Saturday, October 06, 2012

Curious story of church music and a tucking comb

It was at this meetinghouse [of Hickman Creek Baptist Church, Smith County, TN], and under this preaching, when a small boy, I got my first ideas of divine worship, and of Jesus Christ as a Saviour for sinners. And this fact may account for some notions that cling to me at the present time. The first pastor I remember to have met and heard at Hickman Creek was a tall, gray-headed gentleman by the name of Durham. It was under the ministry of this aged servant of God I first witnessed the exhibition of instrumental church music. It was very simple and primitive in its order. The instrument was not an organ, nor melodeon, nor violin, nor flute, nor drum, nor horn. It was a cheap and portable concern, that the pastor carried in his pocket, which at the proper tune (time?) he played himself, thereby saving the expense of a salaried performer.

When the hymn was announced Father Durham drew from his pocket a lady’s tucking comb, to one side of which a piece of brown paper had been adjusted. While the congregation struck the air of the tune, he sung the same notes through the comb, which being reflected by the paper, and broken into diverging and crossing volumes by the intervening teeth, produced a monstrous jingle of sounds, that supplied the place of bass, treble, alto, and all the imaginary notes. Whether scientific or not, the primitive church instrument sent out a novel clatter of sounds, which to my uneducated ear seemed wonderfully melodious.

Little did I dream at that time of living to be a grown-up man; of being transported from those native hills and dropped down among cities; to tread the threshold of majestic Gothic temples, and see the tucking comb transferred from the preacher’s pocket to a spacious room in the gallery, and expanded into the beauty and grandeur of the church organ, with its thundering sounds.

I will not undertake to give an opinion as to the comparative merits of the various instruments of church music. Let those who believe in instruments do this, if they choose. After some years of experience I decidedly prefer congregational singing to all the instruments in the world. Some might attribute this to erroneous education, or the lack of education. Be this as it may, I would rather listen, especially on the Sabbath, to some forty or fifty clear toned human voices, such as may be heard in some of our African churches, where praises spring up from the very bottom of the heart, and pour out in solid sluices from wide mouths; where time is kept not by the rules of gamut, but by the spontaneous swinging of their bodies as they heave to and fro beneath the pulsations of spiritual emotion; I would rather listen to this than to the finest organ in America. What dying Christian in his dissolving hour would not prefer the vocal praises of one single kindred spirit, making melody from the heart, to all the heartless instruments in the world?

[Excerpt from reminiscences of Hickman Creek Baptist Church in Middle Tennessee by a contributor signed “R. J.”. Found in Samuel H. Ford’s Christian Repository, April 1860]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I live in Smith county Tennessee and know of the place called Hickman Creek. And though I have never seen a comb and paper used in church, Baptist or other, I do remember my grandmother showing me how it worked when I was a small boy. I amused myself with it many times