Friday, May 31, 2013

"The Fruit of Our Lips:" A Cappella Praise through the Centuries (Part 5)

The four previous posts in this series have explored the historically consistent use of a cappella singing in Christian worship, up until the last few centuries. We have seen that even as instrumental music was gradually introduced in the West during the later medieval period, some held out for the purity of New Testament church music, and in almost every branch of the Reformation there was an initial return to a cappella singing.

In this installment I will try to survey the history a cappella worship in the English-speaking Reformation (except for high-church practice in the Church of England, which was discussed in a previous post). We will also look at the survival of this practice among the descendants of that heritage--excepting for those in North America, which will be the subject of the final post in this series.

Goostly Psalmes and Spirituall Songes

During the English Reformation under Henry VIII and Edward VI, the question of church music was still up in the air; but even as the subject was being debated in the broader community, the more radical reformers, or Puritans, were united in their support of exclusively a cappella and congregational song in the English language. Their general attitude would later be summed up in the 1571 Admonition to Parliament, under the heading "A view of popish abuses," in the following barb:
As for organes and curious singing [imitative counterpoint? DRH], thoughe they be proper to popishe dennes, I meane to Cathedrall churches, yet some others also must have them. The queenes chappell, and these churches must be paternes and presidents to the people, of all superstitions (Puritan Manifestoes 30).
The reformers meant to have a practice of church music closer to that of primitive Christianity, and much more in the hands of the people.

By 1535, barely a year after the Act of Supremacy made the division with Rome official, Miles Coverdale (1488?-1569), of Bible translating fame, published a collection titled Goostly Psalmes and Spirituall Songes. Though his stated purpose was for it to be used in personal and home devotions, his work forecast the future direction of Puritan music, and his translation of the Psalms was eventually appended to the Book of Common Prayer. (Young 637). Below is his translation of Psalm 130 (129), with Martin Luther's tune AUS TIEFER NOT.

Though primarily a Psalter, Coverdale's work included some lyrics from other passages of Scripture, and even some from extra-Biblical sources. "Christ dyed and suffred great payne," for example, is really the old 11th-century sequence Victimae Paschali laudes. Coverdale also translated some of the Lutheran and Reformed hymns from the Continent. The coming Puritan shift toward exclusive Psalmody (singing only Psalms in worship), however, would set these "hymns of human composure" aside. English-language worship would not reconnect with this rich musical tradition until the Oxford Movement of the 19th century.

Coverdale accomplished a great deal, however, by setting an example of plain, accessible English-language music for congregational singing. His Bible translation also became a source for later Psalm versifiers such as Sternhold (Duguid 14-15). The real impact of his work may be guessed at by the fact that it eventually made Henry VIII's book-burning list (Duguid 13).

The Sternhold-Hopkins, Anglo-Genevan, or "Old Version" Psalter

Thomas Sternhold (d. 1549), groom of the king's robes for Edward VI, published his first small set of Psalm versifications in 1547. Soon after Sternhold's death in 1549 John Hopkins compiled the former's unfinished material, added some translations of his own, and brought the work to publication in the form first known as the "Sternhold-Hopkins Psalter." The two men may actually never have met; their only definite connection was through their publisher, Edward Whitchurch (Zim). This Psalter was immediately popular, going through ten printings in the next four years to meet the demand of private individuals and parish churches (Duguid 16-17).

Though Queen Mary's determination to reinstate Roman Catholicism in England put a halt to this rapid pace of publication, it also brought this work to the forefront of English-language Psalmody. Under her rule many of the leading reformers went abroad "for their health," many ending up in Calvin's safe haven of Geneva. Though neither Sternhold nor Hopkins was among them (Zim), their Psalter was already in many hands, and was the obvious starting point for the exiles who wished to produce their own Psalters. In 1556 the Forme of Prayers was produced, including a much expanded collection of Psalm versifications and tunes. Work continued following Elizabeth's accession, and the 1562 revision, The Whole Booke of Psalmes, took root as the classic edition of this work (Young, 637).

The development of the Old Version, however, did not follow a straight path. The leading reviser of the work among the Marian Exiles was the talented linguist William Whittingham, who came to Geneva from the exile community at Frankfurt. Along with John Knox, Whittingham had supported a new liturgy that broke with the 1552 Book of Common Prayer (Duguid 27). Among those opposing their efforts was Richard Cox, a staunch defender of the Edwardian church, and whose involvement with Psalmody in the Elizabethan era may have contributed to the less radical nature of the post-Geneva Whole Booke (Heal; cf. House).

The 1556 Forme of Prayers, published in Geneva and almost certainly edited by Whittingham, included the new simplified liturgy that Cox had driven out of Frankfurt, the Sternhold & Hopkins Psalms, and several new translations written by Whittingham and like-minded companions such as William Kethe (Duguid 35). This edition was also the first Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter to be published with notated music. Though the origin of many of these tunes is unknown, the editors' proximity to the thriving French Psalm-singing tradition was evidenced by the Genevan tunes added in the 1558 edition (Duguid 34-35). Unlike most later English Psalters there was a specific tune for each Psalm, reflecting the general practice of the French, though the frequent use of ballad meter made many of them interchangeable (Duguid 61).

With the accession of Elizabeth and the return of the exiles, the distance that had grown between moderates such as Cox and the more radical reformers such as Knox and Whittingham was evident in the Psalter editions each produced. Moderates tended to view Whittingham's Geneva editions of the Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter with some suspicion, and were ready for a new edition that stepped back from some of these changes. Knox and his Scottish compatriots, however, embraced the Whittingham editions and carried their tendencies even further, eventually leading to the separate Scottish Psalter (Duguid 73).

Enter the spirit of entrepreneurship in the form of John Day, London printer and the editor of the classic 1562 Whole Booke of Psalmes. Based on his record of publications, he showed no bias toward either party and was perfectly happy to print what people would buy. He shrewdly included the expanded Psalm and tune resources of the Whittingham editions from Geneva while omitting the controversial liturgical directions, so that his Psalter could be used with either the Geneva liturgy or the Book of Common Prayer (Duguid 80). Day diluted the Whittingham influence further by providing several new Psalm translations from popular London poets, including further contributions from John Hopkins himself (Duguid 89).

Another significant change was the reduction of the number of tunes from nearly one-per-Psalm to only 63 tunes (Duguid 82), and the number of poetic meters to just twelve different patterns (Duguid 94). This would set the stage for the long-standing tradition of interchangeable texts and tunes, so characteristic of English Psalmody. Whether this was a deliberate liturgical choice or simply a way to reduce the printing costs (music typesetting was more specialized and thus more expensive), it likely made the Psalter more accessible to a broader public (Duguid 90).

The importance of Day's 1562 Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter, The Whole Booke of Psalmes, can hardly be overstated. It was not only the foundation of the English Psalter tradition, but remained in widespread use in one edition or another as late as the 1700s, nearly two centuries after its first appearance. It was still in print in England as late as 1828 (Duguid 18). Though there were many English Psalters in the following centuries, the "Old Version" Psalter stood as the standard against which they were measured. Duguid notes that the use of "ballad meter" and other simple forms common to folk song and poetry, along with the use of vivid but generally simple vocabulary, helped this work connect with the common people (17).

The following Psalm translation by Whittingham's assistant William Kethe, joined to the French tune used in Geneva, is enough to remind us of this Psalter's lasting influence on English-speaking Christians:

It is not the smoothest or most elegant verse in the English language, but its earnest directness has a poetic beauty and power all its own.

Later English Psalters

Though the Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter translations became the standard texts, there were later Psalter editions of the 16th and 17th centuries that had considerable impact in the area of tunes and harmonizations. A promising contender that never quite caught on was the elegant Psalter translation by the Archbishop Matthew Parker, which included a set of eight original harmonized tunes written by Thomas Tallis (Duguid 178-179). Tallis, a composer for the Chapel Royal and a closet Roman Catholic, is still recognized as one of the outstanding composers of English choral music. One of his Psalm tunes, paired with Parker's translation of the 2nd Psalm, "Why fum'th in fight the Gentiles spite," became the subject of the popular orchestral work, Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

In the last quarter of the 16th century, William Daman (ca.1540-1591), an instrumental performer at Court, wrote a number of Psalm tunes and arrangements that were published in subsequent editions of the Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter. Though many of these were probably meant for choirs, or for social entertainment at home, his works were well received, and the Old Version Psalter with his tunes was sometimes called "Daman's Psalter." One of his Psalm tunes that has survived the centuries is SOUTHWELL, which was originally paired with Psalm 45. Today it is commonly found with the text, "Lord Jesus, think on me," translated from an ode by the 5th-century poet Synesius of Cyrene.

Thomas East (ca.1540-1609, sometimes spelled "Este") published a Sternhold & Hopkins edition in 1592 that became quite popular, partly owing to the fact that he supplied the music along with each text instead of merely printing a tune once and referring back to that page when it was to be used with other Psalms. He also included four-part harmonizations written by well-known composers such as John Dowland (Duguid 180-181).

One of these tunes that has aged well is the Psalm tune known today as OLD WINCHESTER, written by the madrigalist George Kirbye (d. 1634). As was typical for part-songs of the day, the melody is in the tenor voice, with the soprano (usually labeled "cantus" or "treble") performing the function of a high tenor. (In actual practice, both men and women might sing on both these parts, similar to the practice of Sacred Harp music in the U.S.) The following rendition by Brussels Barbershop, a student group from the British School of Brussels, is not far from the original practice, though the hymn tune has evolved considerably from its original form:

"While shepherds watched their flocks"

A second edition in 1594 reduced the number of unique tunes overall; East asserted that a mere four tunes made up the majority of English psalm-singing:

Duguid notes, however, that the accuracy of East's claim is debatable, considering the number of other Psalters that featured a variety of tunes (181).

Another significant English Psalter edition of the 17th century was that of Thomas Ravenscroft (1592?-1635?), first published in 1621. Among other improvements, this Psalter established the tradition of giving names to the "common tunes" (those which were interchangeable between many Psalms), typically using place names of cathedral towns and other important religious centers (Duguid 218). Ravenscroft contributed a large number of harmonizations as well, stating his hope that they were "so composed, for the most part, that the unskilfull may with little practice, be enabled to sing them in parts, after a plausible manner" (Duguid 226). Ravenscroft was a masterful composer who wrote sacred music outside the Psalm-singing tradition as well, and was also well known for his secular choral music. His skill in a cappella music is especially evident in this haunting little anthem, "Remember, O thou man":

The Scottish Psalters

Queen Elizabeth's Settlement Acts had taken the first tentative steps in England toward religious toleration (at least among Protestant factions), which meant that matters such as liturgy and Psalmody could be argued out in debate and legislation, rather than by the sword. John Knox and his fellow Scots, on the other hand, established their work of Reformation in an atmosphere of mutual and open hostility with their Catholic rulers, which would end in rebellion; no moderating "middle way" would hold back their reforming impulse in liturgy or Psalmody, either (Duguid 116). When the Reformation Parliament of 1560 took control of Scotland, Knox and a small committee began work immediately to reform worship. The result was the First Book of Discipline, in which Psalmody was prescribed as the music of the church (Duguid 119). It went on to specify the Geneva exiles' Forme of Prayers as "our book of common order . . . which now is used in some of our churches." By this they included the not only the revised liturgy supported by Knox, but also the Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter as revised and expanded by Whittingham through his editions of 1558 and 1561 (Duguid 122).

Though both the English "Old Version" (Day's Whole Book of Psalmes from 1562) and the later Scottish Psalters were based on the original Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter, the English Psalter drew back closer to its more moderate origins, owing to the more diverse range of opinions in the English churches. The Scots, on the other hand, deliberately continued the direction set by Knox and Whittingham in Geneva (Duguid 129-130). This divergence extended even to the tunes; Day's Whole Booke reflected the English preference for Psalms written primarily in just a few fairly standard meters, which allowed interchange of texts and tunes, but the Scottish revisions continued the Genevan tradition of writing in a large variety of meters, with unique tunes set to nearly every Psalm (Duguid 132).

Where England produced many diverse editions of the Psalter, the Scottish version tended to change much less over the years. Congregational Psalmody was merely permitted in England, whereas in Scotland the singing of Psalms was part of the officially prescribed worship; consequently the Psalter technically was a liturgical document under the Scottish church's authority, and any change was viewed with greater skepticism (Duguid 194). During the rest of the 16th century it remained fairly stable. In 1601, however, the General Assembly of the Scottish church determined to have  a new revision of the Psalms. Though this did not come about immediately, the uncertainty over the future of the Psalter, coupled with the turn of a new century and the accession of King James to the thrones of both Scotland and England, seemed to encourage Scottish printers to innovate in the production of Psalters (Duguid 229).

One of the most prolific of these was Andro Hart of Edinburgh; his 1615 Psalter editions set forth, in addition to many tunes unique to individual Psalms, a set of common tunes that became staples of Scottish Psalm-singing by the end of the 17th century (Duguid 234). Probably the most universally known of these is DUNDEE, which is best known today in Ravenscroft's harmonization and with the William Cowper hymn text, "God moves in a mysterious way." Here the tune is sung to the Scottish Psalter version of Psalm 121, "I to the hills will lift my eyes," by members of the Free Church of Scotland in Glasgow.

Though Hart's set of 12 common tunes were prominent, it should not be assumed that the variety of tunes, especially in the Scottish tradition, was limited. The ability of untrained singers to remember a large number of tunes, and apply them to different texts, is far greater than most people consider. (I have observed from leading hymn singing at nursing homes, that even individuals whose mental faculties are significantly impaired will perk up at the sound of a familiar tune, and can remember the words and notes of many lines of songs.)  A more serious challenge than learning the tunes was getting access to the texts themselves; despite the rising rates of literacy and availability of books, many worshipers were likely not to have access to the printed Psalter texts.

We probably grossly underestimate the ability of our ancestors to memorize, especially in an age before people were swamped with textual information every day and expected to have ready access to it at any time (Duguid 293). Still, there was one 17th-century adaptation to this problem that would later become rather infamous when it was poorly executed--"lining out" the Psalms. In this practice, known in both England and Scotland, a leader would sing, chant, or read each line of the Psalm, and the congregation would sing each line back on the chosen tune. Along with the frequent pauses for alternation between leader and congregation, there was a general tendency for the tempo to lag. One can only imagine how long it took to sing Psalm 119 in this fashion! Though many eventually grew weary of this method, others saw the leisurely pace as an opportunity for meditation on the words (Duguid 274). The video below is part of the 46th Psalm sung in Gaelic in the old "lining-out" style, recorded on the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides. In this case, the slow, rolling sound of a large congregation is simply majestic:

This practice also highlighted the need for capable songleaders. Where the English churches had a tradition of hiring professional musicians, the Scottish congregations did not; but by the 17th century, most had decided to secure the services of trained Readers to lead this integral part of the worship. This investment probably helped the Scots to maintain their large and diverse repertoire of Psalm tunes, rather than narrowing down to a relatively few common tunes as was the case with some English congregations (Duguid 280).

The last of the line of Scottish Psalter editions prior to the wars of the 1640s was the 1635 Psalter by Edward Millar, music master of the Scottish Chapel Royal (Duguid 241). Millar included harmonizations for all his tunes, wishing to provide easy settings that would help congregations to sing more effectively in parts. One of his chief concerns was that "abuse observed in all Churches, where sundrie Tribles, Basses and Counters set by diverse Authors, being sung upon one, and the same Tenor, do discordingly rub each upon another"--that is, the singers having learned their parts from different arrangements, or making them up by ear, were clashing with one another's harmonizations of the tune (quoted in Duguid 245).

The 1650 Scottish Psalter

During the period of the English Commonwealth, Parliament appointed the group of religious leaders known as the "Westminster Assembly" to carry out a thorough re-examination of the doctrines and practices of the English Church. Though it is far better known for the Confession of Faith and the catechisms it produced, this Puritan-dominated group also reviewed the Psalters in use, taking the 1643 edition of Francis Rous, provost of Eton, as its starting point (MacMeeken 32). After careful consideration and emendation of its translations, Rous's Psalter was given the coveted position of official approval (MacMeeken 28). The constant upheavals of the times never gave it much chance to take hold, however, before the Restoration returned the Church of England to its previous state of liturgical diversity.

The Scottish representatives to the Westminster Assembly, however, took this project home with them and continued the work. The result was the 1650 Scottish Psalter, which over time came to be held in the same reverence as the King James translation of the Bible. It is still the Psalter of choice for the many of the most conservative Presbyterians today. At the wonderfully informative web site Music for the Church of God one may compare the texts of a large number of Psalters, but special pride of place is given to the 1650 Psalter. The editors note:
To its devotees the Scottish Psalter is the only one that is acceptable. If one's goal is the closest possible representation of the original Hebrew, then this may well be the best Psalter, even though its language and poetry sometimes seems awkward and contrived. . . . In spite of its age and sometimes quaint wording, the Scottish Psalter still retains great power even today. If one had to use only one metrical Psalter, this one would be a good choice.
The sometimes awkward language can be observed in one of the best known texts from the 1650 Scottish Psalter, Psalm 23. In the first stanza, there is an abrupt line break that we have simply learned to ignore through generations of familiarity:
The Lord's my Shepherd,
I'll not want
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.
The King James rendering, of course, is:
The Lord is my Shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
In the 1650 Scottish Psalter version, the line break suggests that "He makes me down to lie" and "He leadeth me in pastures green" are two separate and complete statements, leaving "the quiet waters by" to stand alone as a sentence fragment. This stanza is also an excellent example, however, of the scrupulous faithfulness of the translators to the Scriptures. It would be nearly impossible to get a closer rendition of the King James text in a regular, singable meter. Below is a recording of the Free Church of Dowanvale, in Glasgow, singing the 23rd Psalm to the tune ST. COLUMBA.

Tate & Brady's "New Version" Psalter

Ironically, the Westminster Assembly edition of Rous's Psalter did not have the same impact in its native England, no doubt owing to the diversity of Psalter editions already in use. At the close of the 17th century, there was one more bold attempt to update the "Old Version" Sternhold & Hopkins Psalter. This time, however, it was a revision with a view toward greater poetic quality, rather than Scriptural accuracy. It is not surprising that a generation that had grown up with the religious poetry of giants such as Donne and Milton thought they could do a little better than the Old Version's Psalm 23,
The Lord is only my support,
And he that doth me feed;
How can I then lack any thing,
Whereof I stand in need?
In pastures green he feedeth me,
Where I do safely lie,
And after leads me to the streams
Which run most pleasantly.
Enter Nahum Tate (ca. 1652-1715), a poet and playwright who collaborated in his early days with the far better known John Dryden, and was later appointed poet laureate of England. He is remembered with particular fondness in musical circles for the libretto of Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas, and was well known in his day for his translations of classical literature. His secular accomplishments, however, should not cast doubt on his sacred works; he came from a line of devout Irish Protestants in Dublin, and seems to have taken up the new Psalter as a labor of love. A complete edition was published in 1696, but his later editions in collaboration with Nicholas Brady became the "New Version" of the 18th century (D. Hopkins). The opening two stanzas of his 23rd Psalm are illustrative of both the strengths and weaknesses of the Tate & Brady style:
The Lord himself, the mighty Lord,
Vouchsafes to be my Guide;
The Shepherd by whose constant care
My wants are all supply'd.
In tender grass he makes me feed,
And gently there repose;
Then leads me to cool shades, and where
Refreshing water flows.
Technically, of course, it is better poetry than that of the earlier Psalters, but it also loses the ruggedness and simplicity of the older version. Reception of the Tate & Brady Psalter was famously controversial, with pamphlets issued on both sides of the "Old Version" vs. "New Version" fight (the 18th-century equivalent of a "flame war.") The fact that it became known as the "New Version," of course, shows that it succeeded in making a significant impact rather than fading into obscurity as did so many other Psalters. This controversy, however, was soon overshadowed by a far more fundamental question.

"Hymns of Human Composure"

Up to this point the Baptists have not entered into this discussion, for a very good reason--during a considerable period of their early history in England, they practiced "singing in the spirit," a silent meditation on the Psalms while the text was being read. (For an explanation of this doctrine, see Isaac Marlow's A Brief Discourse Concerning Singing (London, 1690)). The most significant break with this practice occurred in the 1670s at the Horslydown congregation (later called the New Park Street Church, and eventually the Metropolitan Tabernacle of Charles Spurgeon's day). Here the minister Benjamin Keach introduced the practice of singing a hymn after the Lord's Supper, citing the precedent of Jesus and the disciples in Matthew 26:30. In one leap, therefore, a group that had not sung in worship at all, passed by the exclusive Psalmody of their Calvinist neighbors and included the singing of uninspired texts. Keach wrote a defense of their practice in a book titled The Breach Repaired in God's Worship (London, 1691), in response to Marlow.
Did not Christ sing an hymn after the Supper? Would he have left that as a pattern to us, and annexed it to such a pure gospel-ordinance, had it been a ceremony, and only belonging to the Jewish worship? Or would the apostle Paul have given, by the authority of the Holy Ghost, such a precept to the church at Coloss to sing Psalms, etc whom he strives so much to take off from Jewish rites, days, and ceremonies? (130).
Ironically, the hymn Christ and the apostles sang after the Last Supper was almost certainly a Psalm; but Keach went on to defend their practice of using uninspired hymns in addition to Psalms. After examining the content and purposes of singing as presented in Colossians 3:16, he argues,
Now then, since the Word of Christ is the matter in general that ought to be sung; it appears we are not left without directions by the Spirit about this ordinance (let men say what they please), for as 'tis Christ's Word we should and ought always to preach, and hear, so 'tis his Word we should and ought to sing. And as we are not tied up by the Lord in preaching, to do no more than barely read the Scripture, or quote one Scripture after another (which would be rather reading than preaching), but may use other words to edify the church, provided they agree with, or are congruous to the Word of Christ, or the Sacred Scripture (and yet we call it the Word of God which is preached, and so indeed it is), so when that which we sing is taken out of God's Word, or is Scripture, absolutely congruous, truly and exactly agreeing thereunto, it may as truly be called the Word of Christ, as our sermons are, and may so be called (93-94).
The introduction of newly composed hymns did not come without controversy; many Calvinists clung tenaciously to exclusive Psalmody (as do some today), and the established church frowned on introducing anything into worship that might smack of doctrinal controversy, which hymns were sure to do. (The established Church of England only introduced congregational hymns in the 19th century, long after the era of Watts and Wesley.)

Comes the hour, comes the man. Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was a Nonconformist who turned down a sponsorship to attend one of the Universities, choosing rather to pursue his higher education at a Nonconformist academy at Stoke Newington. After a promising start preaching at the Mark Lane Chapel, his ill health forced him into seclusion; but the isolation that cut short his public career  proved a greater blessing to generations since. His Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707) and Psalms of David Imitated (1719) are still widely sung today, and were the foundation of the modern English hymn genre (Julian 1236).

The first of these two landmark publications, the Hymns and Spiritual Songs, appears by its very title to supply what Watts considered lacking in his day from the "Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" prescribed in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19. The preface of this work stated, however, that he did not mean to overturn the existing Psalmody, but rather to supplement it:
Far be it from my Thoughts to lay aside the Psalms of David in public Worship; few can pretend so great a Value for them as my self. It is the most artful, most devotional and Divine Collection of Poesy; and nothing can be supposed more proper to raise a pious Soul to Heaven than some parts of that Book; never was a piece of Experimental Divinity so nobly written, and so justly reverenced and admired. But it must be acknowledged still, that there are a thousand Lines in it which were not made for a Saint in our Day, to assume as his own; There are also many deficiencies of Light and Glory which our Lord Jesus and his Apostles have supplied in the Writings of the New Testament; and with this Advantage I have composed these spiritual Songs which are now presented to the World.
Among the many hymns from this collection that are still dear to Christian hearts more than three centuries later, few can rival "When I survey the wondrous cross." In the video below it is sung to the tune ROCKINGHAM, the common pairing in British hymnals:

His 1719 publication The Psalms of David Imitated was also enormously influential, and to some extent did supplant the older Psalters among those who were open to such innovation. His Psalms were more paraphrases than translations, and sometimes even recast the original Scripture from a modern Christian perspective. His stated goal was,
To accommodate the Book of Psalms to Christian Worship: And in order to this 'tis necessary to divest David and Asaph, etc. of every other Character but that of a Psalmist and a Saint, and to make them always speak the common Sense and Language of a Christian (Watts Psalms Preface).
Making David speak like a Christian meant not only removing specifically time- and culture-bound references, but the interpolation of Christian commentary into Messianic Psalms, as in his rendering of Psalm 2:6-7, "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee."
I call Him My Eternal Son,
And raise Him from the dead;
I make My holy hill His throne,
And wide His Kingdom spread.
Sometimes David spoke not only like a Christian, but like an Englishman, as seen in Watts's setting of Psalm 60:2, "Thou hast made the earth to tremble; thou hast broken it: heal the breaches thereof; for it shaketh."
Great Britain shakes beneath thy stroke
And dreads thy threat'ning hand;
O heal the island thou hast broke,
Confirm the wav'ring land.
One of Watts's greatest strengths was his studied simplicity of language and meter. He stuck to the usual Long Meter, Common Meter, and Short Meter schemes of Psalmody, making his hymns immediately singable to the well-known tunes already in use. And though he was capable of extraordinarily complex composition--his treatise on logic was considered a classic--he deliberately wrote for the common person in simple, understandable language. Not surprisingly, his hymns have stood the test of time.

Watts's hymns and Psalms were of course taken up both in a cappella and in instrumentally-accompanied worship in England, but still it is interesting to note that many of the early founders of the hymn movement were in favor of exclusive a cappella singing. The great Methodist commentator Adam Clarke quoted John Wesley as saying, "I have no objection to instruments of music in our chapels, provided they are neither HEARD nor SEEN" (4:684). Though Clarke was writing well after the fact, Bufford Coe affirms a similar statement from an earlier source, and notes that Wesley remained opposed to instruments in worship as a matter of practice, though he admitted he sometimes found sacred instrumental music quite affecting (47-48).

The Evangelical Anglican counterparts to the Wesleys, William Cowper and John Newton, wrote their landmark Olney Hymns for the a congregation which during their lifetime did not have an organ, though it had begun to use gallery musicians (wind players to reinforce the vocal harmonies) sometime prior to 1811 (Wright 42). Cowper wrote the following in a letter dated 9 January 1788 to his cousin, Lady Hesketh: "Depend upon it as a certainty that I shall never be found a contributor to an organ at Olney. I never mention that vagary of theirs but with disapprobation" (Correspondence 3:207).

The Wesleyan and Evangelical hymns broke away from the restrictions of the meters of the old Psalm tunes, and turned out a wide variety of poetry notable for its earnestness and passion. Even more so than Watts, they were reaching out to the common person, holding mass meetings wherever they could. Seldom had music been turned to such overtly evangelistic purposes; and many souls have been drawn toward Jesus, or encouraged to hold onto Him, by these old hymns. It is satisfying to see a new generation discover the power of these "words spoken fitly," as for example in the following Wesley text set to a contemporary tune. As far as I know this setting originated with the vocal group GLAD on the album The Acapella Project; here it is sung in chapel services at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee.

From the middle of the 18th century forward, at least in hymn-singing England, it is difficult to say what was an a cappella repertoire and what was not; despite the various denominational divisions, there was a fairly common hymnody, whether accompanied or not (excepting the a cappella Psalmody of the stricter Calvinists). So in conclusion, I will try to summarize where the instrumental music question stood within various groups over the time period considered in this post.

The Question of Instrumental Accompaniment

Given the diversity of opinion and practice that characterized the Reformation in the British Isles it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to trace the details of a specific practice such as instrumental accompaniment. Certainly the Chapel Royal, and most of the cathedrals, retained the use of musical instruments; what was done in the parish churches, however, varied over time and from place to place. Outside the established church there was even less uniformity of practice; the decentralized nature of the independent denominations makes it harder to tell the overall trend.

Additionally, between deliberate official persecution and the tumultuous nature of the era, no doubt there were churches that went without instrumental music but might have used it in calmer and more prosperous times. Duguid argues that instruments were more commonly used in accompanying English Psalm-singing of the 16th century than has previously been thought. He notes that Day's 1563 edition of the Whole Booke of Psalmes includes the editorial note that it "may be song to al musicall instruments," and that Richard Allison's 1599 edition included optional instrumental accompaniments (Duguid 182). It is worth noting, however, that the Psalters were also intended for home use, where private opinion on the instrument issue could vary widely.

Duguid also notes that the close vote on the matter at the 1562 Westminster Convocation shows that even though there was a significant party opposed, there was an equally significant party that was at least tolerant of instruments in worship (Duguid 260-261). But certainly from the Puritan point of view, the situation was clear; they proposed "bringing in and placing in God's church those things only, which the Lord himself in his word commandeth" (Puritan Manifestoes 8). The attitude towards instrumental music in worship held by the more militant Puritans is obvious from their effect on the history of organ music in England: "For the period between 1526 and 1600 no organ contracts [to build or renovate the instruments, DRH] have yet come to light; by the fourth quarter of the century it is clear that organs had been removed or destroyed across large parts of the country" (Bicknell 43).

In Scotland the situation was quite clear. Though the Chapel Royal maintained instrumental music during the reign of the Roman Catholic Mary Stuart, the Scottish Church was firmly opposed to instruments in worship (Duguid 297-298). Instead, they cultivated a thriving a cappella practice, adopting four-part singing quite early (despite Calvin's apprehensions about distracting from the text). An observer of an impromptu street celebration in Edinburgh in 1582, at the return of the exiled preacher John Durie, noted that a crowd estimated at 2,000 struck up the 124th Psalm in four parts with "a great sound and majestie" (Duguid 289).

After the accession of King James, the Scottish Parliament passed an act that instructed colleges and major towns to set up "song schools" (Duguid 294). The job description for the song-school master at Ayr in 1583 shows that these included music both vocal and instrumental, secular and sacred, but also had a purpose to train the communities' children to sing the Psalms in four-part harmony. This would provide a cadre of musically educated singers to guide the rest of the congregation. Many of these singing-masters were probably the Readers in the churches as well (Duguid 302). No doubt this active support of good a cappella singing was part of the reason that the Scottish Church was so long in giving in to the use of instruments in worship.

Though the religious wars of the 17th century spent their fury on all parts of the British Isles, the aftereffects were felt very differently in the national churches. Despite the upheavals, the Scottish Presbyterian system was strong enough to maintain most of its reforms, including the Westminster standards. In England, however, the Puritan movement came to be viewed by many as the source of the nation's troubles. With the restoration of the monarchy came a new Act of Uniformity in 1662, which effectively took the established English Church back to the status quo ante quem. In terms of church music practice, this meant a return to a situation in which instrumental music in worship was at least officially allowed, though a significant part of the population still objected to it. The Puritans had done their best to eliminate it, even to the point of destroying organs during the wars; but their excesses during the Commonwealth period also had the effect of associating opposition to instruments in worship with radicalism. John Newte, Rector of Tiverton in Devon, said in his sermon celebrating the installation of the parish's new organ in 1696,
'Twas only through the iniquity of some times, as in our long Rebellion, this use [i.e., instrumental music, DRH] was sacrilegiously discontinued, to the infamy of the nation, the dishonour of God, and the detriment of his church in these kingdoms. . . . And it's but fitting now, that since the memory of the profaneness, irreligion and sacriledge of those days is so offensive, and has been so long a scandal to us, we should endeavour to blot out a part of the remaining odium, by restoring this ancient use in our Churches (Newte 16).
We can only suppose that similar sentiments obtained elsewhere, and that the gradual progress of instrumental music into the established Church of England was inevitable. Still it is worth noting that even as late as 1696, it had taken Newte ten years to accomplish his goal, and it was done over the protest of a minority who held to what Newte called "our continual aversion to this sort of church-musick." According to Newte, this was the first organ used in the entire diocese of Exeter since the war (epistle dedicatory, unpaged).

After the restoration of the monarchy and the new Act of Settlement, many reformers in England parted ways with the established church (not to mention those who went abroad to the American colonies, to be discussed in a future post). These "Dissenters" or "Nonconformists" or "Independents" (the terminology is bewildering in complexity, and changes meaning depending on the time period) operated outside the official church, meeting in small chapels, rented spaces, or in homes. Because of their semi-autonomous nature it is difficult to be precisely certain about their church music practices. I have tried in vain to determine whether an organ was used, for example, in the Mark's Lane chapel in Southampton where Isaac Watts introduced his first hymns. But the general trend in those circles was strongly against using instruments; consider for example this statement from James Peirce in his Vindication of the Dissenters (1718):
A man must be blind who does not see that trumpets, harps, and such like musical instruments, belonged to the pomp and ceremony of the Jewish worship. Now all these thing are abrogated, together with the law that appointed the worship; unless any of them appear afresh injoined by some particular command (quoted in Schwertley 7).
Thomas Ridgeley, writing in 1731, agreed that "we have no precept nor precedent for it in the New Testament, either from the practice of Christ, or his apostles" (Schwertley 8). Ridgeley and Watts were fellows on the first Board of Congregational Ministers in the London area, formed in 1727 (Dale 496). Watts himself noted, in the preface to his Psalms of David (1719), that "even our Cathedrals sing only to the Sound of an Organ, most of the meaner Churches can have no Music but the Voice, and others will have none besides." That some Dissenters still opposed the instrument even at the end of the century is proven by the 1786 Tractate on Church Music published in London, really a redaction of Peirce's earlier comments.
It is not enough, to say, that musical instruments are able to stir and cheer our minds; for it is not lawful for us to bring into use such things, of our own heads, into God's worship. Who knows not, that wine has the like virtue, to cheer men's minds, and warm their affections? And yet it is unlawful to use it in the worship of God, except where it is commanded, in the Lord's Supper (4).
The pamphlet is appended with letters of approval from the Nonconformist leaders Andrew Kippis and Richard Price. Kippis notes that "The use of instrumental music in Christian worship has no foundation in the New Testament, which is our standard of faith and practice." Price commented, "I cannot but strongly disapprove instrumental music in churches. It is a deviation from the simplicity of Christian worship" (Peirce 30).

The Baptists, once they began singing in worship at all, did not embrace instrumental music until much more recent times. Benjamin Keach's argument in favor of restoring singing to worship takes the prohibition of instruments as a given. On the use of instruments in the Hebrew Testament, he says,
I must confess, whatsoever was given forth under the Law, or injoyned as an ordinance (unless a moral precept) that is not given forth anew under the New Testament (there being neither precept nor precedent for it) I never believed it doth in the least concern us (55).
And he dismisses the matter specifically in the following statement: "Unless instruments of musick (as organs, etc.) were used in the New Testament, they are unlawful to be brought into the worship of God" (88). This view could still be found among English Baptists in the 18th and 19th centuries as well. Andrew Kettering (1754-1815), a founder of the Baptist Missionary Society, stated on this subject: "Of priests, altars, sacred garments, and instrumental music in Christian worship, the New Testament 'saith nothing'" (quoted in Price 132). And Charles Spurgeon, no doubt the most widely known preacher from the English Baptists, and one of the most famous preachers of the modern era, was well known to disallow instruments in the services at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London (Price 132-133).

The Methodists and Evangelicals, during their early days, were in the position of operating under the umbrella of the established church while conducting many services without official sanction, and thus often doing so in places other than the usual houses of worship. For this reason, many probably went without instrumental accompaniment, for practical reasons, who might have used it otherwise. But John Wesley's statements mentioned above make his personal position clear enough (Clarke 4:684, Coe 47-48). William Cowper also made his opinion of instruments in worship known, at least in private. Cowper's clear "approbation" of an effort to introduce an organ at the Olney Church has already been mentioned (Correspondence 3:207). In another letter to his cousin Lady Heskith, dated 1 January 1788, he writes:
They have begun at Olney a Subscription for an Organ in the Church. Weary no doubt of the unceasing praises bestowed upon a place well known by the name of Hogs-norton, they are determined to put in for a share of musical honour (Correspondence 3:202).
The established Scottish Church, according to Girardeau, maintained its a cappella practice until well into the 19th century, as did the United Presbyterian Church in Scotland (177-178). It is more to be noted, among the Scots, how little discussion there was of the issue--because it was considered a settled question for nearly three centuries. Even after the established church and other bodies began using instruments, the Free Church of Scotland continued to sing strictly a cappella in worship until 2010, when a plenary assembly voted 98-84 to allow congregations the option to decide the matter themselves (Worship Statement). The Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) remain a cappella to this day. Among the various Presbyterian groups in Scotland and Ireland, there was sharp division over the use of instruments in church music, with major polemics on the subject appearing late into the 19th century. The Reformed Presbyterian churches, also known as the Covenanters, remain a cappella today.

General Assembly of the Free Church of 
Scotland (Continuing), 23 May 2012

Churches of Christ in Great Britain

Before closing this post on a cappella church music in the British Isles, I would be very remiss if I did not mention my brothers and sisters of the Churches of Christ. Contrary to what some have claimed over the years, they were not an American transplant, as is evidenced by the history of the little congregation at Kirkcaldy in Scotland. It is probably the oldest continuously meeting congregation of the Churches of Christ today, having organized as an autonomous body in 1798. Its founders came primarily out of the Scottish Baptists, and since believers' baptism is such a distinguishing characteristic of both religious bodies, they were at first regarded as an odd kind of Baptist congregation.

In this evolution they were not unlike the American Restoration leader Alexander Campbell, who passed through Presbyterian and Baptist fellowships on the way to the Church of Christ. But far from being founded by Campbell in some fashion, the Kirkcaldy congregation was in existence nearly half a century before any contact with the Churches of Christ in the U.S. Campbell did travel to Kirkcaldy in 1847, but the extent of his influence is reported to have been simply to take down the "Baptist" sign from outside their building (Harp).

Several other congregations of the Churches of Christ in the U.K. date back to the early 19th century, well prior to Campbell's visit. Like their American cousins, they have had their issues with matters of doctrine and practice, including the forming of para-church associations and the use of instruments in worship. Unfortunately many also fell prey to theological liberalism in general, and have virtually been absorbed into other religious bodies through the process of ecumenical mergers. But there are bright beacons here and there, such as Kirkcaldy, that hold the "old paths" (Jeremiah 6:16)--including the practice of purely vocal singing in worship.

The Rose Street Chapel in Kirkcaldy in the 19th century.


In the course of trying to cover such a complex web of individuals and movements, there are sure to be omissions; I only hope that what I have said does not mischaracterize any person or group, living or dead. If there are other significant a cappella worship traditions in the British Isles today that I have not mentioned, I would be glad to hear of it so that I can make this more complete.

I am also aware that there is a story to be told here in the church histories of the various nations of the Commonwealth, that I have left out altogether. My only defense is that it has been all I could do this month to cover what I have. In the sixth and final post of this series I hope to look at the a cappella traditions of the United States.


Bicknell, Stephen. The History of the English Organ. Camridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Clarke, Adam. Commentaries

Coe, Bufford W. John Wesley and Marriage. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1996.

Cowper, William. The Correspondence of William Cowper, edited by Thomas Wright, 4 vols. London: Hodder & Stotton, 1904.
Volume 1: 2: 3: 4:
Dale, Robert William. A History of English Congregationalism. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1907.

Duguid, Timothy Charles. Sing a new song: English and Scottish metrical psalmody from 1549-1640. Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2011. Edinburgh Research Archive.

Girardeau, John L. Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church. Richmond, Va.: Whittet & Shepperson, 1888.

Harp, Scott. "Kirkcaldy Church of Christ, 1784-Present." The Resoration Movement 

Heal, Felicity. "Cox, Richard (c.1500–1581)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition, 2008.

Hopkins, David. "Tate, Nahum." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition, 2008.

House, Seymour Baker. "Contributors to the metrical psalter of 1562." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition, 2008.

Julian, John. A Dictionary of Hymnology. New York: Scribner's Sons, 1892.

Keach, Benjamin. The Breach Repaired in God's Worship, 2nd ed. London: John Marshall, 1700. Early English Books Online

MacMeeken, J. W. History of the Scottish Metrical Psalms. Glasgow: McCulloch, 1872.

Newte, John. Sermon Concerning the Lawfulness and Use of Organs in the Christian Church. London: Freeman Collins, 1696. Early English Books Online

Peirce, James. A Tractate on Church Music. London: 1786.

Price, John. Old Light on New Worship. Avinger, Tex.: Simpson Publishing Company, 2007.

Puritan Manifestoes: A Study of the Origin of the Puritan Revolt, edited by W. H. Frere & C. E. Douglas. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1907.

Rainey, Philip. "The Scottish Metrical Version of the Psalms (1650)." Covenant Protestant Reformed Church.

Schwertley, Brian. Musical Instruments in the Public Worship of God, Appendix A: The Historical Evidence.

Watts, Isaac. Preface to Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707). Eclectic Ethereal Encyclopedia. Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Watts, Isaac. Preface to Psalms of David (1719)Eclectic Ethereal Encyclopedia. Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Worship statement. Free Church of Scotland. 20 November 2010.

Wright, Thomas. The Town of Cowper. London: Sampson Low & Marston, 1886.

Young, Carlton R. "Hymnody." Encyclopedia of Christianity. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001, volume 2, pages 628-637.

Zim, Rivkah. "Hopkins, John." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition, 2008.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A great resource for a cappella hymns on the web

I am happy to point readers to an extensive list of sources for audio files of a cappella hymn singing, gathered on one page by the Church of Christ at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Though the Internet is put to many foolish and often harmful uses, like most technologies it is a great blessing if put in the service of God. It is heartwarming to know that our brothers and sisters in Kuala Lumpur--whom I am likely never to meet in this life--share a love of the Lord and of singing His praise, and have taken the time to put together this list of resources and share it with the world.

In particular I recommend the resources associated with the College Church of Christ in Searcy, Arkansas, which includes a number of recordings of the Harding University choral groups. Though I love the recordings of live congregational singing as well, for the purposes of learning hymns it is often good to have access to a recording of a hymn sung by a trained group, singing just the notes as written and in balanced numbers on the parts.

Another resource here to which I am particularly partial is the archive of recordings from the Great Songs Chapel at Oklahoma Christian University. This began a few years ago as an alternative for those who wished to sing the traditional repertoire of hymns and gospel songs, much like the "Music Chapel" at Lipscomb University (so called from the fact that it was overseen by the music department faculty) which I had to privilege to lead many times. I am glad to say that the Great Songs Chapel is well attended, and if you listen to the recordings from this past year you might just catch the sweet alto voice of one particular freshman student--though it probably takes a father's ear to pick it out.

I hope these links will be a blessing to others as they have been to me! I am currently working on another installment of the series on the history of a cappella singing, which is taking much longer than expected. Hopefully that will be posted by the end of this month.