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Singing Masters

From Memoirs of P.P., clerk of this parish, quoted in The Music of the English Parish Church by Nicholas Temperley, Cambridge, 1979.

"Now was the long expected time arrived, when the psalms of King David should be hymned unto the same tunes to which he played them upon his harp; so I was informed by my singing-master, a man right cunning in psalmody. And the church on Sunday was filled with these new hallelujahs."


Country singing-masters often attracted opprobrium from those used to more sophisticated town and city music. For example, in 1778 Francis Roome wrote:

" ... he also presumes to hope that Country Congregations will be induced to adopt the tunes in this book, rather than those vile productions of itinerant Singing-Masters and others, which have prevail'd of late, too much, in Country Churches, to the great Disgust of every rational Lover of Church Music ..."

Wm Tans'ur was an itinerant singing master (psalmodist) who excelled at promoting his own music and talents in the prefaces of his books while running down his competitors. In the preface to his Royal Melody Compleat, pub.1754-5, he wrote:

There are many in this age, that assume the shape of a master, who are so very ignorant, as not to say their gamut, and much less to undersatnd it. Many of these will set up for composers, which neither know tune, time, nor concord, and for all they cut so ridiculous a figure in the eyes of the learned, yet they gain proselytes luckily among the ignorant; which makes good the old saying that 'they are clever fellows amongst folk that know nothing.'

And in 1828 Montague Burgoyne complained that:

"In country parishes psalmody is generally engrossed by a select band of singers, who have been taught by some itinerant master to sing, in the worst manner, a most wretched set of psalm tunes, in three or four parts, so complex, so difficult, and so totally void of true harmony, that it is altogether impossible for any of the congregation to take a part with them ... In London, ... this business is in a great measure confined to the charity children ..."

Not all those used to sophisticated cathedral music were so ready to belittle the efforts of town and country musicians. In a sermon at Bristol in 1822, John Eden preached:

"Let it be remembered ... that music, harsh, imperfect and discordant as it may be in a country choir, is nevertheless a source of innocent and rational amusement; it occupies the hours of leisure; it is a grateful recreation when the labour of the day is past; and it lends an increase in pleasure on the hours of happiness; if this fails to prove its value, let me add that it keeps the musicians from seeking amusement in the alehouse, and from the long train of evils commonly incident on such a practice."

 

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