Surpliced Boy Choirs in America [1]

 By S. B. Whitney

 

The 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 [2] , 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 chorus?

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.

This 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.

That 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 music.

But 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, distinctively rendered.  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.

English 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.

The 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.

In 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.

It 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.

We 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 worthy assistant.

The 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 and impressiveness.

A 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 festivals.

In 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 multitude.  There 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.

We come now to the matter of voice culture.  It may seem a strange thing to say that a boy’s voice naturally is not musical; but it is true, nevertheless, except in rare instances.  A boy when first asked to sing, or make a musical sound, is very apt to do it, “straight out from the shoulder,” with the same tone that he would use in shouting to a companion in the street, certainly with the same location of tone, and that location the throat.  It is often the wiser course, in beginning with such a boy, to make him take a comparatively high note, as softly as he can sing it, then the one next below, gradually going down the scale.  Until boys have learned properly to locate their tones, they should never be allowed to sing an upward scale, for the very reason, that the idea cannot be got out of the mind of the youthful chorister that the high notes are a little beyond his reach, and consequently require more and more exertion, as the scale proceeds upward.  By beginning at the top, on the contrary, with a soft head tone, and working down, a very even scale is soon produced, with no perceptible break.  Of course, all singing at this stage must be done very softly, until the voice is located, so that the tone proceed from the mouth rather than from the throat.  Constant daily practice will so strengthen the voice, that, to use the boy’s expression, he will be able in time “to make as much noise as he did before,” - and certainly a very different kind of noise, resembling the tones of a flute rather than those of a street newsboy, shouting his papers.  Different syllables are used by choir masters in first locating the voice.  It has often been found that the syllable “who” will place the tone in the mouth, when other syllables like “la” and “ah” fail of accomplishing this result.  It is much better to cultivate the voice downward, thus giving a pure and bell-like tone to the whole scale, rather than upward; for otherwise, as the voice ascends, the temptation is, to carry the chest tones up as far as possible, and then a decided break will occur resulting from the changes to the head tone.  In singing downward, the head tone so modifies the chest tone in the lower part of the voice that, as before said, a perfectly even scale will result, with no perceptible break.  After the voice is properly located, and it has become a matter of habit to produce the tones of the scale correctly, it will be perfectly safe to try the upward scale; indeed, it is an advantage at this state to do so, using the syllables do, re, mi,  etc., exaggerating the lip motion, to assist in clear enunciation of the words; and to prevent that mouthing of words so common in many choir boys, whose lips never seem to move either in Chant or Te Deum; unless the congregation is informed beforehand what particular anthem or canticle is being performed, it will never be able to find out from anything which is heard.  It is one thing to be able to sing with the syllables, la, ah, or who, and quite another to be able to enunciate words with the same tone of voice.  The exaggerated lip motion that we have mentioned will be very likely to accomplish this good result.  The upward scale singing will have a tendency to give greater fulness to the lower part of the voice, without impairing its quality.  Whereas, the constant singing of the downward scale, without some qualifying exercise like this, will in the end be liable to produce a hollow and disagreeable tone on the low notes.  If a boy’s voice is thoroughly placed and even, and he is taught to produce his tone in his mouth, he will never, except in rare instances, be known to sing flat; whereas if he uses his throat unduly he will be constantly “pulling up,” from the lower to a higher pitch, often falling a little short of the proper intonation, and, consequently, will be very liable to sing flat.  Of course the condition of the atmosphere has also much to do with the flatting so often heard in choirs.  No body of singers can hope to keep the pitch for any length of time, in a cold church, or in a cold room; a damp, muggy atmosphere is also apt to be fatal to correct intonation.  But, under favorable conditions, choirs can be so trained as to be able to sing an anthem or canticle of considerable length unaccompanied without falling from the pitch.  It is a capital idea for choir masters to have many parts of the service, like the versicles, responses, and amens, sung unaccompanied; and oftentimes many verses of the psalter can be thus treated.  In this way a choir will gain an independence, and be made to feel that it can sing as well without the organ as with.  For the same reason, it is much better to have all rehearsals in the choir room with only piano accompaniment, occasionally going to the organ when some elaborate service is to be produced.  In most of the English cathedrals, the organ is never used in the service on Friday, in order to make a difference in the music of that day, being a fast day.  This is a capital practice for the choir, from a musical point of view as well, for a choir that is independent enough to sing a whole service without the organ on one day of the week, will be able to do so on any other day, and thus this same kind of independence can be brought about.

The many beautiful voices heard in English choirs has led many persons to think that their great excellence is due to the difference in climate, between England and America.  This is evidently a mistake, for as the matter of vocal culture in becoming better understood by the choir masters of this country, it is found that our American boys are as capable of producing a pure musical tone as the English lad.  In fact, it is a matter of remark among our organists when abroad, that they never hear soloists there who compare for a moment with such American soloists as Coker, Brandon, Forbush, Kavanaugh, or Bond.  These boys, of course, were exceptional boys in their time, and had exceptional training; but they were American boys, of whom we have been very proud.  In recurring for a moment to the comparison of our own with the English choirs, it must not be forgotten that travellers usually hear the very best of English choirs, both in cathedrals and in the larger parish churches.  But many of the choirs in the parish churches fall very much below the standard of attainment which the daily practice and daily service gives to these, and it would be a very easy matter to find choirs in England that fall very much below the average of our best choirs here.  Most of the choir masters in this country have a probationer’s class, into which is placed every new boy who applies to sing.  He is there taught to produce his tones properly, to read music, to chant, and to become familiar with the church service.  Then when a vacancy in the choir occurs, it is always understood that the boy best qualified will have the position.  In this way, the boys are placed upon their mettle, and it is an incentive for them to do their best.  It is always well to have boys of different ages in a choir, so that, as their voices change, they will gradually drop out one at a time.  Were the boys of a choir all of the same age, or nearly the same, when the time came for a change of voice to occur, the choir would suddenly collapse so far as the altos and sopranos are concerned.  Even with the present plan it is not always possible to avoid the difficulty arising from having several boys lose their voices at about the same time.  This is owing to the fact that some boys mature at a much earlier age than others; while one boy may lose his voice at the age of thirteen, another may be able to sing until past seventeen; in fact, there was a noted solo boy in Boston, who was in his eighteenth year before losing his soprano voice.

The so-called public school training which boys receive is often found to be more of a detriment than an advantage, so far as their usefulness in the choir is concerned.  A good share of the time devoted to music practice is taken up in teaching them to read music; and even with the best systems in use in our schools it requires between two and three years for the scholars to become proficient readers, so that very little time is left before the change of voice occurs, in which they can be useful in the choir.  But the boy chorister learns little of nothing in the way of vocal culture at school.  The music teacher in many cases is only able to visit the school once or twice a month.  The school teacher supervises the daily practice, so far as she may be able to do so; but she is often one not musical by nature or training, and although she may endeavor to do her duty faithfully, the result is still anything but satisfactory.  If a boy has a naturally prominent voice, he is urged on to lead the others, - which he often does to destruction, so far as musical tone is concerned.  It is next to impossible for a boy to obtain in this way any adequate vocal training,  The choir boys are often cautioned by their choir masters to sing very softly at the school practice; or, better, not to sing at all.  It has become quite the custom in some of the larger churches, especially in the West, to have large choirs of fifty, seventy-five, and even a hundred voices; but this has never been found necessary in the churches abroad, through their church buildings are very much larger than ours, and the conventional cathedral choir will hardly ever number more than thirty or forty voices.  The choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, numbers fifty-four voices, thirty-six boys and eighteen men.  If this choir is adequate for a church that can easily seat six or eight thousand people, certainly, we have no call for choirs in this country numbering over thirty voices.  The excuse for large numbers is that a boy’s voice by cultivation becomes softer, and therefore the more cultivated it becomes the greater will be the number of choristers required; certainly a mistaken idea, for, as we have mentioned, in all preliminary vocal practice the young chorister is cautioned to sing softly, yet when the voice is thoroughly established and located, constant daily practice will soon make it as full and strong as it ever was before; besides, now it is a musical voice, and a musical tone will travel farther than a mere noise.  The most noted and effective choirs, either in England or on the Continent, are, comparatively speaking, small choirs.  The Choir Festivals, which have been held so numerously in this country in the past few years, have been of no little service in introducing music of the highest order and merit, and they have also been the means of introducing the boy choir where it was almost unheard of before.  The annual Choir Festival, which has been held in the diocese of Vermont, for instance, in the past fourteen years, has not only raised the standard of music throughout the state, but has also been instrumental in the establishment of several boy choirs.  This is quite remarkable, when one considers the fact that there are no large towns in that state, and it has been thought that it would be next to impossible to establish and maintain a boy choir in a city of less than fifty thousand inhabitants.  But, although there is not a city in Vermont with this number of inhabitants, very good choirs may now be found there in towns of less than ten thousand inhabitants.  The Choir Festivals are of great use to the choirs in the smaller towns in many ways.  The best of music is selected by the committees in charge; it is then distributed among the different choirs, and the work of practice begins.  Later on, the precentor holds separate rehearsals with the different choirs, and then come the two or three general rehearsals before the festival.  Thus the choirs have good music placed in their hands, and are taught how properly to render it, so that they can afterwards successfully produce it, in the various churches.

It is the custom in this country, in churches where boy choirs are employed, to begin the service with a processional hymn, which the choir sings as it marches from the choir room to its place in the chancel.  This custom of “singing themselves into their seats” as it is sometimes called, is quite unknown in England, the choirs in most of the churches there merely marching in while the opening voluntary is being played.  They often have in some of the higher churches there, however, a function which they call the solemn procession, in which the choir and clergy, starting from the chancel, move down the centre aisle, and around the various other aisles of the church.  The litany is thus sung in some churches in this country.  It may not be generally known that litanies were intended to be sung in this way, the clergy and choir marching around various parts of the great cathedral, in order to get within nearer reach of each worshipper.  Litanies have been sung in a similar manner about the streets of a city, especially in time of pestilence, the Church thus coming to the people to carry the consolations of religion, when it was well-nigh impossible for the people to come to the Church.  It is a beautiful thing to see, as well as to hear, a well-trained choir singing the processional hymn as it goes marching up through the midst of the congregation, followed by the clergy and headed by the cross, illustrating as it does the march of Christianity through the world, and coming more into touch with the great body of worshippers.  It is a great incentive to congregational singing, for which reason the choir should always march up the centre aisle when it is possible, rather than enter by a side door.

It may be a matter of surprise to many to learn, that we have on undoubted authority, that boy choirs are not a modern innovation.  In the accounts of St. Michael’s Church, Charleston, S.C. [South Carolina] [3] , there has been found a bill for “washing the surplices of the clergy and children.”  This was in the year 1798.  In 1807, the organist of the same church was requested to have at least twelve boys in the choir, that being the same number then employed in the English Cathedral.  At Trinity Church, New York, in 1733, before an organ was placed in the church, a Mr. Man is mentioned as the person who “officiated in setting and singing the psalms,” that is the metrical version by Tate and Brady, which was ordered to supersede the older version by Sternhold and Hopkins, as early as 1704.  In 1741, an organ having been erected in the church, it was “ordered that the churchwardens pay to Mr. Eldridge, the sums of five pounds, for his care and pains in having the children taught to sing psalms, etc.”  The choristers were the children of the Episcopal Charity School, accompanied by the organ, led and drilled by an individual called the “chorister.”  Sometimes, on great occasions, and anthem was sung, but very rarely, the performers being gentlemen amateurs, who volunteered their services for this purpose.  We are told that on the 15th of January, 1761, an anthem was performed on the death of his late “Sacred Majesty” (King George the II.), the chorus being composed of the boys of the Charity School.  These boys were not vested, but wore the old Charity School regulation suit of blue coats and knee breeches with brass buttons, a dress which still lingers in many of the old towns of England.  At the funeral of the Rev. Dr. Barclay, rector of Trinity Church, in August, 1764, the children of the Charity School marched at the head of the procession singing a hymn.  This is supposed to be the first instance on record of a processional hymn being sung in public in this country.  In the year 1818, the clerks of Trinity Church, St. Paul’s, and St. John’s Chapels, Trinity Parish, New York, were ordered by the vestry to assist in instructing the congregations in Psalmody, under the direction of the then rector, afterwards Bishop Hobart.  This seems not to have been a satisfactory arrangement, and endeavors were made to establish choirs in the different churches; but there was so much trouble in their formation, that the vestry of the parish decided to have some boys properly instructed in singing, and in June, 1874, a committee reported that a school for choristers had been in operation nearly six months, and that the boys “have the best of daily teaching and practice in music.”  The committee added, that “It will require a year and probably longer to get a set of boys fully prepared, after which there will be a regular succession of boys, and it is believed they may then be a substitute for female singers.”

From Christ’s Church, Philadelphia, we learn that Miss Clifford, in 1816, bequeathed a sum of money to be applied to “teaching six boys, as a choir to sing in Christ Church.”  There is no mention of these choristers being vested.  To the Rev. Dr. Francis L. Hawkes we owe the establishment of the first vested choir in the North.  This was at St. Thomas Hall, Flushing, L.I. [Long Island, New York], in the year 1841; and we are informed that the fact of Dr. Hawkes having established this vested choir defeated his election to the bishopric of Mississippi.  In describing the chapel at Flushing, the Rev. Dr. Mead, who opposed the consecration of Dr. Hawkes, gave the following description of it”  “There was a choir and splendid organ.  The little boys, the choristers, went into a vestry-room, each took down his white surplice from a peg, and ten or fifteen entered the choir and chanted the service of the church.”  This was the only instance of the use of the surplice in this way that he had ever known.  We are told that at this description, “there was considerable of a sensation, and much surprise was evinced.”  In reply, Dr. Hawkes gave his version of the matter, and said, “The new chapel was a small building, fifty by thirty feet, with a chancel capable of accommodating some two hundred people.  Now, with regard to the surpliced choir, music was taught at the hall on account of its moral influence.  I had trained a choir of boys, who often went to New York, where the congregations were much pleased to hear them sing.  It was true that the boys had on their white surplices, after the manner of the singing boys of the Church of England;” and, said Dr. Hawkes, “I take great pride and delight in them.”  This was too much, however, for the conservatism of the time, and Dr. Hawkes lost his election to the See of Mississippi.  A short time after this, the rector of a parish in Ohio, the Rev. Mr. Tate of Columbus, endeavored to establish a vested choir of men and boys, and the result was that he was driven from the diocese and threatened with deposition from the ministry.

Trinity Parish, New York, was organized in 1697.  The employment of boys in this church to lead the singing dates from about 1710.  In 1709, the parish founded the Charity School, the boys of which sang at some of the special services, as has been mentioned.  After the great fire of 1776, which destroyed church and school, the latter was moved up town, and the attendance of the boys doubtless ceased.  The church then built was in its turn taken down, to make way for the present structure, completed and opened in 1846.  A fine organ was built by Henry Erben, and an English organist, Dr. Edward Hodges, appointed.  The choir boys had been trained by Dr. Hodges, and from this time, boys have served continuously in the choir, at first in conjunction with a double quartet and mixed chorus, all in the organ gallery at the west end.  In 1858, Dr. S. H. Cutler succeeded Dr. Hodges, and in the following year the boy choir was placed in the chancel and the feminine element finally dropped.  Choir vestments were not worn until a year later.  In 1866, Dr. A. H. Messiter was appointed organist, and in June of last year, 1891, the twenty-fifth anniversary of his appointment was celebrated by a service, at which Gounod’s Orphčoniste Mass for men’s voices was sung by a hundred and twenty-five past and present members of the choir.  The regular choir numbers thirty-five, eighteen boys and seventeen men, about two-thirds of whom are paid salaries.  The service music used is chiefly English, the anthems from all sources; and at the principal festivals the classical Masses of Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, etc., are sung, the service of Ascension Day being accompanied by a complete orchestra and the choir largely increased.  The church contains two organs, a large one in the west gallery and a smaller one in the chancel; both are used at Sunday services, and are not mechanically connected, the assistant organist, Mr. Victor Baier, usually playing on the large organ, which is used for voluntaries and occasionally in the service.  The choir of Old Trinity is so well known throughout the country, on account of the reputation it has always maintained for its admirable performance of church music, that extended comment here would be superfluous.

The choir of Trinity Chapel, West Twenty-Fifth Street, New York, was ordered to be vested by the Trinity Church corporation, in March, 1866, but it does not appear that the vestments were worn until the first Sunday in May of that year.  This choir is well known as one of the most important of the Trinity Church corporation, and has for the last twenty-two years been under the direction of Dr. Walter B. Gilbert, the well-known organist and composer, whose music is sung in many of our churches.  If he had never written anything else, he would certainly be entitled to the thanks of all good church people for having given us the beautiful music of the hymn, “Pleasant Are Thy Courts Above.”  The choir of Trinity Chapel consists of thirty-two members, twenty boys, and twelve men, and during the entire time of its existence it has performed the music of the daily service throughout the year.

One of the celebrated choirs in New York is that of St. John’s Chapel, Varrick Street.  This is another chapel of the Trinity corporation.  The choir was vested for the first time in September, 1866.  The organist and choir master is Mr. George F. LeJeune [4] .  This was one of the first choirs to give a special monthly musical evening service.  These services became so popular, that is was well-nigh impossible to gain admission to the church without going some time in advance of the hour appointed for the beginning of the service.  The most elaborate selections of music, from the oratorios and other sources, were given with the most perfect finish so far as the execution of the music was concerned; and by Mr. LeJeune’s method of training the voices of his choristers, a peculiar quality of tone resulted, quite different from that produced by any other choirmaster in the city.

The choir of St. Chrysostom’s Chapel in one of which the Trinity corporation may well be proud.  This choir is the one usually chosen to supplement that of Dr. Messiter’s choir on the great festival of Ascension Day.  It is thus to be set down to the credit of old Trinity, that three of the first churches to properly and permanently establish boy choirs belong to that venerable parish.

The choir of the Church of the Heavenly Rest, Fifth Avenue and 45th Street [New York], has been in charge of Mr. Henry Carter for some three or four years.  Mr. Carter has been an organist for forty-five years, having begun at the age of nine as organist to the Rev. Sir John Seymour, father of the present Admiral Seymour.  He was at one time organist of the English cathedral at Quebec.  Later on he had charge of the choir of the Church of the Advent, Boston, and during his administration the choir was very much improved and some fine soloists were brought out, among them being Masters Willie Breare, John Laster, Arthur Buttrick, and Fred Sayer, who were soloists of the first order.  A most interesting musical performance was at this time given by the choir in Music Hall, Boston; Dr. Cutler, who was then at Trinity, New York, coming on, and bringing with him his solo boys, Richard Coker, Theodore Toedt, Ehrlich, and Granden; with the accompaniment of the then newly imported great organ, the effect was grand.  After being for a short time at St. Stephen’s, Providence [Rhode Island], Mr. Carter, in 1873, joined the musical staff at Trinity Church, New York, playing the great organ in the gallery, where he remained seven years.  At the Church of the Heavenly Rest he found a choir without soloists, and in fact without one satisfactory voice; but with good results he has brought forward Masters Edward Baker, Frank Osborne, Harry Gibbs, and Winfred Young, who have made their mark as soloists.

The Cathedral choir at Garden City, L.I. [Long Island, New York], has made quite a reputation for itself under the able direction of Dr. W. H. Woodcock, who has had great success in producing a beautiful pure tone from his choristers, and a certain finish in the execution of church music that has attracted many people to Garden City.  One of the finest solo boys who have been heard in or about New York in late years was the soloist of this choir, Master Fred Forbush, who not only had a most beautiful voice, but was so thoroughly musical in his nature that he sang like a young artist.  There seem to have been a succession of fine solo boys at this cathedral; one of them, after leaving the choir, sang in a church in New York at a salary of nine hundred dollars, probably the largest salary ever paid to a boy soloist, certainly in this country.

The present choir of St. James’s Church, New York, was organized May 1st, 1886; before that date the music was rendered by a quartet of men and women, reinforced by a small chorus of boys.  The boy singers, however, in the days of the old quartet, did not take much interest in their work, and left most of the singing to be done by the men and women.  Since May, 1886, only boy sopranos have been used.  The choir has become famous, chiefly through the purity of tone developed in all the boys’ voices.  In November, 1886, the choir commenced giving recitals of standard oratorios and cantatas.  The performance of these works elicited the strongest commendations from the musical public at large; not only were people of the Episcopal Church attracted to the services, but many came to hear the choir from other denominations.  Among the works sung have been Haydn’s “Creation,” Gaul’s “Holy City,” Sullivan’s “Prodigal Son,” Barnby’s “Rebekah,” Spohr’s “Last Judgment,” Stainer’s “Daughter of Jairus,” Weber’s “Jubilee Cantata,” Handel’s “Messiah,” Mendelssohn’s “Lauda Sion,” Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” Gounod’s “Gallia,” Gaul’s “Ten Virgins,” Garrett’s “Shunamite,” Stainer’s “Crucifixion,” Arnold’s “Song of the Redeemed,” Garrett’s “Harvest Cantata,” and the “Two Advents.”  All of these works have been sung complete, with the exception of the larger oratorios.  The choir enjoys the distinction of being the only choir in this country, which has ever had special cantatas composed expressly for it.  Dr. Arnold, of Winchester Cathedral, England, composed the “Song of the Redeemed”; and Dr. Garrett, of the University of Cambridge, wrote the “Two Advents” for St. James’s choir.  Other works from foreign authors will probably follow in due time.  The fact that the choir has rendered works of such importance, in a manner acknowledged by all to be equal to the singing of choral societies generally, has done much in New York City to vindicate the ability of boys to sing difficult music as well as women.

The choir of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Madison Avenue, has been very much improved since it has come under the direction of Mr. H. W. Parker, the well-known organist and composer.  This choir often unites with the Garden City choir in special festival services held alternately at Garden City and in the Church of the Holy Trinity; and Mr. Parker’s choir has supplemented the mixed chorus of the Church Choral Society, in some notable performances which have been given, with orchestral accompaniment, under the direction of Mr. Richard Henry Warren, Mr. Parker presiding at the organ.

There are many fine choirs in Brooklyn, and on the occasion of the Brooklyn Choir Festival, which occurs annually, a wonderful chorus of over six hundred voices is to be heard; the singers filling up the entire body of the church where the festival is held.  Here is something to see as well as hear, - a congregation robed in white, and congregational singing of elaborate anthems and services and hymns, the performance of which is impressive in the highest degree.

The Church of the Advent, in Boston, was the first church in that city to employ boy choristers in the choir, and the first church in New England in which a vested choir appeared.  This church, beginning in an “upper room” on Causeway Street, subsequently removed to a church building on Green Street, thence to Bowdoin Street, afterwards to the beautiful church on the corner of Mount Vernon and Brimmer Streets.  In the early days of the parish the music was under the management of several gentlemen, constituting a music committee, who filled the position of organist from among their own number.  In 1852 a choir of boys was introduced by the Rev. Dr. Croswell, but they were not vested until some years later under the Rev. Dr. James A. Bolles.  The first professional organist was Dr. Steven Henry Cutler, a thoroughly competent and well educated church musician, whom we have already mentioned in connection with the establishment of the boy choir at old Trinity, New York.  Mr. Edward Mattson succeeded Dr. Cutler, after a short interval, during which a parishioner presided at the organ.  During Mr. Mattson’s administration the choir attained notable excellence as regards the individual voices of its members.  On the departure of Mr. Mattson his place was filled by Mr. Henry Carter, an English organist of rare ability, of whose work in training the choir and developing rare solo talent I have already spoken.  On his leaving Boston to become the organist at St. Stephen’s, Providence, [Rhode Island], many of his choristers followed him, which left the choir in a sad condition for his successor,  Mr. Hermann Daum, who found it uphill work, through ably assisted in the training of the boys by Mr. William H. Daniell, who was the first to fill the independent position of choir master.  Mr. Daum was succeeded by Mr. William J. Coles, a young man of remarkable talent and promise, but on account of failing health he was soon obliged to give up the position.  The Rev. Joseph W. Hill was now appointed choir master, and the writer took the position of organist.  Marked changes were made in the character of the services.  Some of the greater masses of Gounod, Schubert, and Mozart were sung for the first time; given first with piano accompaniment and afterward with a small orchestra to supplement the organ.  In 1882, Mr. Hill went to old Trinity, New York, and the writer took full charge of the music as organist and choir master.  The last Sunday in November, 1891 (the first Sunday in Advent), being the twentieth anniversary of his incumbency as organist of the church, was celebrated by a special service, in which many past as well as present members of the choir took part, making a notable chorus; the music sung being the Mass for male voices (Orphčoniste Mass) by Gounod, the same music that was sung at the twenty-fifth anniversary of Dr. Messiter in New York.  Among the notable soprano soloists brought out in the choir in the past few years have been Fred Bond, who had a phenomenal voice, Fred Rimbach, Edwin Warring, Hartwell Staples, Peter Delehanty, and Eugene Storer.  The acoustical properties of the new Church of the Advent are exceptional, and the organ is one of the finest instruments in the country.  As before stated, on the greater festivals, a large and effective orchestra is always employed, - the players being taken largely from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, - through the liberality of Mr. J. Montgomery Sears, a gentleman who has always taken the greatest interest in the boy choir movement, and who at his own expense established some years since, and still maintains, a fine choir at Trinity Church, Marlborough, Massachusetts.  The influence which has always been exerted by the Church of the Advent, as a pioneer church in matters of church music, especially during the administrations of Dr. Cutler, Mr. Carter, and Rev. J. W. Hill, has been widely felt and acknowledged.

The Church of the Messiah was the next in Boston to employ a vested choir.  It attained great excellence under the direction of Mr. J. T. Gardam, who resigned a few years ago, to be followed by Mr. Joseph Stewart, the present choir master.  The society has lately moved into a new church.  There have been some notable solo boys connected with this choir, among them being Masters Waldo Merrill and George Proctor.  The latter, after change of voice, having a strong inclination for music, pursued his studies at the Conservatory, and is now the organist of the church, and gives promise of making his mark in his chosen profession.  The two choirs of St. Paul’s and Emmanuel, Boston, have both surpliced choirs in the chancel, after having gone through the various changes of having first quartet choirs in the gallery, then quartet and chorus choirs, and afterwards a choir of boys and men still in the gallery loft, finally placing this latter choir in the chancel, surpliced.  The choir of boys and men in St. Paul’s church was introduced in September, 1887, under the direction of Mr. Warren A. Locke.  For three years it sang in the old choir loft, but in the fall of 1891 the new organ was placed in the front part of the church, and the choir took its place beside it.  The choir is sometimes augmented at special services by the choir of Harvard College, which is also under the direction of Mr. Locke.  The choir consists of twenty-four boys and eight men.  The choir of Appleton Chapel, at Harvard, was introduced in October, 1883, being composed at that time of sixteen boys and eight men.  The numbers have since been increased to twenty-four boys and twenty men.  All the men are in the University, and it not infrequently happens that there will be but two or three years’ interval from the time when the soprano or alto, a Cambridge schoolboy, leaves the choir to his re-entrance as a tenor or bass, as he becomes a Harvard freshman.  There are daily services during term time at a quarter before nine in the morning.  At times, as at the recent service in memory of James Russell Lowell, the choir is augmented by the choir of St. Paul’s, making a chorus of seventy-five voices.

The choir of Emmanuel Church is under the direction of Mr. George L. Osgood, the well-known director of the Boylston Club and the Singers’ Society of Boston, and has done admirable work while under his charge.  It numbers forty voices, twenty-four boys and sixteen men, the latter so chosen as to form an effective chorus for the performance also of works for male voices.  Mr. Lewis S. Thompson is the organist and supplements Mr. Osgood in the training of the boys.  In 1889 a new organ was placed in the church, built by George S. Hutchings, one of the most effective organs in the city.

The choir of St. James’s Church, Cambridge, was founded in 1884.  Its growth and improvement have been rapid, and its influence is not limited to the parish wherein its work lies.  Mr. Ernest Douglass is the organist and choir master.

The choir of St. Stephen’s Church, Lynn, [Massachusetts], was organized in the spring of 1876, under the rectorship of the Rev. Lewis DeCormis, to whose efforts the institution of the choir was largely due.  Its first choir master was Mr. Walter B. Bartlett, and the organist, Mr. Lemuel G. Carpenter.  In 1879 Mr. Edward K. Weston took charge as both organist and choir master, remaining until his death in 1891.  During his administration the choir attained its present high position among the boy choirs of Massachusetts.  Mr. Weston was succeeded by Mr. Francis Johnson as choir master, and by Perley B. Pilsbury as organist.

The choir of St. John’s Church, Jamaica Plain, has done effective work under the direction of Mr. J. Everett Pearson.  Coming to the church in 1889, he succeeded in getting a choir of boys and men together, and after diligent practice such rapid progress was made that it was thought that by Christmas the choir would be sufficiently advanced to make its first essay in church on the occasion of public worship, which it did.  The choir has gone on constantly improving, and has become one of the best choirs to be heard in the vicinity of Boston, the boys getting a beautiful quality of tone and performing church music with accuracy and finish.

Time and space forbid me to speak in detail of all the excellent choirs to be found in New England and other parts of the country.  There are several fine choirs in the diocese of Connecticut that deserve special mention, notably that of Trinity Church, Middletown, which has been under the direction of Mr. H. DeCoven Ryder, who has not only had remarkable success in developing the choir of his own church, but has been largely instrumental in organizing the Choir Festival Association of the state, which has already given three festivals with notable success.  Trinity Church, New Haven, has a boy choir under the direction of Mr. W. R. Hedden.  A former member of Trinity choir, New York, Mr. Hedden has been able to bring to his work the experience thus gained, and has so improved his choir as to be able to give special evening services, bringing out such works as “The Daughter of Darius” by Stainer; the “Advent Hymn” by Schumann; and “God, Thou Art Great” by Spohr.  A boy choir has also within the past few years taken the place of the old quartet at Christ Church, Hartford,  so long the scene of the labors of the late Henry Wilson, the organist, whose music is gratefully remembered by the older members of the congregation.  Mr. George P. Havens organized the choir, and has remained in charge up to the present time; just now, however, leaving for a similar position at Christ Church, New Haven.

At the beautiful church at Morristown, N.J. [New Jersey], is to be heard a very efficient choir, which has been under the direction of Mr. Alfred Baker, who is soon to relinquish it for a metropolitan position.  The music at All Saints Church, Worcester, Massachusetts, has for many years been rendered by a choir of boys and men.  Under the direction of Mr. Rice as choir master and Mr. G. Arthur Smith as organist the music has advanced to a high standard of excellence.

The choir of St. Paul’s School, Concord, N.H. [New Hampshire], has for twenty-two years been under the charge of Mr. James T. Knox.  In 1868, while the enlargement of the old chapel was in progress, the Sunday services were held in the second story of one of the school buildings.  There the present choir master and organist began his long and valuable services to the school.  A cabinet organ was the first instrument used, and a company of ten boys composed the choir.  Mr. Knox, then a young man with a rare enthusiasm for music, spared no effort to perfect himself in the divine art, and expended unlimited patience and time in training the choir.  He imparted a portion of his own zeal to his pupils, the boys cheerfully giving both study and play hours to practising, although no release from the regular school work was ever gained thereby.  More than three hundred boys have belonged to the choir in the last twenty years.  In many of the boys have been developed rare solo voices; among those who are thus numbered one recalls with pleasure Frank H. Potter, George R. Sheldon, Augustus M. Swift, William F. Jennison, Hoffman Miller, and George S. Hodges.  A beautiful new chapel has been occupied by the school for the past three or four years, and a large and effective organ by Hutchings placed in the chancel, which adds much to the attractiveness of the service.  The number of choristers is fifty-four, - twenty-eight trebles, five altos, seven tenors, and twelve basses.  St. Paul’s Church, Concord, N.H., has maintained a boy choir for many years, under the direction of Mr. F. H. Brown, organist and choir master.  Mr. Brown relinquishing his post a year ago, Mr. H. G. Blaisdell succeeded him and the choir is prospering under his administration, and promises to attain a high state of perfection.

Probably one of the most effective choirs in the South is that of St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore [Maryland].  This church is in charge of the Rev. J. S. B. Hodges, a gentleman who has done so much for the cause of church music in this country, both by his influence and writings and especially by his compositions, the numerous anthems and canticles emanating from his pen being used extensively by the various churches throughout the country.  The choir dates from Easter, 1873, Dr. Hodges at first taking the whole responsibility of the training of the choristers, oftentimes taking his place at the organ as well at the afternoon service when the boys were beginning to displace the old mixed choir.  Mr. Winterbottom, now of Brooklyn, was many years choir master and organist.  He was succeeded by Mr. Crook, who afterwards went to Calvary Church, New York.  Mr. W. H. Whitingham is the present organist and choir master.  The choir consists of fourteen sopranos, five altos, five tenors and five basses.

There are many excellent boy choirs in New York state outside the metropolis.  At the Cathedral of All Saints, Albany, under the able direction of Dr. Jeffries, an English organist; at Syracuse; at Rochester, where Mr. J. E. Bagley has several choirs under his charge; at St. Paul’s, Buffalo, and in many of the smaller cities, - the male choir has been introduced and local choir festivals are of frequent occurrence.  It has been much easier to introduce such choirs in the West than it has in the East, there being no old prejudices to overcome, and little or no fear that its adoption meant or implied anything more than a more appropriate rendering of churchly music.  At Cleveland, Detroit, Toledo, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, to say nothing of smaller towns, may be found excellent choirs.  In Chicago, the Choir Festival held a year ago, in the Auditorium, where some twelve hundred singers, boys and men, sang in a chorus, under the very able direction of Mr. H. B. Roney, will give some idea of the prevalence of this kind of choir in and about that city.  This Festival was a most decided success, from a musical point of view, due in a large degree to the untiring zeal and energy with which Mr. Roney entered into the preliminary work of preparing the singers for the final rehearsals.  Probably the best-known choir in Chicago is that of Grace Church, where Mr. Roney is in charge.  The choir first sang in the church in October, 1884, under the charge of Mr. Herbert O. Oldham; who was succeeded, in turn, by Messrs. S. B. Whiteley, C. E. Reynolds, F. C. F. Kramer, and Mr. Roney, the present incumbent, who assumed the charge in May, 1887, and enlarged the choir to a membership of seventy-five choristers.  The services at Grace Church have attracted much attention since Mr. Roney has brought the choir to its present high standard of perfection; and at the special monthly services on Sunday evenings, the church building has been found to be too small to accommodate the vast multitudes of people who desired to attend.  Master Blatchford N. Kavanagh was the soloist of the choir.  This lad had a most remarkable soprano voice, which skilful training, as well as practice, had developed so that he became one of the noted solists of the country.  Besides having this remarkable voice, under good cultivation, the lad had, withall, a musical nature of the highest order, and sang his selections which much expression and feeling.  Indeed, his voice was considered so phenomenal that Mr. Roney, leaving his choir for a time in the hands of a deputy organist, took the lad to California, singing in all the large cities from Chicago to San Francisco.  He has never sung in the East, his voice changing some two years ago; so that there has been no opportunity to compare him with such soloists as Bradon, Forbush, or Noung.  But there is little doubt that this lad was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, soloist that this country has ever produced.  There is a fine choir at St. James’s Church, under the direction of Mr. Smedley, also at the Cathedral Church on the West side.  Mr. Walter C. Hall has charge of a choir at Emmanuel Church, and is doing good work.  The boy choir has also taken the place of the quartet at Trinity Church.  There is a very fine choir in the cathedral at Denver, in charge of Dr. Gower, a very able organist and choir master, who came out from England several years ago, to take charge of the music at this church.

With the wonderful progress that has been made in this country in the last fifteen or twenty years in view, both in church music and choir training, the outlook for the future is full of promise, and there is some warrant for thinking that the time is not far distant when the daily service will be held in many cathedrals of the larger dioceses at least; which, with the necessary daily practice, will insure greater efficiency and excellence, the effect of which will be felt at once by the parish choirs, so that, at no distant day, the standard of church music will come up to, if not surpass, that of the mother country.  Let this be our hope.


[1] From The New England Magazine. April 1892. Vol. VI, No. 2

[2] Spellings have been left intact as written by the author.

[3] Bracketed words and places are inserted for clearer understanding.

[4] The author consistently misspelled this person’s name as “LeJeurne”. Correction was made to enable correct cross-referencing.