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From The Parish Choir

But, sir, if many acts of indiscretion are committed by the organist and his one or two friends, what shall we say of an assembly of men and boys or women, put in a gallery on high, and screened by curtains? I have been in many such a gallery; for wherever I have lived, being known to be musical, I have been invited to take a share in the performances. On assembling, (and it is not seldom that the singers come in quite late, after the service has begun,) there is the How d'ye do? what are we to have today? how did people say the new hymn went last Sunday evening? and similar gossip to be discussed. The books are to be found and sorted; Mr A must be told to mind such a point, where the tenor leads; Mr B cautioned not to sing too loud, &c. Mr C has not got a part; so a leaf must be torn out of one of the music-books, and it must be copied with a pencil: so they sit and crouch together, holding a whispering chat till the time comes for the grand display. Then curtains are withdrawn; they come forward and sing their parts. The psalm over; the curtains are closed: and they sit down again and criticize the thing they have just done. Thus the time is beguiled till the next psalm; then follows the sermon, when one or two shirk out; others sit, all sleep, or talk, or peep between the curtains at the ladies in the congregation.

This, sir, is not an overdrawn picture, I wish it was. It is not either an occasional occurrence, but it is the regular style, of conduct, in three out of four singing galleries. In fact, the occupants of these galleries do not, for the most part, come to praise God, or pray; they come to sing, either for the gratification of a musical taste, or for the gratification of vanity, or for pay: and if deprived of either of these inducements, will sing no longer, but betake themselves to the Meeting House, or else stay at home.

I hope these few observations, will induce your clerical readers, to keep their eyes upon the singing galleries, and if possible to abolish them altogether. Why not let the singers, if they do not choose to put them in the chancel, sit in one or two pews that are nearest the reading-desk? There they would be sufficiently secure from being stared at and would be able to lead the congregation in good earnest.

I must say though, that as for leading the congregation, it is the last thing your gallery singers dream of. They ridicule the idea; and render the thing as impossible as they can. I asked the organist of a West End church lately why he used such difficult tunes, and why he would not give such as the poor people could sing? He replied, that he was not going to spoil the effect of his quire for any such nonsense as that.

It seems to me, sir, that the progress of Church Music is at present at a standstill. And the reason I believe to be, want of the proper singers. Want of persons who will take up the thing in a devotional spirit, and who would evince and diffuse a devotional style of singing. This is perfectly impossible to be obtained except from devout churchmen. To have the odds and ends of fiddlers, music-masters, and ballad-singers, hired to attend on a Sunday, is ridiculous.

    I am, Sir, yours obediently,
    London, December, 1848.

(This letter, like many others in the Parish Choir, was probably concocted by the editor, R. Druitt.)


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