Has the growth of ritualism in
the Protestant Episcopal Church revived a mild form of the
conviction preached by St. Bernard, that woman is an
instrument of the devil?
Is the ungracious Pauline doctrine, Taceat mulier in
eccelesia, recovering its old-time authority?
Or is the movement which seems destined soon to put
surpliced choirs into all the Episcopal churches in New York
city merely the product of a predilection for a certain style
of ecclesiastical service, which has justification and
explanation at once in a discoverable tendency in modern
The questions are not easy of
answer. It would
be against the liberality of the age (setting aside an appeal
to its gallantry) to urge either the first or second
proposition, while assent to the third is tantamount to saying
that we are experiencing a revival of a taste in church music
which is two centuries old, and emphatically different from
that exhibited in our opera-houses and concert-rooms.
Moreover, it is obvious that such a revival, to be
sincere, consistent, and intelligent, would have to go much
beyond the simple exclusion of women from the choir; and there
are no evidences of a disposition to take the longer step. We are restoring an old apparatus and employing it in a new
fashion - putting new wine into old bottles.
More than one-third of the vestries in New York city
have committed the choral service to the care exclusively of
boys and men, yet I am unable to name a single church or
chapel in which the choral music is confined to compositions
written for boys and men.
Selections from the masses and oratorios of classical
and modern composers are extensively used; and when
choir-masters, following their tastes or paying tribute to
tradition, make drafts on the music of the old English
cathedral school, they only add to the perplexities of the
much of this music, more particularly that composed in the
period of the Restoration, compels the employment of the male
adult alto, whom I find it impossible to look upon except as a
relic of a debased age, and from every point of view a musical
have I exhausted the complications of the case.
Surpliced choirs are obviously
the creations of ritualism, and to some extent serve to
indicate its progress, yet in some of the establishments which
intrench the High-Church party in New York, priests and
choir-masters have set up a variant reading of St. Paul’s
maxim: they apply
to women an inversion of the bachelor axiom concerning the
proper conduct of children in company, and permit women to be
heard but not seen, in the chancel.
History has but little
explicit information to give as to the genesis of surpliced
choirs in New York. Trinity Church was the cradle of choral culture in New York,
not only in its ecclesiastical phase, but also its secular,
and the beginnings of the movement are to be sought in its
annals, notwithstanding that it had no surpliced choir until
the year 1860, and that it was less an artistic and
ecclesiastical than a social and political impulse which gave
us the institution. When
Trinity made the change, one church at least - the chapel in
Madison Street - had already maintained a surpliced choir for
some time; but as
all roads lead to Rome, so all inquiries touching the
cultivation of choral music in New York eventually discover
Trinity Church as its fountain-head.
In the early part of the eighteenth century Trinity
Church was the most powerful agency at work in New York for
the advancement of music.
Indeed, until it became a factor in the social and
intellectual life of the city, church music seemed without
hope. New England
Puritanism, though the offspring of a spirit which tried to
destroy every organ and choir-book in England, put a slighter
barrier in the way of artistic music than the Calvinism
brought here by the Dutch and Huguenot colonists.
These people were not artistically minded, and
Calvin’s injunction that neither words nor notes of the
Genevan Psalter should be altered, retained a restrictive
power over their descendants for a long time.
New York had to be anglicized before the love for an
artistic church service could show itself.
It has been surmised that the
first organ brought to the colonies stood in Trinity Church.
Certain it is that the unbroken record of Trinity’s
organists runs back to 1741.
Boys were used in the choir a full century before they
were permitted to wear surplices and sit in the chancel, but,
so far as I have been able to discover, this was only on
special occasions, and the boys were those of the Charity
English school-master and music-teacher, William Tuckey, seems
to have been exceedingly energetic in building up the service
in the middle of the last century.
Mr. Tuckey, according to his own description of
himself, was “Professor of the Theory and Practice of Vocal
Music, Vicar chosen of the Cathedral Church of Bristol, and
Clerk of the Parish of St. Mary’s Port in said city.”
It was this gentleman who, in January, 1761, composed
an anthem “On the Death of his late Sacred Majesty” George
II., and sang the solo part at its performance in Trinity
Church, while the charity boys provided the chorus.
It is possible that the beginnings of a choral service
were due to this same useful man, for in the issues of the New
York Gazette of September 16 and 23, 1762, appeared a
long advertisement informing the residents of New York that
“William Tuckey has obligated himself to teach a sufficient
number of persons to perform the ‘Te Deum.’
... Performers to pay nothing, ... but it is expected
that they will ... be kind enough to join the choir on any
particular occasion, especially at the opening of the new
Tuckey desired “all persons, from lads of ten years old,”
etc., “as well as all other persons of good repute that have
good voices ... to be speedy in their application.”
Ninety-eight years after Mr.
Tuckey undertook to teach all comers to “perform” the
“Te Deum,” Trinity was yet without a vested choir.
During the last two decades of this time an English
cathedral musician, Dr. Edward Hodges, was organist.
Early in this century it may be assumed that the
patriotic feeling left by the war of the Revolution had
something to do with creating a prejudice against the adoption
of English customs; later, perhaps, the opposition to the
Tractarian movement exerted a restrictive influence.
Puseyism in England was a powerful quickener of the
artistic elements in the Episcopal form of worship.
Trinity has always been a little back of the skirmish
line in the battle between High-Church and Low-Church, but
that there was a strong feeling in the church favorable to the
introduction of a surpliced choir is proved by the
circumstance that the vestments were on hand before the vestry
gave its consent to their use, and that the change was made
within a short time after a really determined effort to
achieve it. This
event took place within two years after the English organist
yielded up his position to an American.
Dr. Hodges’s services in
behalf of the music of Trinity Church are yet remembered with
much gratitude. After
nineteen years of zealous labor, he returned, in 1858, to his
native England, to recover from the effects of a second stroke
of paralysis. In
his absence Henry Stephen Cutler was invited to come from
Boston and act as his substitute.
Mr. Cutler had been in charge of a vested choir in the
Church of the Advent in the New England capital, and the
ritualistic party in Trinity found in him an enthusiastic and
determined leader. While
he was Dr. Hodges’s substitute he could not effect a change,
but in 1859, it being found that Dr. Hodges could not resume
his duties, Mr. Cutler was appointed to succeed him.
There were boys in the choir at this time, but none
capable of singing the solos, and until such were secured Mr.
Cutler continued the mixed quartette to whom Dr. Hodges had
been wont to intrust his solo work.
Not long afterward, however, he found two lads, one
named Robjohn, who had recently come from England, and the
other Henry Eyre Browne, and placed them respectively at the
head of the Decani and Cantoris sides of the choir, which had
thus been divided though it sat in the organ gallery at the
east end of the church. I
mention the names of these two lads chiefly because the
advantages of a choir boy’s education, which have so often
been praised in England, had splendid illustration in both
is now known as Caryl Florio, and he and his companion have
made their mark as church musicians in the metropolis.
When Mr. Cutler found them he dismissed all his women
singers, and the first decisive step toward a surpliced choir
was taken. The
next step followed quickly.
With the consent of the vestry, he moved his choir into
the seats reserved for the scholars of the Sunday-school,
between the congregation and the clergy, and when it was found
that here they were much in the way, they were moved into the
chancel rather than back to the gallery.
A “pious member of the congregation” presented a
set of choir vestments to the vestry, but the opposition to
everything which savored of Romanism was still too strong to
justify an attempt to put the boys into them, and they were
This was the aspect of the
case when Mr. Cutler found an unexpected but powerful ally in
the heir-apparent to the throne of Great Britain.
In the fall of 1860 New York prepared to receive a
visit from the Prince of Wales.
He was to be in the city from the 11th to
the 15th of October, and the 14th being
Sunday, he accepted an invitation to attend divine service at
Trinity Church. Mr.
Cutler’s opportunity had arrived.
Without delay he and his associates in the cause laid
before the church authorities a request for permission to use
the idle vestments. Their
argument was as simple as it was effective.
They represented that the spectacle of a lot of boys in
round-abouts and neck-gear of assorted styles and colors
sitting in the chancel would be disturbing to the Prince’s
sense of propriety. Forthwith
Mr. Cutler was instructed to put the boys in the new-fangled
frocks for the edification of the Prince, and lest the wearers
should mar the solemnity of the occasion by awkward movements
in them (they were plain white robes reaching to the floor,
with black ribbon ties for the neck - “very like a
night-gown,” said one of the choir, in relating the story,
“and we were afraid we would stumble in them”) they were
donned two or three Sundays before the Prince’s visit, for
this first vested service a few additional facts may not be
deemed amiss. The
choir numbered twenty-three voices, distributed as follows:
ten soprani, four alti, three tenori, and six bassi.
The service was chanted, save the “Te Deum” and “Benedictus,”
from a service by Mr. Cutler in B-flat, and an anthem by
Marcello, in which the solos were sung by Dr. Guilmette, a
much-admired bass singer of the period, and Master James
Little, soprano. Concerning
the latter, a programme of exercises furnished to the press
reporters stated that he had “a voice of extraordinary power
It had taken a long time to
get the choir into vestments, but once in, it was not taken out.
Surpliced choirs had come to stay in Trinity parish.
The fashionable choirs in the other Episcopal churches at
this time were mixed quartettes.
These cultivated a sentimental and secular style of
music, largely consisting of arrangements for four voices of
popular opera airs and ballads.
Religious aspirations took wings with Abt’s migratory
swallows, and were lulled to rest with the languishing strains
of Flotow’s “Mezza-notte.”
Mr. Cutler’s tastes were different.
We have seen that an anthem by Marcello was chosen to
edify the Prince of Wales, and the motets of Palestrina and Bach
were not strangers to his programme.
St. John’s Chapel was promptly in the movement, and
ever since 1876, when the present organist, Mr. George F.
LeJeune, was called to the post, the chapel in Varick Street has
contested supremacy with the parent church in the performance of
the choral service. Meanwhile
many of the churches that were unwilling to make the change,
encouraged by the example of George William Warren in Brooklyn,
and it may be also stimulated by the better part-writing to be
found in the original and adapted music which Joseph Mosenthal
gave out, organized choruses of mixed voices to co-operate with
the solo quartettes. For
a quarter of a century Mr. Mosenthal’s popularity was a
powerful check on the surplice movement, but it continued to wax
steadily, if slowly, and only a few months ago it carried him
out of Calvary Church, after twenty-seven years of eminent
service, as it had cost him his post at St. John’s
twenty-eight years previous.
Grace Church, whose walls echoed to the music of
Malibran’s voice Sunday after Sunday, sixty-two years ago, has
adhered to its old traditions, and it seems as if the waves of
fashion would continue to dash against it in vain.
Mr. Cutler’s pride in his choir, especially after he
found a solo soprano in a lad named Richard Coker, who had a
voice of phenomenal range, flexibility, and quality, led him to
utilize it in secular concerts, which circumstances is said to
have caused the severance of his relations with Trinity Church
in 1865. Less than
two years later Mr. Arthur H. Messiter was appointed organist,
and has occupied the post ever since.
If I were disposed to deny all
merit to the boy choirs of New York I could easily win
acceptance for my contention among musicians here and abroad,
by pointing out the inadequacy of the facilities for securing
and training singers in America.
Even in England, where surpliced choirs have been an
institution for centuries, their maintenance in a satisfactory
state of efficiency is attended with so many difficulties that
distinguished church musicians have advocated their abolition.
No choir is so poor as a poor boy choir, and no choir
so costly in money and care as a good boy choir.
This is a truism which will receive the assent of every
educated choir-master. If it were possible to introduce a system of selection, care,
and training like that which obtains in the Chapel Royal and
the chief cathedrals of England, there is no doubt that the
choirs in the larger American churches might in time become
potent agencies in the development of a national school of
music, and justify the declaration of the late Sir George
Macfarren, that “a cathedral choir is the best cradle for a
musician our country affords.”
The most lustrous names in the history of English music
have figured on the rolls of the “Children of the Chapel
Royal,” and though that venerable institution plays a less
significant part now than it did during the reigns of
Elizabeth and the Stuarts, yet Sir Arthur Sullivan is with us
to testify to the value of the education which it still
efficiency of the Chapel Royal and the cathedral choir,
however, is purchased at a cost which not even so wealthy a
corporation as Trinity is willing to assume.
Now the “Children of the Chapel Royal” live with
their “Master of Songe” in a private house in St.
George’s Square, Pimlico, but originally they were boarded
and lodged at the Royal Palace, and, say the old records, the
eight had amongst them daily “two loaves, one messe of
greate meate, and ij gallons of ale,” besides fourpence
horse hire when on a journey with the King’s Chapel.
They were also allowed a servant to “trusse and beare
their harnesse and lyverey in Courte.”
Nor did the royal care cease with their usefulness as
singers, for it was provided that, on the breaking of their
voices, thenm “yf they will assente, the King assynethe them
to a College of Oxford or Cambridge of this foundatione, there
to be at fynding and studye both suffytyently tylle the King
may othersie advaunce them.”
At present there is comparatively little difference
between the treatment which the “Children of the Chapel
Royal” and the boys of the cathedral receive.
The former live with their master, and are sent to the
Church Middle Class school at Vauxhall for an education, while
the boys of Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s, for instance,
live in the choir-houses, and are educated by resident
each case musical instruction is imparted daily by the
organist or his assistant, and the lessons, lasting an hour
and a half, embrace the principles of harmony and composition,
as well as scale practice, sight reading, exercises in
agility, etc. Westminster
Abbey supports twenty boys, twelve of them full choristers and
eight probationers. St.
Paul’s choir-house, in Doctors’ Commons, domiciles no less
than forty of the tuneful youngsters, all of whom receive
education and “keep” in return for their services. Dr. Bridge, of Westminster Abbey, and Dr. Stainer, of St.
Paul’s, are both grown-up choir-boys.
Of the New York churches, none
supports choir schools of the English kind.
Trinity comes the nearest to it, but its care over the
boys ceases with the musical instruction and the appointment
of one of the assistant ministers to look after their
religious welfare. The
boys are paid for their services, as they are in all the other
churches, and discipline is enforced by means of trifling
fines; they are obtained chiefly from the public schools, and
the number of them who are sons of communicants of the
Episcopal Church is so small as to be scarcely worth
marks another great difference between the boy choirs of the
United States and England. In the latter country most of the boys come from well-to-do
and refined families. Indeed,
in some cathedrals and churches gentleness of birth and
breeding is considered so essential a qualification for the
post that a class line is drawn, and no boys admitted to the
choir save the sons of professional men. To shut out artisans’ or tradesmen’s sons here would make
the organization of a choir impossible, and the English
choir-masters in New York profess a hearty admiration for the
democratic character of the choirs, looking upon the unsubdued
energy of the rough-and-ready American public-school boy as a
quality of excellent utility worth the extra expenditure of
patience and care called for in the choir-room.
Goody-goody boys are not prized as a rule, the
prevalent feeling among choir-masters being that a “little
devil in the boys is desirable,” as one of them has
expressed it. Choir-room
discipline insures decorous behavior in church, and the
outward transformation accomplished by a surplice does the
rest. In ancient
times it was customary to receive singers into their office
with a solemn ceremonial, they standing toward the church in
the relation of “clerks in minor orders,” but this has
been lost sight of by all except very High-Church people.
In Grace Church, Chicago, which has, I believe, the
largest surpliced choir in America, the organist, Mr. Henry B.
Roney, makes the boys sign a pledge promising to be punctual
and regular in attendance, abstain from the use of tobacco,
intoxicating liquors, improper and profane language, to be
gentlemanly, and reverence the house of God.
The difficulty in finding boys
with really good voices is very great, and choir-masters are
kept on a sharp lookout for them.
Mr. J. Remington Fairlamb, of St. Ignatius, is
choir-master as well of a church in Orange, New Jersey, where
he has a choir of forty voices.
He is an enthusiast on the subject, being willing at
any time to run down any boy who exhibits “a good whistle”
in the street; a melodious whistle is indicative of musical
talents, he thinks. Mr.
Fairlamb is, however, more fortunate than his colleagues in
having a complete trio of voices in his own family.
Mr. Frank Treat Southwick is of the opinion that “in
no town of less than 50,000 people, with the present condition
of culture, can a male choir be rendered anything better than
an ordinary makeshift.”
The experience of choir-masters would seem to indicate
that, as applied to New York, one choir to 100,000 inhabitants
would be a likelier proportion.
It is party due to Trinity’s location, perhaps, that
Mr. Messiter is obliged for his choir to depend almost wholly
on Jersey City and Brooklyn. His best boys come from the former city - a fact which the
tonic sol-faists may set down to the credit of their system,
which is used in the public schools across North River.
German boys are much sought after - a circumstance
which is, of course, explained by the significant part which
music plays in the family life of the children of the
are few solo boys in New York, or the country for that matter,
whose reputation extends beyond the churches in which they are
foremost boy of the few is Harry Brandon, of the Church of the
Holy Spirit. He
was born in England, but reared in this country, and got his
musical training from his mother, an accomplished amateur. Master Brandon comes as near as any boy that I have ever
heard to proving Caryl Florio’s assertion that “there is
no top to a boy’s voice.”
He can soar into realms where few living prime donne
can follow him, and his voice is naturally so flexible that he
sings the most florid music without difficulty. He has passed, by several years, the period at which, as a
rule, the change takes place in a boy’s voice.
The regular choir of Trinity
Church contains twenty boys, and is recruited from an
elementary class which varies in size from six to fifteen.
For training purposes the choir is divided into three
classes, namely, senior trebles, junior trebles, and altos.
Each of these classes meets once a week, for separate
instruction, at No. 90 Trinity Place.
On the fourth study day the trebles are brought
together, and on the fifth day the choir has a full rehearsal
with the chancel organ in the church.
The parish schools supported by Trinity Church have
been of no service so far as the development of choristers is
concerned, but it is hoped, if the cathedral project is
carried out, that the old (endowed) Trinity School may be
transformed into a choir school of the English type. To St. John’s Chapel, Mr. LeJeune has directed a great deal
of attention, more particularly through the choral festivals
which for six years past have taken place monthly from October
to June. At these festivals whole oratorios have been given with organ
accompaniment, the vested choir singing all the choruses.
The vast amount of work which
Mr. LeJeune has accomplished with two and three rehearsals a
week will be made obvious by a glance at the following list of
works which have been sung at the festivals:
The Creation, Elijah, St. Paul, The Prodigal Son (Sullivan),
The Holy City (Gaul), Lauda Sion, Abraham (Molique),
The Last Judgment, Jubilee Cantata (Weber), Gallia (Gounod),
Ruth (Gaul), and a number of lesser compositions.
Mr. LeJeune holds his rehearsals in a cramped
choir-room scarcely large enough to hold the desks of the
singers, placed to the right and left of a grand piano-forte,
at which he sits while training the boys.
His method differs from that of the majority of the
choir-masters in the city in that he does not permit the use
of the chest tones at all by the boys.
This is not because he believes that the chest tones of
boys cannot be used effectively, but because he holds that it
is impossible to bridge over the break between the registers
in the three or four hours’ study a week which the
appropriation for choir purposes enables him to have.
Mr. Edwards, of Christ Church, and Mr. Messiter, hold
decidedly to the opposite opinion; and on this vexed question
there are, of course, about as many diverse views as there are
a rule, the practice is to train the head voice downward, and
to prohibit the use of chest tones above G on the second line
of the treble staff, or the semitone below it.
Those who, like Arthur E. Crook, of Calvary, split up
the voice into more than two registers, believe also in
cultivating the medium tones, on the ground that while
sweetness and purity of tone are gained by developing the head
tones downward, the singing of the choir trained on this plan
will lack brilliancy and vim.
While mezzo-soprano voices are
common enough among singing boys, a real alto is extremely
scarce, and this fact is urged, in addition to a necessity
caused by the character of some of the old English cathedral
music, as a reason for the continued employment of the adult
male alto, or of a falsetto-singing baryton, into which the
adult male alto, once common in England, has degenerated.
Two explanations have been offered for the introduction
of the adult alto into the cathedral choirs of England.
The music shows that the voice came in soon after the
restoration of Charles II., the bent of whose taste in church
music can be read in the fact that he sent the precocious boy
Pelham Humphreys to Lully to study the French style of
composition, and that the compositions of Humphreys and his
contemporaries, in their frequent trios for alto, tenor, bass,
employ a voice in the first part which does not exist in a
boy’s larynx. The
argument seems obvious that the parts were written to humor a
taste of the King’s, cultivated during his exile on the
other theory is that the employment of men to sing the alto
part was caused by the abandonment of choir-boy training
during the Protectorate.
But this does not seem to me to meet the case, inasmuch
as the same reason would have called for the use of adult male
falsettists were once common enough in France, and especially
in Spain, from which country the Papal Chapel used to draw its
most admired singers. I
cannot bring myself to believe that the retention of a few old
services is worth the pain which the singing of the few adult
male alti in New York causes to a sensitive ear.
It is true that alto boys cannot be made effective when
choir-masters prohibit the use of the chest register; but the
spirit of the movement which brought in vested choirs is quite
elastic, and there seems to be no reason why female voices
should not be used, in this part at least, or why, in fact, we
should not have vested female choirs.
The ritualists in the churches of St. Mary the Virgin
and St. Ignatius, as I intimated at the outset, if they say taceat
mulier in ecclesia at all, mean it in a Pickwickian sense;
and there is much soundness in what Mr. George B. Prentice,
organist of St. Mary’s, urges in defence of his practice.
“I find,” he says, “that a few ladies give a
certain finish to the tone, especially to the high notes,
which cannot be obtained from boys alone. We have never used boys for soloists, on account of a lack of
expression, and a want of comprehension of the meaning of the
words of the service.”
In St. Mary’s the mass is sung in Latin.
From Harper’s New Monthly
Vol. 77, Issue
457 (June 1888), pp. 65-73.