The Regular Singing Controversy
I am credibly inform'd, that a certain Gentlewoman miscarry'd at the ungrateful and yelling Noise of a Deacon in reading the first Line of a Psalm: and methinks if there were no other Argument against this Practice (unless there were an absolute necessity for it) the Consideration of its being a Procurer of Abortion, might prevail with us to lay it aside.
James Franklin, New-England Courant (February 17/24, 1724)
Cover Page from Cotton Mather's 1721 Sermon, "The Accomplished Singer."
Click image to enlarge
In 1720 a sermon, attributed to Thomas Symmes (1677-1725),1 called attention to the problems of singing as practiced in the Congregational churches of New England. This sermon was published in Boston that same year with, as was the custom, a lengthy title which spelled out the details of what was to become a controversy:
The Reasonableness of Regular Singing, or Singing by Note. In an Essay to revive the true and ancient mode of singing psalm-tunes according to the pattern of our New England psalmbooks, the Knowledge and practice of which, is greatly decayed in most congregations. Writ by a Minister of the gospel. Perused by several ministers in the town and country, and published with the approbation of all who have read it.
There followed over the next decade a variety of sermons, tunebooks, letters, and newspaper notices dealing with the issue of regular singing (using written music) versus the old way (an oral tradition called lining-out).
The Puritans, both in England and New England, adhered to the teachings of John Calvin regarding music in the worship service and used unaccompanied psalmody. Calvin and his followers sought to abolish all forms of ritual, which they saw as worship without understanding. Regular singing, with its use of written music, was seen by its opponents as "Quakerish and Popish, and introductive in Instrumental Musick."2
From the initial settlements of the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies singing in the churches was a capella, frequently using lining-out. This practice consisted of a precentor who set the tune by singing or reading each line of a psalm, which the congregation then repeated. Lining-out was used especially in churches where psalm books and tune books were not generally available, and was common both in America and England. The practice was given official sanction in England, where Parliament, in the Ordinance of 1644 (regarding details of the worship service) specified its use in congregations which had members who were not able to read, until such time as they became literate.3 The tunes were commonly known ones found in several tunebooks printed during the 17th century. Thomas Ravenscroft's The Whole Booke of Psalmes... (London: Thomas Harper for the Company of Stationers, 1633), and the Sternhold-Hopkins Psalter, were the most likely sources in Massachusetts Bay.4
As is usual in an oral tradition, the tunes were altered according to the individual singer's interpretation and abilities.5 During the century after the establishment of English colonies in New England, the tunes became unrecognizable from church to church, and even within a single church, as each person embellished them. This style of singing featured extremely slow tempos, with notes added to the melody by each individual singer. In addition, since the singing was unaccompanied, people who were not sure of the melody would wait until the leaders sang the next note before joining them. This had the effect of slowing the tempo, which further blurred the rhythmical patterns and also caused several notes (not always in harmony) to be sung together.6 Thomas Symmes gave a colorful description of these difficulties in his treatise, Utile Dulci (1723):
Hence you may remember, that in our Congregation we us'd frequently to have some People Singing a Note or Two, after the rest had done. And you commonly strike the Notes not together, but one after another; One being half way thro' the second Note, before his Nei'bour has done with the First, &c.7
The concept of regular singing was introduced to address these problems. It was part of the continuing debate of who had the final authority within the church, the minister or the congregation, since the ministers weighed in on the side of regular singing against the resistance of many in their congregations.
The records of the controversy are contained almost exclusively in the published sermons of those ministers who favored the use of regular singing. Many of them included within their titles, or in prefaces, endorsements by other clergy that they should be read by clergy and laity alike for the purification of worship. That these sermons were published is an indication of the significance of the subject matter beyond the aesthetics of the music as it affected the structure of worship and influence of the clergy.
II. The Controversy
In Puritan churches of New England singing was an act of worship and a form of prayer, according to those who first wrote on the subject. It was a requirement of worship from the very beginnings of their church, and they used the Bible to support this contention. The texts to be used, it was generally agreed, were those found in the Bible: psalms and other hymns and songs of praise. Cotton Mather compiled a long list of poetry from the Bible which had been sung during biblical times and was thus suitable for use by God's churches in New England.8 He went on to speak of what else might be used in song, all from the Bible:
But supposing that we have no other Portions of the Inspired Writings exhibited in the Tunable Poetry of the Ancients, must we thence conclude that we are forbidden to put any other Portions of them into such a Metre, as may render them capable of being Sung among the People of God?9
The answer was that these portions could and should be translated into English verse for the children of God to sing to His greater glory and their salvation, for the words which they sang told of God's grace. They were to use English meter so that all could understand the lessons contained in the biblical songs and were preferred over words composed, however inspired they might seem, by human beings.
Cover Page from the First Edition of the Bay Psalm Book, the first book published in the British North American colonies
Click image to enlarge
Lining-out was to have been a temporary practice, used by necessity until the problems of illiteracy and shortage of psalm books were resolved. By the 1720s it was still in use in most churches in New England, even where there were plenty of psalm books available and most of the members of the congregations were probably literate. The churches of Boston and the surrounding towns were part of this group: lining-out was practiced in most of them, including Cotton Mather's church.
A number of ministers preached and wrote during the 1720s of the deplorable state of singing in the New England churches and strove to institute Regular Singing as the accepted style in worship. They took their arguments in favor of Regular Singing beyond the individual congregations, by publishing their sermons and essays and seeing them distributed in both America and England. That there was opposition to the practice they advocated was evident in their writings, for they raised and answered various objections. However, the opponents of Regular Singing apparently did not express themselves in print, with the exception of John Hammet, who published an essay in 1739 entitled
Promiscuous Singing No Divine Institution; Having neither President nor Precept to support it, either from the Musical Institution of David, or from the Gospel Dispensation. Therefore it ought to be exploded, as being a
humane Invention, tending rather to gratify the carnal Ears of Men, than to be acceptable and pleasing Worship to God.
The primary objection against Regular Singing appeared to be a reluctance on the part of the congregations to adopt any new practice or method of worship. Thus the ministers had first to show that Regular Singing was not an innovation, but rather the usual practice of the founders of Puritan New England, and was sanctioned by the Bible.
All of the works commenced with a discussion of the biblical basis for singing as a part of worship. They repeated the justifications given previously by John Calvin, John Cotton, and others. For example, the author of The Reasonableness of Regular Singing cited the Bible for proof of his position, but he also gave several other arguments, which he noted were
...in the plainest, most easy and popular Way I can (for 'tis for the sake of common People I write) to shew, That Singing by or according to Note, is to be preferred to the Usual Way of Singing. . . .The first Argument may be taken from the ANTIQUITY of Regular Singing. Singing by Note is the most Ancient Way of Singing, and claims the Preference to the other on that Account.10
Once the ancient and biblical proof of singing as a requirement for worship and Regular Singing as the means to satisfy this requirement were established, the ministers went on to show that skill in psalm singing was practiced in New England from the establishment of the colonies. Thomas Symmes provided three cogent arguments:
It was studied, known and approv'd of in our College, for many Years after its first Founding. This is evident from the Musical Theses which were formerly Printed.
If Singing by Note was not designed, Why were the Notes plac'd in our New-England Psalm-Books, and some General Directions there given about them?
There are many Persons of Credit now Living, Children and Grand-Children of the first Settlers of New-England, who can very well remember, that their Ancestors Sung by Note, and they learnt so to Sing of them.11
His final, and in many ways most compelling, proof was that Regular Singing was most like that which was practiced in Heaven, and thus everyone should practice the art of singing.12
Symmes answered the objection "That it is a New Way, an Unknown Tongue"13 by first admonishing the reader to consult the treatise, The Reasonableness of Singing by Note, wherein all questions and objections were answered.
Furthermore, (as is evident from a Psalm-Book of Elder Chipman's, now in my hands) The Church of Plymouth (which was the First Church in New England) made use of Ainsworth's version of the Psalms till the Year 1692. . . . and till about 1682, their excellent Custom was to Sing without Reading the Line. Now, in Ainsworth's Psalm-book, there are about 44 Tunes, and but 4 of them that I ever saw (to my knowledge) any where, save in that Psalm-book: And there the Tune is prick'd as in Ravenscroft's and Playford's at the beginning of the Psalm, or you there find a Reference to the Tune the Psalm is to be sung in, so that all the Chief Musician or Chorister had to do, was to give the Pitch and lead the Tune, and all were to sing according to the Notes in the Psalm Book.14
Even more important to the argument that Regular Singing was the correct way and older than the Usual Way, was Symmes' discussion, in which he showed that skillful singing was directed by the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments.
In The Sweet Psalmist of Israel, Thomas Walter (1696-1725) used David to establish the necessity of singing as a form of worship and to show that singing as an art was practiced from the very beginning. He set his thesis in the dedicatory letter printed as a preface to his sermon. Extolling the Society for Promoting Regular Singing, to which he addressed his sermon, he stated, "I would fain hope it will not be long e'er the Ignorant will be convinced, that they have mistaken Novelty for Antiquity, and will be brought to own, that the present Depravations of our Tunes, which they now so pertinaciously adhere to, and unreasonably insist upon, can lay no manner of Claim to their beloved Title and Denomination of, THE GOOD OLD WAY."15
The talents which each person received from the Lord were to be used for the benefit of the church, and thus, argued Walter, "a faithful Servant of God beholds all his Accomplishments, whether Natural, Moral or Divine, under no other Notion or View, than that of so many Consecrations to God, or Talents for the Improvement of which he is accountable."16 He did not rest his argument for Regular Singing on this one point but continued with a discussion of the nature of music and its effect on the souls of man:
There is a Mathematical Sweetness and Pleasancy in Sounds. This is no other
than the Doctrine of Concords, to which there are required more Sounds than
one, so proportioned and distanced in certain Intervals, as to create a
pleasant Harmony and Agreement. The Pleasure arising from this Mathematical
Sweetness or Agreement of Sounds, is a more Intellectual Pleasure; that from
the Physical Sweetness, a more Sensual. Hence not only all Men, but the
very Brutes too are capable of receiving a Delight in a single pleasant
Sound or Voice, but none of the Brutal Race, nor all of the Humane are
capable of relishing the Melody arising from the harmonious Agreement of a
Diversity of Sounds. This requires a tuneful Soul, as well as a good Ear.17
The concept of a tuneful soul was one which could be found in the writings
of the Greeks, the ancient Hebrews, as well as the early church Fathers,
such as Augustine and Boethius, and continued to be endorsed by clerics down
through the centuries to the Puritans in New England. John Calvin, to whose
writings the Puritans frequently referred, acknowledged the affects of music
on the hearts and souls of worshipers.18 The advocates of Regular Singing
used many of these writings, especially of David and Calvin, to show how
tuneful music would assist the worshiper in achieving a calm and quiet mind,
that he might contemplate the glories of the Heavenly Father without
distraction. The Bible even provided proof that singing instruction was
condoned by God: "And Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was for song: he
instructed about the song because he was skilful."19 This passage was used
by several proponents of Regular Singing.20
The anonymous author of A Brief Discourse Concerning Regular Singing,
Shewing from the Scriptures, The Necessity And Incumbency thereof in the
Worship of God, provided a series of objections raised by the defenders of
the Usual Way, each followed by his response. To the objection that
If the Tunes (as the Psalms are) were of Divine Inspiration, or had we the Hebrew Tunes; then it were Reasonalbe to conform to
them and endeavor after Skill; but since we have not those, we have no Rule at all: nor do we see Rule necessary.21
The author of this essay answered the objection with the statement that if the Hebrew tunes were necessary, they would have been
provided. The admonitions in scripture to sing skillfully were enough for this author to advocate Regular Singing.
And tho' the Hebrew Tunes have not been Preserved, as we know of; yet the Skill, and general Rules of Singing, have doubtless be
Retained (as well as of other Arts & Sciences, Logic, Philosophy, and the like) from Age to Age; 'till now: several of which are
plainly discerned in the Scriptures (as in the Book of Job and some of the Prophets, and more in the New Testament:) And this is
a sufficient Warrant for us to improve our Skill in composing and using Tunes for Psalms, which comes under the general Rule, and Command
of Singing them with Decency & Order.22
As is clear from the above, the proofs offered from biblical sources, as
well as from the practices of the founders of the colony, were the
foundations of the arguments in favor of Regular Singing. Since none of the
published sermons argued against Regular Singing, opposition to it must be
inferred from statements made in these sermons. For example, in Utile
Dulci, Symmes composed a debate between a minister who was in favor of
Regular Singing and a "Hearer" who was opposed. This opponent gave seven
(1) That it is a New Way, an Unknown Tongue. (2) That it is not so
Melodious as the Usual Way. (3) That there are so many Tunes, we shall
never have done learning. (4) That the Practice of it give Disturbance;
Roils & Exasperates men's Spirits; grieves sundry good People, and causes
them to behave themselves indecently & disorderly. (5) That is Quakerish &
Popish, and introductive of Instrumental Musick. (6) That the Names given
to the Notes are Bawdy, yea Blasphemous. (7) That it is a Needless way,
since their good Fathers that were Strangers to it, are got to Heaven
Here can be detected reluctance to change and institute a formalized
practice which would take away the comfort of custom and threaten the
possibility of employing ritual in worship. Symmes gave these objections a
sarcastic cast, but they are also found in more sober guise in other
sermons. The Reverends Peter Thatcher, John Danforth, and Samuel Danforth
stated that many had learned Regular Singing, more than had learned to use
the Usual Way. They quoted the author of The Reasonableness of Regular
Singing, without attribution, on this point.24
An Old Custom may be altered, and a new Custom and Habit gained by frequent
tryal and practice. Custom then is no sufficient Reason for the Continuance
of old Practices that need to be Reformed: And is our good Singing a Duty
required of Us by Heaven? Surely then we are Obliged to use all agreeable
means to qualify and enable Us to do the Duty required. No Difficulties (at
least short of impossibilities) should hinder Duty.25
Nathaniel Chauncy (1681-1756) also dealt with the problem of custom and allowed that the power of it was such that it gained the
force of law after many years of practice, regardless of its virtue or lack thereof.26 He argued that the tunes which were used
had originally been composed "by the Art of Musick," along with directions for singing the tunes. Thus the practice of singing
by the rule was not a new idea but rather a return to orderly worship.27
There were other arguments put forward in the justification of Regular Singing; among them one which held that it was of a more
orderly nature than the Usual Way and therefore more seemly and dignified for the worship of God. Nathaniel Chauncy quoted I
Corinthians 14:40: "Let all things be done decently and in order." All things, singing included, were to meet this requirement.
Regular Singing would help create an atmosphere of worship which would be "conducive to Decency and good Order, and in the the End to the
Glory of God."28
Decency and good order seem to have been forgotten by some people, as
observed in this description given by Cotton Mather in a letter to Thomas
Hollis in 1723:
Numbers of Elder and Angry People, bore zealous Testimonies against these wicked Innovations, and this bringing in of Popery.
Their zeal transported some of them so far that they would not only use the most opprobrious terms and call the Singing of these
Christians a worshipping of the Devil, but they also would run out of the Meetinghouse at the Beginning of the Exercise.29
Mather wrote that others who opposed the practice either refused to join in the singing or else tried to overwhelm the regular
singers with the volume of their own singing.30 This must have caused even greater dissonance than the opponents of the Usual Way
credited it with and certainly did not contribute to decency and good order in the worship service that day!
Nathaniel Chauncy saw order as essential to the achievement of grace. He stated before the General Association at Hartford,
Connecticut, in 1727, that it was known that there was a "sure and certain Rule" for singing and further that there were ill
effects caused by the neglect of this Rule. These included the neglect of singing psalms in praise of God during worship and at
home, which in turn hindered God's message of grace from being spread. Adherence to this rule, on the other hand, encouraged discipline,
in addition to respect for God and His institutions.31
As for the Ends for which the Ordinance has been appointed, they are
Certain, and there must needs be a Certain Rule to lead to a Certain End. .
. . In case there be various Rules, they must lead to differing Ends to be
sure, Differing, in proportion to the difference there is in the Rules or
Means. And this shews it can't be a matter of indifferency how we Sing:
Because that various Rules, or various Means lead to various Ends.32
A page from the 1698 edition of the Bay Psalm Book
Click image to enlarge
The practice of Regular Singing also encouraged unity among the members of a congregation, with everyone following the
same discipline in worship. Without the Rule the singing "would be a confused Noise, & not Singing. Let the Rule be wholly
laid aside, and we shall be like a Ship in the Sea, without Compass or Rudder, or any means to guide her towards a Haven, tossed
hither and thither."33 If unity was not practiced in the matter of worship, would it prevail in other areas? Had not God created
an orderly universe
with rules of harmony? And were not Christians required to be at union with
each other? "Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be
likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with
one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."34
It was further argued, in A Pacificatory Letter about Psalmody, that if the
congregations practiced Regular Singing, people would be able to participate
in this part of the worship services at other churches when they were forced
to be away.
It's much to be desired, that generally the same Tunes should be usually sung in all our Congregations; that so when some Persons
are providentially from home, and occasionally with other Churches, they may be the better able to join with them in singing of
The author further stated that the laws of nature required when a group of people sang together they should "sing the same Tune
at the same Time, and to keep Tune as near as they can, to prevent Discord and Confusion."36 The practice of Regular Singing would
facilitate this endeavor to harmonious, decent, and orderly worship, for "unless there be only One certain Rule to proceed by,
this can't be expected."37
The opponents of reform regarded Regular Singing as a move away from the congregational practice of local autonomy toward the
more regularized form of Presbyterianism with its governing synods. They demanded that each church vote on the issue of which
style to use, Regular Singing or the Usual Way.
Thomas Symmes berated those who demanded a right to vote on the subject. He quoted Chapter 10, Section 5 of the Cambridge
Platform to show that although "the Power granted by Christ to the Body of the Church and Brotherhood is a Privilege, which the
Church doth Exercise, (1) In choosing their own Officers, whether Elders or Deacons; (2) In admission of Members," nothing was
said in regards to doctrine or worship. "Here, the Pastor is Master of the Assembly, and unless he Preach false Doctrine, or introduce any part, or means of Worship,38 not warranted by the Word of God;
he's Justifiable before all the World by your own Principles."39
Although Symmes ruled out vote by Church (those who were full members), he
did sanction vote by congregation (everyone, whether full members or not,
who attended services). He knew of no precept or precedent for such a vote,
but neither did he know of one opposed to it. A vote by the Congregation,
rather than the Church, seemed more reasonable to him:
For everyone in the Congregation has as much Liberty to Sing, as the Oldest Deacon in the Church, and a good Right to decide
this Question. For, there are a many N[on]communicants of you Anti-Regular-Singers, that know ten times as much about Singing,
and can Sing ten times as well, as any of those of you that are Communicants. And since you'r as much divided about the Persons,
who you suppose have a Right to vote in this Affair, as the Papists, about the Subject of Infallibility; till you'r agreed, who are to
decide the matter by a Vote, it must e'n go Undetermined in any such way.40
III. The Benefits, According to the Proponents of Reform
The knowledge of Regular Singing would allow people to sing psalms at home without depending on a precentor to set the tune.
This was encouraged by the ministry as a means to strengthen families and to help them experience the uplifting qualities of
psalm singing in their daily lives. An additional benefit would be that these families would be regular church attenders and
thus come under the influence of the clergy. This in turn would return the ministers to a place of prominence within the community.
The vacating of the charter after the Glorious Revolution, and the
increasing enforcement of the Act of Toleration (1689), had undermined
their influence and threatened the noble experiment, the City on the Hill,
which had been the basis for the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay
In order to provide families with the knowledge necessary to practice
Regular Singing, ministers recommended schools to teach its principles.
This would also insure that congregations came into conformance with the
Scriptural requirement of singing and praising God in a decent manner.41
Thatcher and the Danforths insisted that everyone was able to learn to sing
by the Rule, no matter what their age. Their statement indicated a division
between the youth and their elders in this matter. Innovations frequently
split the generations and this controversy was no exception. These schools
provided young people with a healthy outlet for their enthusiasm and
provided ministers with an additional forum in which to give guidance. No
one was to be restricted from singing or attending the singing schools.
Even the unconverted could attend the singing schools; indeed, their
participation was encouraged.42
Thomas Walter preached at one such gathering and his sermon was
subsequently published so that others might benefit from it.43 In this sermon
Walter argued that,
Upon the whole we may conclude that Music is not only a Means provided by the God of Nature and the Author of all Religion, to
dispel and drive away the evil influences of Satan, but also to prepare the Soul for the Reception of the Inspiration of the holy
The founders of the colony had come to the wilderness to establish church and state according to the word of God. Thomas Symmes,
in Utile Dulci, showed the Regular Singing movement to be a part of the reforms necessary to maintain the purity of the church.
He gave three instances in the history of Massachusetts to prove his point. The first involved the Cambridge Platform, which
included the use of synods.45 The second was the Half-Way Covenant, which kept the children of covenanted members within the sphere of
church governance, and against which there had been great outcry from "some
Weak People" that it was not valid, as it had not been practiced within
their memory.46 His final point involved the protest against the reformation
of Psalmody, despite the efforts to show "the Reasonableness, Advantage &
Necessity of it."47
There was no final resolution to the debate of Regular Singing versus the Usual Way. Individual congregations contested the
merits and demerits of both and eventually decided the issue by vote within each congregation. By 1740 the public portion of
the debate was eclipsed by the Great Awakening, but the question of music in worship did not subside into oblivion. It would
break out again in the latter part of the 18th century on the questions of what and how to sing. The individual congregations decided
what form their singing would take, if choirs would be formed, whether
instruments would be allowed,48 and if organs would be permitted. In this
area of worship, local autonomy prevailed.
Perhaps the greatest change that occurred as a result of the controversy
was the establishment of singing schools. These served not only as a means
of teaching the art of singing, but also provided a place where the youth of
the community could meet and socialize under the auspices of the church.
They also gave the ministers another forum wherein they could attempt to
influence the youth.
But what about the churches and ministers which started this discussion? The ministers used the controversy as an attempt
to reassert their authority and, indeed, to extend it beyond the bounds of their individual congregations. On the issue of
Regular Singing, they were not successful. The individual churches determined the outcome of the controversy by congregational
voting. The ministers did not necessarily have the influence they might have wished, as the congregations, not the ministers,
settled the issue.
A Brief Discourse Concerning Regular Singing, Shewing from the
Scriptures,The Necessity And Incumbency thereof In The Worship of God.
Boston: Printed by B. Green for John Eliot, 1725.
Chauncey, Nathaniel. Regular Singing Defended, And Proved to be the Only
True Way of Singing the Songs of the Lord; By Arguments both from Reason
and Scripture: Having been Heard and Approved of by the General
Association at Hartford, May the 12th, 1727 with their Recommendation of it
to the Publick. New London, Connecticut: T. Green, 1728.
Dwight, Josiah. An Essay to Silence the Outcry That has been made in
some Places against Regular Singing. In a Sermon Preach'd at Framingham.
Boston: Printed for John Eliot, 1725.
Hammett, John. Promiscuous Singing No Divine Institution. Having
neither President nor Precept to support it, either from the Musical Institution
of David, or from the Gospel Dispensations. Therefore it ought to be exploded,
as being a humane Invention, tending rather to gratify the carnal Ears of Men,
than to be acceptable and pleasing Worship to God. n.p., 1739.
Mather, Cotton. The Accomplished Singer. Instructions First, How the
Piety of Singing With A True Devotion, may be obtained and expressed; the
Glorious God after an uncommon manner Glorified in it, and His People
Edified. And Then, How the Melody of Regular Singing, and the Skill of doing
it, according to the Rules of it, may be easily arrived unto. Boston: Printed by
B. Green, for S. Gerrish, 1721.
[______].A Pacificatory Letter About Psalmody, or Singing of Psalms.
Boston: Printed by J. Franklin, for Benjamin Eliot, 1724.
[________]. Ratio Disciplinae Fratrum Nov-Anglorum. A Faithful
Account of the Discipline Professed and Practiced in the Churches in New
England. With Interspersed and Instructive Reflections on the Discipline of
the Primitive Churches. Boston: S. Gerrish, 1726.
[______]. Singing Sermon, April 18, 1721. In "Cotton Mather's Unpublished
Singing Sermon." The New England Quarterly 48(1975): 410-422.
[Rowe, J]. Singing of Psalms by Seven Constituted Sounds, Opened and
Explained, on the Occasion of Differences in many Congregations, with
Reference to The Old and New Way of Singing Psalms. Composed by a
council of Divines and Musicians, chosen for to mediate the Matter, and make
Means to reconcile the Differences. n. p., 1722
[Symmes, Thomas]. The Reasonableness of Regular Singing, or, Singing by
Note; To Revive the True and Ancient Mode of Singing Psalm-Tunes,
according to the Pattern in our New-England Psalm-Books; the Knowledge
and Practice of which is greatly decay'd in most Congregations. Boston:
Printed by B. Green for Samuel Gerrish, 1720.
[________]. Utile Dulci. Or A Joco Serious Dialogue, Concerning
Regular Singing. Boston: Printed by B. Green for Samuel Gerrish, 1723.
Thatcher, Peter, John Danforth, and Samuel Danforth. An Essay Preached by
Several Ministers of the Gospel For The Satisfaction of their Pious and
Consciencious Brethren, as to Sundry Questions and Cases of Conscience,
Concerning The Singing of Psalms, In the Publick Worship of God, under the
present Evangelical Constitution of the Church-State. Offered to their
Consideration in the Lord. Boston: Printed by S. Kneeland for S. Gerrish, 1723.
Printed with The Ministry of Taunton with Incidental Notices of Other
Professions. 2 volumes. By Samuel Hopkins Emery. Boston: John P. Jewett and
Walter,Thomas. The Sweet Psalmist of Israel. A Sermon Preached at the
Lecture held in Boston, by the Society for promoting Regular and Good
Singing, and for Reforming the Depravations and Debasements our Psalmody
labours under, In order to introduce the proper and true Old Way of Singing.
Boston: Printed by J. Franklin, for S. Gerrish, 1722.
1. The Reasonableness of Regular SingingÖ. (Boston: Printed by B. Green
for Samuel Gerrish, 1720). Symmes has been credited with the authorship of
this sermon by every writer on the subject of Regular Singing whom I read in
the course of researching this topic. The title page, however, only states
that is was "writ by a Minister of the Gospel." There was no name affixed
to either the introduction or the conclusion. The only place in which I
found Rev. Symmes' name, was hand annotated at the bottom of the title page
of the copy of this sermon in the READAX collection (a microfilm library
compiled by the American Antiquarian Society of the works listed in Evan's
2. Thomas Symmes, Utile Dulci. Or a Joco Serious Dialogue, Concernint
Regular Singing: Calculated for a Particular Town, (where it was publickly
had, On Friday Oct. 12, 1722) but may serve some other places in the same
Climate (Boston: Printed by B. Green, for Samuel Gerrish, 1723), 12.
3. "That the whole congregation may join herein, every one that can read is
to have a psalm-book, and all others, not disabled by age or otherwise, are
to be exhorted to learn to read. But for the present, where many in the
congregation cannon read, it is convenient that the minister, or some fit
person appointed by him and the other ruling officers, do read the psalm
line by line before the singing thereof." Quoted in Percy A. Scholes, The
Oxford Companion to Music (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), 501.
See also John Cotton, Singing of Psalms a gospel ordinance (London: Printed
by J. R. Alley, 1650). In the final section, "Touching the manner of
singing," he advocated the practice of lining-out in churches where psalters
were lacking or in which illiteracy was a problem.
4. See The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre.
Whereunto is prefixed a discourse delcaring not only the lawfullness, but
also the necessity of the heavenly Ordinance of singing scripture Psalmes in
the Churches of God. (imprinted 1640; facsimile reprint, Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1956), commonly known as the Bay Psalm Book.
On the final page, following Psalm 150, "An admonition to the Reader" stated:
The verses of these psalmes may be reduced to six kindes, the first whereof
may be sung in very neere fourty common tunes; as they are collected, out of
our chief musicians, by Tho. Ravenscroft.
The second kinde may be sung in three tunes as Ps. 25. 20. & 67. In our
engllish psalm books.
5. Oral tradition is one in which something is repeated by word of mouth
rather than by written means. This includes music which originally may have
been composed and written down but which became part of the folk music of a
region. The International Folk Music Council in 1955 defined folk music as
"Ömusic that has been submitted to the process of oral transmission. It is
the product of evolution and is dependent on the circumstances of
continuity, variation, and selectionÖand it can also be applied to music
which has originated with an individual composer and has subsequently been
absorbed into the unwritten, living tradition of a community. But the term
does not cover a song, dance, or tune that has been taken over ready-made
and remains unchanged. It is the fashioning and re-fashioning of the music
by the community that give it its folk character." (as quoted in Scholes,
The Oxford Companion to Music, 366.
6. For a detailed discussion of this style of singing, see Nicholas
Temperley, "The Old Way of Singing: Its Origins and Development," Journal
of the American Musicological Society 34 (Fall 1981), 511-544.
7. Symes, Utile Dulci, 19.
8. Cotton Mather, The Accomplished Singer: Instructionf First, How the
Piety of Singing With a True Devotion, may be obtained and expressed; the
Glorious God after an uncommon manner Glorified in it, and His People
Edified. And Then, How the Melody of Regular Singing, and the Skill of
doing it, according to the Rules, of it, may be easily arrived unto (Boston:
Printed for B. Green, for S. Gerrish, 1721), 3-5.
9. Ibid., 5.
10. The Reasonableness of Regular SingingÖ, 5.
11. Ibid., 6. As has been noted by many historians and musicologists who
have written on this subject, the music theses mentioned in this sermon were
lost in a fire at Harvard in 1764.
12. Ibid., 14.
13. Symes, Utile Dulci, 11.
14. Ibid., 14-15.
15. Thomas Walter, The Sweet Psalmist of Isreal, third page, pages of
dedication not numbered.
16. Ibid., 6
17. Ibid., 7.
18. John Calvin, "The Epistle to the Reader," in Geneva Psalter as given in
Oliver Strunk, Source Readings in Music History: From Classical Antiquity
through the Romantic Era (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1950)
19. I Chronicles 14:22.
20. See The Reasonableness of Regular Singing, 12; A Pacificatory Letter
About Psalmody, 12; Symmes, Utile Dulci, 53.
21. Anon. (Boston: Printed by B. Green for John Eliot, 1725), 11.
22. Ibid., 11-12.
23. Utile Dulci, 11-12.
24. See The Reasonableness of Regular Singing, 13; also Thatcher, Danforth,
and Danforth, An Essay Preached by Several Ministers of the Gospel For the
Satisfaction of their Pious and Consciencious Brethren, as to SUNDRY
QUESTIONS and Cases of Conscience, Concerning the Singing of Psalms, In the
Publick Worship of God, under the present Evangelical Constitution of the
Church-State. Offered to their Consideration in the Lord (Boston: S.
Kneeland for S. Gerrish, 1723); quoted in Samuel Hopkins Emery, The Ministry
of Taunton with Incidental Notices of Other Professions (Boston: John P.
Jewell and Co., 1852), hereafter cited as Cases of Conscience, 283.
25. Cases of Conscience, 284.
26. Nathaniel Chauncy, Regular Singing Defended, and Proved to be the Only
True Way of Singing the Songs of the Lord; By Arguments both from Reason and
Scripture: having been Heard and Approved of, by the General Association at
Hartford, May the 12th, 1727, with their Recommendation of it to the
Publick, (New London: T. Green, 1728), 2.
27. Ibid., 31.
28. Walter, The Sweet Psalmist of IsrealÖ, 26.
29. Quoted in Ola Elizabeth Winslow, Meetinghouse Hill, 1630-1783 (New York:
W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1972), 159.
30. Ibid., 159.
31. Chauncy, Regular Singing Defended, 10.
32. Ibid., 32-33.
33. Chauncy, 40.
34. Romans 15:5-6. Chauncy used this verse in his defense of Regular
Singing in Regular Singing Defended, 28.
35. A Pacificatory Letter about Psalmody, 7.
36. Ibid., 7.
37. Chauncy, Regular Singing Defended, 29.
38. Symmes, Utile Dulci, 51-52.
39. Ibid., 52.
40. Ibid., 52.
41. The Reasonableness of Regular Singing, 20.
42. Cases of Conscience, Concerning the Singing of Psalms, 281-283.
43. See The Sweet Psalmist of Isreal, the dedicatory letter printed before
the text of the sermon.
44. Ibid., 15.
45. Utile Dulci, 2.
46. Ibid., 3-4.
47. Ibid., 4-5.
48. This started with the use of a pitch pipe, followed by a bass viol to
give support, and eventually (near the end of the 18th century) to the use
of wind and string ensembles. William Billings has generally been credited
with first using a pitch pipe and introducing the bass viol into use in
American churches. See Kenneth Silverman, A Cultural History of the
American Revolution, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 193-194
for a general discussion. See also Grove's Dictionary of Music and
Musicians, s.v. "Church Music" for a more detailed discussion.