the pronunciation of any particular word or
words. Only one sort of expression therefore is debarred,
and that to prevent a confusion in which none at all can
be distinguished. This point is so clear that it seems need-
less to dwell upon it ; yet it is strange how the prevailing
practice outrages all sense of jpropriety. May not this be
one reason why the service itself is, in many parts, suffered
to slip by as an idle ceremony, in which the people are no
more concerned than the particles of dust upon the floor.
Where by adding his voice each only adds to ^e mass of
confusion, what better than silence ? Who endued with
but a particle of musical feeling, could, but by an act of
self denial, join in a ceremony which, as too often conduct-
ed, partakes only of the nature of horrid noise, as ungrate-
ful to one sense as the most loathsome stench to another ?
When it might be so easily corrected, who but must de-
plore the existence of such an evil ? In the name of de-
cency, of order, of decorum, and of that unifoi-mity at
which the Episcopal Church aspires, let the good old cus-
tom be restored.

If after reading steadily through some verses, a slight
deflection of voice be made on the penultimate syllable,
there will be produced a very agreeable musical effect.
Hence originated the old ecclesiastical chant, which con-
sisted of but few notes, and was sung of the whole congre-
gation in unisons. This is music of the simplest descrip-
tion, but such as is capable of association with the true
sublime. What is much to be regretted, it is rarely to be
heard, excepting in some parts of the cathedral service,
and there but sparingly ; the reason of which may be,,
that to give it its best effect, it is requisite that it be per-
formed by a vast number of voices.

The next degree of church music is constituted by the
addition of other sounds, at harmonic intervals, with the
former or principal melody, that is — making what is called
a chord with it. It is hardly possible for a person possess-
ed of an ear for music to attend to any single sound, long

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eo&tinued, witliout imagining another bearing a relation to
it. Indeed, in the nature of things, one sound always gene-
rates more, onlj they are not always perceptible. In tlie
sound of a large bell there may be distinguished many dif-
ferent tones, all springing from the ori^nd note as their
common parent. T%e hs^monic simultaneous sounds caa
be produced by human voices more perfectly than by Miy
other means, and are said to have been invented and intro-
duced into the Christian Church by Guido, in the begiu'-
ning of the eleventh century ; from which period almost
np to the present time may be dated a progressiv-e im-
provement in Church Music.

That to which this remark principally refers is the sing-
ing of the Responses or certain short petitionary and other
sentences, occurring in vai^ous parts of the common pray-
er, without an instrumental accompaniment. This, as re-
quiring considerable skill, can scarcely become c^ongrega-
tional, and, therefore can hardly be wished to be universal-
ly introduced ; yet it is so heavenly in its effect, that none
but a vandal could talk of its total expulsion. It is at pres>-
ent nearly confined to the cathedrals, where it may be oc-
casionally heard to great perfection, its beauty consists in
the peculiar sweetness of which concords, formed entirely
of well regulated voices, are susceptible, and which derive
additional attraction from the situation in which they are

Of the same description with these sentences, but of much
easier performance, is the word of so frequent recurrence,
the emphatic Amen, with which, in the form of a simple
cadence, much beauty can be associated. The Amen in
in the primitive church, we are told, was wont to come
forth like a clap of thunder ; but alas ! that thunder has
long since ceased to call. Where the word now makes its
way out, it is often times rather like the muttering whis-
per of some little urchin, fearful that his master will over-
hear and punish him for breaking silence. The reason of
this has been already surmised.

There is daily an increasing want o^ a standard or guide,
and those who are not silent {k>m other considerations, or
the want of them, find it better to be mute than to add to^
the uncertain sound, another particle ot discord. But be-
sides this, there is another fearful point on which multitudes^
are at issue. One repeats the bold, round, English Jk /-

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256 ON CHANTirfG.

men ; another the more refined and delicate Ai or Ae-iBen^
and a third fllies to the opposite extreme and cries Au-men.
Which is the orthodox reading ? Even the learned are di-
vided ; only it may he noticed, that the ^i-mens are inr
creasing, which may be perhaps accounted for by the re-
mavk, that that is the pronmiciation generally adopted by
the ladies.

Whichever way this question may be ultimately dispos-
ed of, if resolved musicaUy, it will be settled in favour of
the plain simple A. neither dwindled into the meaner minc-
ing sound of Ai, nor spread out into the cliimsy yawn Au,
and this reading has other very strong presumptions in its
favor, which, not being immediately connected with our
subject, we shall pass over.

The addition of one melody to another, both sounding at
the same time, which constitutes the harmony said to have
been introduced by Guido, is called, in vocal music, sing-
ing in parts. This, which compared to the prior state of
music, is as great an improvement as the structure of a
modem ship is upon the original raft, has been by some
4simple heads thought to be an infringement upon the de-
cency of divine worship and even a detraction from the so-
lemnity of the music.

There is no accounting for tastes, and this is a pure mat-
ter of taste. Argument would therefore be perfectly mis-
applied, even were the parties capable of understanding it
It is very possible, yea, it is very true, that conceited and
ill informed persons have attempted to execute what they
call singing in parts, and have executed it with a ven-

Certainly it is preferable to hear all singing together in
tmisons and octaves, than one squeaking out a so called
counter tenor at a third below the melody from the begin-
ning to end, not even excepting the close — another aping
a tenor at all manner of discordant intervals, and gracing
his performance occasionally with half a dozen consecu-
tive fifths to the upper or lower part, — and a third grumb-
ling out what he deems a capital bass, just two octaves
from the treble, note for note, excepting where a want of
compass compels him to ascend to the upper story of his
voice ; all seemingly actuated by a sincere consciousness
that they have arrived at the ne plus ultra of the harmonic
art, and consequently proceeding with the most vociferous
confidence. Better far, in all places where there is not

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some one at least of the perfonners suflSciently well qualifi-
ed to instruct and correct, when in error, his ignorant
brethren, that singing in parts should be altogether <Uscoun-

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Online LibraryJohn R. ParkerA musical biograhy: or Sketches of the lives and writings of eminent musical ... → online text (page 18 of 20)