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Farmer Shiner's House | Advice to choir | Debate on Instruments

Some of these compositions which now lie before me, with their repetition of lines, half-lines, and half-words, their fugues and their intermediate symphonies, are good singing still, though they would hardly be admitted into such hymn books as are popular in the churches of fashionable society at the present time.
Preface of the Wessex edition, August 1896.

Farmer Shiner's House

Farmer Shiner's was a queer lump of a house, standing at the corner of a lane that ran into the principal thoroughfare. The upper windows were much wider than they were high, and this feature, together with a broad bay-window where the door might have been expected, gave it by day the aspect of a human countenance turned askance and wearing a sly and wicked leer. To-night nothing was visible but the outline of the roof upon the sky.

The front of this building was reached and the preliminaries arranged as usual. "Four breaths, and number thirty-two, 'Behold the morning star,' " said old William.

They had reached the end of the second verse, and the fiddlers were doing the up bow-stroke previously to pouring forth the opening chord of the third verse, when without a light appearing or any signal being given a roaring voice exclaimed,

"Shut up, woll 'ee! Don't make your blaring row here: a feller wi' a headache enough to split his skull likes a quiet night." Slam went the window. "Hullo - that's a' ugly blow for we!" said the tranter in a keenly appreciative voice, and turning to his companions.

"Finish the carrel, all who be friends of harmony!" commanded old William: and they continued to the end.

"Four breaths and number nineteen," said William firmly. "Give it him well: the quire can't be insulted in this manner."

A light now flashed into existence, the window opened, and the farmer stood revealed as one in a terrific passion.

"Drown en - drown en!" the tranter cried, fiddling frantically: 'Play fortissimy and drown his spaking!"

"Fortissimy!" said Michael Mail and the music and singing waxed so loud that it was impossible to know what Mr Shiner had said, was saying, or was about to say; but wildly flinging his arms and body about in the forms of capital Xs and Ys he appeared to utter enough invectives to consign the whole parish to perdition.

"Very onseemly - very," said old William as they retired. 'Never such a dreadful scene in the whole round o' my carrel practice: never! And he a churchwarden!"


Advice to choir

"Now mind, neighbours," he (William Dewey) said, as they all went out one by one at the door, he himself holding it ajar and regarding them with a critical face as they passed, like a shepherd counting out his sheep. "You two counter-boys, keep your ears open to Michael's fingering, and don't ye go straying into the treble part along o' Dick and his set, as ye did last year; and mind this especially when we be in 'Arise, and hail.' Billy Chimlen, don't you sing quite so raving mad as you fain would; and, all o' ye, whatever ye do, keep from making a great scuffle on the ground when we go in at people's gates; but go quietly, so as to strike up all of a sudden, like spirits."


Clarinets, Violins, Serpents and Harmoniums

'Times have changed from the times they used to be,' said Mail, regarding nobody can tell what interesting old panoramas with an inward eye, and letting his outward glance rest on the ground, because it was as convenient a position as any, 'People don't care much about us now! I've been thinking we must be almost the last left in the county of the old string players? Barrel-organs, and the things next door to 'em that you blow wi' your foot, have come in terribly of late years.'

'Ay!' said Bowman, shaking his head; and old William, on seeing him, did the same thing.

'More's the pity,' replied another. 'Time was - long and merry ago now! - when not one of the varmits was to be heard of; but it served some of the quires right. They should have stuck to strings as we did, and kept out clarinets, and done away with serpents. If you'd thrive in musical religion, stick to strings, says I.'

'Strings be safe soul-lifters, as far as that do go,' said Mr Spinks.

'Yet there's worse things than serpents,' said Mr Penny. 'Old things pass away, 'tis true; but a serpent was a good old note: a deep rich note was the serpent.'

'Clar'nets, however, be bad at all times,' said Michael Mail. 'One Christmas - years ago now, years - I went round wi' the Weatherbury quire. 'Twas a hard frosty night, and the keys of all the clar'nets froze - ah, they did freeze - so 'twas like drawing a cork every time a key was opened; and the players o' 'em had to go into a hedger-and-ditcher's chimley-corner, and thaw their clar'nets every now and then. An icicle o' spet hung down from the end of every man's clar'net a span long; and as to fingers - well, there, if ye'll believe me, we had no fingers at all, to our knowing.'

'I can well bring back to mind,' said Mr Penny, 'what I said to poor Joseph Ryme (who took the treble part in Chalk-Newton Church for two-and-forty year) when they thought of having clar'nets there.' 'Joseph,' I said, says I, 'depend upon't, if so be you have them tooting clar'nets you'll spoil the whole set-out. Clar'nets were not made for the service of the Lard; you can see it by looking at 'em,' I said. 'And what came o't? Why, souls, the parson set up a barrel-organ on his own account within two years o' the time I spoke, and the old quire went to nothing.'

'As far as look is concerned,' said the tranter,'I don't for my part see that a fiddle is much nearer heaven that a clar'net. 'Tis further off. There's always a rakish, scampish twist about a fiddle's looks that seems to say the Wicked One had a hand in making o'en; while angels be supposed to play clar'nets in heaven, or som'at like 'em, if ye may believe picters.'

'Robert Penny, you was in the right,' broke in the eldest Dewy. 'They should ha'stuck to strings. Your brass-man is a rafting dog - well and good; your reed-man is a dab at stirring ye - well and good; your drum-man is a rare bowel-shaker - good again. But I don't care who hears me say it, nothing will speak to your heart wi' the sweetness o' the man of strings!'

'Strings for ever!' said little Jimmy.

'Strings alone would have held their ground against all the new comers in creation.' ('True, true!' said Bowman.) 'But clarinets was death.' (Death they was!' said Mr Penny.) And harmonions', William continued in a louder voice, and getting excited by these signs of approval, 'harmonions and barrel-organs' ('Ah!' and groans from Spinks) 'be miserable - what shall I call 'em - miserable -

'Sinners', suggested Jimmy, who made large strides like the men, and did not lag behind like the other little boys.

'Miserable dumbledores!'

'Right, William, and so they be - miserable dumbledores!' said the choir with unanimity.

Problems with harmoniums



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