United Church of Christ
First Congregational Church
Way Back When
by Margaret Morabito, Church Historian
Early Church Music 1600s-1796
Although our church did not have an organ until 1850, we did incorporate music into the services way back when. Stearn’s valuable History of Rindge explains that, in the early years, attention was paid to the encouragement of church music. In those years, a few members of the congregation had learned how to read music and the church was open to innovations in using music for worship.
A brief recap of church music in Colonial New England is useful for context. In the Colonial years of the 1600s and early 1700s, congregational singing was mainly comprised of the oral tradition of metrical psalms, unaccompanied by instruments. The psalms were written into a metered, poetic format so that they could be sung, and there were standard tunes available that were matched up with various psalms. They were sung in a practice known as lining out, in which a designated leader would sing or chant a line and the congregation would repeat it. Lining out was useful since most people did not know how to read music and some were illiterate.
Hymns, as we know them, were not yet used. As opposed to psalms which are the inspired words of Scripture, hymns were man-made poems that were based on Bible verses, as well as on psalms. There was actually a reluctance to adopt English hymns by churches in Colonial America, partly due to their growing desire to be separate from the mother country. Americans had not yet started composing their own hymns. Adding to this, there was an open dispute among religious leaders about breaking away from the old way of doing things.
By the 1720s, some ministers were looking for an improved method of musical worship. Over the years, lining out had led to a disorderly way of singing. Each leader would put his own spin on the particular tune, and the congregants could not recognize it nor could they follow the tune accurately. This caused the members of the congregations to be singing the psalms in all different ways at the same time, making for messy worship. As a result, singing by rule or regular singing (reading written music) gradually came into our churches, making for a more orderly form of musical worship. Tunebooks were published by the 1770s and music schools were created to teach people how to read music. This was followed by a gradual acceptance of English hymns, and eventually American-composed hymns, followed by published hymn books. Slower to develop was the addition of musical instruments.
Now, back to Rindge…
The town of Rindge was more open to innovation than surrounding towns and tended to embrace the trends that were occurring in using music for worship. Like many small churches, ours had just a few hymn books, so we practiced lining out. The minister would read the entire hymn first; a deacon or other appointed person would read one line; and then the entire congregation would sing it, following a designated tune. Since a deacon normally read the lines, the process was called deaconing. Our church sang traditional psalms to well-known tunes of the time, such as St. Martin’s, Windham, York, St. Ann’s, and Mear. A site where you can listen to Mear and other tunes is http://www.hymnary.org/tune/mear. In addition to these slow, traditional tunes, Rindge adopted the short-lived innovation of the fuguing tune (pronounced “few-ging”), which was a peppier type of music. Fuguing tunes were written for four parts, in which a solo melody was sung, followed by identical lines of music that entered at different times, eventually all ending at the same point. Towards the end of the 1700s, English hymns by Isaac Watts became very popular and were embraced. Watts, by the way, wrote the words to “Joy To The World” and many other hymns. To read and hear his hymns, click http://www.cyberhymnal.org/bio/w/a/t/watts_i.htm .
6 PAYSON HILL ROAD
RINDGE, NH 03461