Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ichabod's thoughts on tunes from 1811

"Much has been said about the style of Musick sung now-a-days, and indeed when we compare the tunes now made use of with those of the good old times of Billings, and a few others since him, I think they stand no test at all... they are miserable, dull, stupifying things, and no more comparable to New-Jerusalem, Montgomery, Edom and All-Saints New, than the slow movement of an ox is to the brisk ambling of a horse. I have heard a great deal said about expression, proper modulation, true portamento, with affetuoso, condolora, and diatonios, with an abundance of more such nonsence, which nobody understands, and none but fools make use of. Now, Sir, away with all such stuff, and other flummery about the Science of musick -- 'Tis all mere chips and porridge! But, Oh, when I listen to the ecstatic strains of Montgomery, I am carried away with rapture, particularly at the treble solo in the words, 'Long for a cooling stream...' -- Here are discovered the wonderful ingenuity of the author together with his delicate and devotional feelings. Again what real lover of harmony can but admire the sweet warbling notes of New-Jerusalem...where every part goes on independent of the rest in ananimating confusion of dellightful sounds which fashionable fools call 'jingle,' but which I call the very criterion of good psalmody. Here is heard none of your disgusting expression, none of your crescendo and diminuendo, but all is most elevating and delightful. Who is not at once entranced at hearing performed! How bewitching, with a gentle squeeze of the voice upon each thrilling slur, terminating in a pensive nasal twang! How often have I been transported when listening to the angelic counter of Edom? -- And again what sort of melancholy possessed when Calvary has been performed to the words of Watts' Funeral Thought! My flesh is gone over with goose-pimples!...let us adopt the old tunes -- place suitable leaders over each Singing Society and keep out every scientific intruder. -- We may then hope to have the true, rational, and genuine music once more heard in our Churches."

-- Ichabod Beetlehead *****from the Columbian Centinel, Boston, 1811 [Also in William Billings of Boston (1975) by McKay & Crawford]

Thanks to Thomas Malone on the fasola listserve for this.


Anonymous said...

And what would Ichabod, were he alive today, think of today's vile and worldly so-called "gospel rock" or "Christian rock" janglings? The fife-and-drum jug-bands of Arminians' "special music programs"; "at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up"--what would he say now, nearly two hundred years later?
Could he but hear it now, poor Ichabod would roll over in his grave. His very name, meaning, "The glory has departed," describes what has happened to the church's musical heritage.
Thanks for this posting.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Yes, I'm sure he would be shocked. Unlike old Rip Van Winkle, who slept through a lot of years, a lot of us who live through it often don't recognize the changes as significantly.

The tunes named by Ichabod are still popular in the old Sacred Harp circles.