rapid introduction of boy choirs in our Episcopal churches
during the past few years has been so general throughout the
country, taking the place of the conventional quartet and chorus
choir, that reflective musical students have tried to find some
cause for it. Ritualism
has been assigned by some; while others have ascribed it to the
fact that so many of our people spend their summer vacations in
England, where the surpliced boy choir is almost universal,
especially in the cathedrals and larger parish churches, and we
have a tendency to copy English ways.
We think that Ritualism has little or nothing to do with
this change; for in England the boy choirs are as universally
found in churches and cathedrals where there is an utter lack of
anything like high ritual in the service, - they have been
employed for years, and during all this time there has been no
appreciable change in the nature of conducting the service. Even in this country, choirs of boys and men, unsurpliced, have been employed in many
churches; and at Appleton Chapel at Harvard College a boy choir
has been introduced to render the service for the daily prayers
and the weekly vesper service, to the great satisfaction of the
president, faculty, and the large congregation of students and
others who enjoy the services.
Certainly, Appleton Chapel would be the last place where
any one would expect to find anything in the way of ritualism
connected with its services; and so the question arises, in this
case as in that of hundreds of churches throughout the country: Why was the boy choir introduced to supplant the quartet and
We think that the reason lies in this fact, that earnest
people are more and more demanding distinctive church music,
distinctively rendered, - distinctive in its form, like the
architecture of the building in which it is performed.
No one would mistake Cologne Cathedral for a town hall or
court house. So no
one ought to mistake a church anthem for an opera chorus, or a
secular part song. Music
written for the church should bear the church stamp.
In any case, let it be distinctive, something, the like
of which one will not be likely to hear at the opera house or
concert hall. There
should not enter into sacred music anything of a frivolous
character; nor should it suffer from haphazard construction.
It demands strict form as alone suited to its dignity and
gravity. This is
not supposing that to be dignified it must be heavy, or to be
grave it must be melancholy.
We must have strictness of form to set it apart from the
lighter uses to which a style less severe is adapted.
Technical strictness of form is certainly not any
hindrance to grace or sweetness, any more than the bony
structure of the human form is to the marvellous beauty of the
most illustrious examples, or the severity of mathematical
accuracy and strictness of scientific principles to the highest
beauty in architecture.
Cooper, St. Paul's Church, Kenwood, Chicago
general desire for distinctive church music is a natural
outcome, after many years during which suffering congregations
have been racked and tortured with church music, so called, of
no character whatever; transcriptions of operatic selections;
and music written in order for quartet choirs, giving in turn
each voice of the quartet a solo, with no pretence to any form
of artistic construction, according to the rules and canons of
the choral art, followed by the best writers of church music.
As a natural result, such compositions are fragmentary in
their construction, and entirely unacceptable to the cultivated
musical ear. As a
reaction from all this, the demand seems to have been, as we
have stated, for distinctive church music.
As we have no distinctive American school of church music
in this country, we naturally turn to the mother country, to
England, where a distinctive style of music has prevailed for
years. The many
cathedrals throughout the country have called for organists and
composers of acknowledged ability, to whom the whole religious
world is indebted for services and anthems of the very highest
order; which, being introduced into our churches, have been the
means in many places of driving out the flimsy compositions and
so-called sacred music which before prevailed.
there is a distinctive school of church music in England, no one
would doubt who has ever frequented the English churches; and we
are indebted to it, in a large measure, for the great advance
which we have made in the matter of religious music.
We trust the time is not far distant when there will be
in this country an American school of church music as well,
similar to that which exists in the mother land.
Although we have no churches and cathedrals established
by the state, in which the merits of original compositions by
American composers can be at once recognized; yet the time has
come when we should make a beginning in this important field of
we have also learned from our English cousins that distinctive
church music naturally calls for a distinctive choir
to perform it, a choir which one will not be likely to hear the
next day in the concert-room or opera house.
In this way we have distinctive church music,
To this cause, rather than to ritualism or anything else,
is due the fact of the introduction of boy choirs so extensively
in this country.
church music has gone beyond the bounds of the Episcopal Church,
and been taken up by the many other religious bodies, its
distinctive merits being at once recognized; we find English
anthems and English hymn tunes in the musical publications and
hymn-books of Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists.
English organist occupies a much more exalted position than that
of his brother organist in America.
Usually a graduate of some college or university, his
position as a musical authority is at once recognized in the
town or city where he resides.
The cathedral organist often starts as a chorister in the
cathedral where he afterwards may have charge of the music,
going meanwhile to Oxford or Cambridge, where he pursues his
academic and musical studies.
He may have as a fellow-student, one who, pursuing the
theological course, will obtain his doctor’s degree, and
eventually may become Dean of the very cathedral where he
himself may afterwards be installed as organist.
In this way, beginning his musical career as a choir boy,
afterwards receiving instruction on the organ from the cathedral
organist, occasionally substituting at a service, and eventually
becoming deputy-organist, later on pursuing the higher musical
studies of musical theory and composition, his final success as
a church musician is assured from the start.
We have only to cite such men as Stainer, Barnby,
Sullivan, and others in proof of what results from the thorough
training which English organists receive to fit them for the
various positions which they afterwards occupy.
utter contrast to this, the American organist assumes his
position oftentimes with little or no training at all worthy of
the name. He may
have had instruction on the pianoforte, and possibly a few
lessons on the organ, but it often happens that he takes up his
work with no adequate preparation for it whatever.
This state of affairs has improved very much in the last
few years, certainly very much since the time long ago, when the
organ was first placed in King’s Chapel.
of the Madeleine
is a matter of history that an organist was advertised for, to
come out from England to take the position there, and it was
suggested that it would be very much to his advantage if he had
some other trade, like that of barber, or some similar
occupation, to enable him to augment his stipend.
Oftentimes in the past persons have been employed as
organists who played during the week at theatres and concert
halls. Of course,
such persons could have no possible sympathy with the religious
service, nor any adequate idea of its musical requirements, and
it is a matter of little wonder that there has often been a
certain antagonism between the two departments of the church,
the pulpit and the organ-loft.
The occupants of these two positions in the church were
naturally as far apart in their ideas of church service as were
their relative positions in the church building; and the
clergyman was often obliged to watch the organist, lest he
should introduce some irreverent or secular adaptations of music
into the services. The introduction of boy choirs into our churches, by bringing
the organist and choristers into the chancel, has done away with
the antagonism which before existed and made the musical
services to supplement the efforts of the clergyman, in giving
to the congregation a musical service where everything is in
harmony and in keeping with the place and occasion.
It has also made a demand for organists of much greater
ability, and greater knowledge of church music, voice culture,
choir training, etc., than has existed in the past. The result is so noticeable in the past few years, that
persons proposing to qualify themselves as organists have felt
the need of greater care in preparing themselves than was
formerly the case.
cannot hope to cope with England in the matter of church music,
so long as we have no cathedral churches where the organist
receives a sufficient stipend to enable him to give almost his
entire time to the preparation of the music for the daily
services. Only one church occurs to us, viz., Trinity, New York, where
the salary of the organist at all compares with that of one
holding a similar position in England.
There will be a grand opportunity whenever the proposed
cathedral in New York is completed, to inaugurate the system of
daily morning and evening services throughout the year, with the
necessary daily choir practice.
The result of the establishment of daily matins and
evensong in a great cathedral like the one to be erected in New
York will be felt throughout the length and breadth of the land.
Meanwhile it behooves every organist and choir master to
exert himself to the utmost to improve the music in the choirs
already in existence. In
this connection, it seems rather unfair for persons visiting
England, and hearing the various excellent choirs to be found
everywhere there, to depreciate our own choirs in comparison, on
their return from abroad. It
would be wrong to expect that a choir in this country, that is
only obliged to sing at two services during the week, could
possibly hope to compare favorably with a choir that sings twice
every day, with the necessary daily practice.
Nevertheless, it has often been the case that Englishmen
visiting this country have had occasion to speak of the
attainments of some of our choirs in terms of the highest
praise. A professor
of Cambridge University (England), who was present at an Easter
service in a prominent church in one of our large cities,
remarked to a friend that no better service could be heard in
all England. Such
commendation of our musical advancement should be an
encouragement to every choir master and organist to persevere in
the work of raising the standard of church music in this
country. In this
way will he prove his right to occupy the exalted position which
has been given him in the church, as the clergyman’s most
style of music which prevails in English churches is the result
of years of growth, from the earliest composers of that country
who wrote for the church, down to the present time; and although
there may have been times past when compositions, written for
the church by these old English composers, may have been open to
the charge of being pedantic in their style and lacking in
originality, the productions of the modern English composers,
such as Stainer, Calkin, Tours, Stanford, and others equally
distinguished, would not warrant such criticism. With a broader musical education, these modern composers have
been greatly influenced by the modern trend of musical
composition in all departments of the art, and as a result the
services and anthems which they have given to the church are
worthy of the admiration of all English-speaking people.
A friend once said to me, as I was taking my departure
from London for the Continent, “You will bid good-by to church
music until you return here.”
And this was strictly true; for although in Paris and
other cities on the Continent I heard many services great in
their way, none impressed me as being so thoroughly devotional,
and so far removed from secular music, as the music which I
heard in England. It
seemed like getting back home to go down to St. Paul’s once
more, and hear the beautiful service there, in all its dignity
of the Advent, Boston, in Recessional
of the Advent, Boston
word may be said just here with regard to adaptations of masses
written for the Romish Church being introduced into the English
and American churches, especially on the greater festivals.
The principal reason for their use seems
to be the fact that an elaborate service is thus secured with
orchestral accompaniment. Many
of these services are written in a very florid style, with
elaborate solos, - written with no idea of their ever being sung
by a boy soprano. The result is, that it often seems to be a makeshift not
altogether satisfactory. We
must except the services of Gounod, which are much more
susceptible to this adaptation, and seem to fit into an English
service with much greater propriety than the more florid
compositions of Schubert, Weber, and others. For several years past, such orchestral services have been
heard at the Church of the Advent, in Boston, on the greater
festivals, through the liberality of a wealthy parishioner who
has taken great interest in church music, and in the boy choir
movement in particular, and made it possible to have these
elaborate services, to the great satisfaction of the many
worshippers who are always present on those occasions.
It behooves the English and the American composer to give
to the church, services similar to those mentioned, written with
orchestral accompaniment, so that the churches may not be
dependent on foreign sources for music on these greater
the days when quartette choirs prevailed, there seemed to be a
general complaint that the choir appropriated the entire music
of the services, so that the congregation was obliged to remain
silent, even in the singing of the hymns.
The simpler music used when the boy choirs were first
introduced, made it possible for the congregation to supplement
their efforts, thus making the services more congregational.
But as time went on, the music written for the choir
gradually became more elaborate, so that it was feared by many
that the old state of affairs had returned, and that the
congregation would again be deprived of its right to be heard in
the service. The
question as to how much of the musical part of the services the
choir can justly appropriate to itself is one which is
constantly recurring, and so much has been written about this
whole matter of congregational singing, that it is only
necessary to dwell upon it for a moment.
It ought never to be forgotten that the office of music
in religious worship is twofold, - not only to express but
also to excite devotion; and the devout worshipper can
often be moved and made better as much by hearing an anthem as a
sermon. Let the
humble worshipper join in all parts of the service where he can
render intelligent assistance, but let him remember that
as the spire of the great church towers aloft, far above the
choir transcepts and nave, so it is given to the trained choir
to soar aloft far above and beyond, to heights where the great
congregation cannot expect to follow.
But let the congregation, listening in reverent silence,
be moved to greater devotion, and thank God for the exceptional
musical gifts vouchsafed to the few, through denied to the
can be no greater model for a church service than Bach’s
Passion Music, written as it is for trained soloists, a trained
chorus, and the great congregation, when those mighty chorales
occur, in which each and every worshipper is supposed to join,
thus making a service in which all the known resources of the
musical art are brought into play.
From The New England Magazine.
April 1892. Vol. VI, No. 2
Spellings have been left intact
as written by the author.