“An Address on Music. Delivered before a convention of the church choirs of Summit Co. Ohio, Dec. 18, 1844.” [Ohio manuscript]

“Music is not altogether artificial. While much liberty is allowed to the composer…he must not take steps at random”


Over fifty pages, a manuscript on musical composition and performance delivered as an address before an 1844 convention of church choirs held in Summit County, Ohio.

Numerous emendations and corrections throughout the manuscript show the author preparing a theoretical ground for three practical conclusions on the composing of church music. The author, likely male, begins with music and musical composition in general:

So music is a want of our natures, as our musical tastes and opinions, however arbitrary they may be, declare. If we were not formed to be gratified by music, why should any be fashionable? The universality of the fact that this is a subject of consideration and judgment shows that we have a sensibility which is affected by an agreeable succession and union of sounds.

Does this sensibility, then, determine nothing in regard to the character of melody and harmony? Can its nature be so entirely educated out of it, that fashion can make any and every combination of sounds equally pleasing? ... [Custom] can corrupt our tastes, but corruption supposes some natural standard from which men have deviated. And their departures from nature are not altogether unnatural. Worthless music becomes fashionable, not because there are no fixed laws by which it may be judged and condemned, but because we act from other laws besides those which should determine our judgments in the case. For example, we are not satisfied with the repetition of the same old tunes year after year… We want something new, and in the absence of musical genius, to originate other compositions, of real excellence, we cull a straw here and another there and make a piece of patchwork, or we put together notes at hap-hazard only being careful to avoid anything positively discordant and jarring;  and the passion for novelty will for a time make such an unmeaning aggregate of sounds pass current in the community. But having no worth in itself it is laid aside as soon as it has become familiar. (pp[5–8]

In addition to writing about musical tastes and fashions or melody and harmony, the author turns to considerations of tone, feeling, and expressiveness in the human voice, important considerations for a choir. He writes:

The object of speaking is not always instruction or persuasion. These are modes in which we affect others minds. Another object of is to give vent to our own passions. Words thus become more than an instrument of communicating with other persons. They begin already to have a value in themselves. ... This is the beginning, both of poetry and music. (p[27–28])

The author discusses the music of the Greeks, Hebrews and Romans, noting that “[t]he present Church music maybe traced back, through the singing of the disciples at their communion seasons and love feasts, to the recitation of the Psalms of the Old Testament in the temple service…” (p[35])

This use of the expression “communion season” may suggest the author is a Methodist or Presbyterian.

The three-part section of practical remarks on church music and for choirs, pages [42] to [50], includes such advice as avoiding “every thing approaching to levity” in sacred music; choosing music appropriate to the mood of the lyrics or text—“The leaders of our choirs ought…to be capable not only of reading music with facility, but of judging correctly of the spirit of the words sung…”); and avoiding elements of a secular performance—“The design of sacred music is entirely perverted, when the performers regard themselves as offering an exhibition or musical treat to the audience.”

Underscoring the last point, and offering a theologically sophisticated insight, the author adds: “The auditors are themselves performers, singing in spirit through the vocal organs of the choir.” The members of congregation are not merely passive hearers and the choir are not mere entertainers.


Description: “An Address on Music. Delivered before a convention of the church choirs of Summit Co. Ohio, Dec. 18, 1844.” [Ohio manuscript]

[Summit County, Ohio. 1844]. [52¼]pp., manuscript. Booklet. 6 x 4 inches. Gathered and stitched signatures and bifoliums. Manuscript fair copy with ink and pencil emendations and corrections throughout. Light staining and foxing on outer leaves; otherwise, very good.

[3726724]

Price: $450.00

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