Raising voices in worship

  • Music was a part of church services at the congregational church in Rindge far before the current meetinghouse was built. Staff photo by Ben Conant

A Look Back
Published: 9/6/2019 11:17:03 AM
Modified: 9/6/2019 11:16:51 AM

While singing is now considered an integral part of most church services, when it was initially introduced it was seen in some towns as an unwelcome innovation. This apparently was not true in Rindge, however, where music was part of the services from an early date.

In 1782, “the two hind seats in the mens side and Two in the womens side below” were set aside for singers, according to the 1875 town history, and a few years later the singers were granted seats in the gallery and become known, collectively, as “the choir.”

In those days, churches could not afford hymn books for everyone, so the following custom was followed: The minister would read the lyrics of the hymn, then one of the deacons would read one line, “and those in the congregation who could sing, and many who thought they could, would render that line with much animation, and with such taste and precision as they were able,” the history reports. Then the next line was read and sung, until the entire hymn was completed. That process was known as “lining” or “deaconing” a hymn.

By the end of the century, more hymnals became available, as did better and more varied music.

“The introduction of this new music, more than any other cause, brought the practice of lining the hymns into disuse,” the history tells us. “Many of the new selections were more intricate in structure, and among them was a class of tunes, difficult of description, called fugues. These pieces were very popular for a time, but are seldom heard at the present day. One of the parts would lead, and the others follow in a kind of systematized hubbub, and each part singing different words were wont to ‘fly swifter round the wheel of time,’ until all were in a perfect melee, and then out of the direst confusion would miraculously approach a period in sudden peace and order and apparent good will, as if they had forgotten and forgiven all cause of their recent contention.”

When the town’s current meeting house was being planned in 1796, the town appointed a committee to talk with choir members so they could be given appropriate seating. Money was also appropriated for singing schools for the church singers.

Ichabod Johnson was the town’s first singing instructor of record. He ran classes in Rindge in 1801, and in surrounding town in later years. “Mr. Johnson also taught a singing-school in New Ipswich,” the history reports, “and Kidder’s excellent history of that town pays him the following doubtful compliment: ‘In 1805 or 6, Ichabod Johnson kept a school, and introduced a lighter kind of music. He could not sing himself, but with a good faculty at teaching, and the help of his violin (when he was sober), and assisted by one or two reliable persons on each part, he succeeded in collecting a large school, was popular, and, on the whole, gave an impulse to music generally.’”

In the days before churches had organs, other instruments accompanied singers, including violins, bass viols, bassoons, trombones and post-horns. The use of such instruments, wrote the historians, “was accompanied by the well-remembered tunings during the reading of the hymn, as if either the instruments were impatient to be played upon, or the musicians unduly anxious to begin.”

In 1850, the church purchased a small reed organ, and in 1871, after a substantial fund-raising campaign, it was replaced with a pipe organ.

The voices of the choir, of course, continue to bless the congregation with sacred music.

A Look Back originally appeared in the Monadnock Ledger.




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