Thursday, October 27, 2011

Music in Pioneer Days

Unidentified, undated newspaper clipping

Should we consider the real beginning of music, we must turn back to Bible times, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.

I think our program committee had more recent times in mind, however, and wished us to recall as much as possible of the music in our own little corner of the world.

Since we are so closely connected with Marietta and Marietta with the East, I quote from a sermon preached at the centennial of the First Congregational church of Marietta, Dec. 6, 1896, by our own Dr. Dickinson, to whose influence, more than any other, though asserted in such a modest, unassuming way, we owe the success of this Society.

"In 1802 the Marietta church appointed choristers, as follows:  Ichabod Nye, the first, Gideon Stacy, the second, and Nathaniel Gates, the third.  The hymnology of that period was very primitive and consisted mostly of paraphrases of the Psalms and other portions of the Scriptures.  These Psalms were adapted to a few tunes, mostly common metre, but the poetry was not always very elegant, as the following quotation will show:

     Likewise the heavens be down-bowed,
          And he descended and there was
     Under his feet a gloomy cloud;
          And he on cherub rode and flew;
     Yes, he flew on the wings of winde,
     His covert that him round confinde.
     His covert that him round confine.

Psalms 48th, 6, was made to read as follows:

     O God, breake Thou their tusks at once
          Within their mouths throughout;
     The tusks that in their great jawbones
          Like lions' whelps hang out.

These Psalms were sung to solemn, drawling tunes and were usually lined either by the minister or deacon.

Choirs finally became tired of this method and resolved to abandon it, but like all other innovations, the change was opposed at first.  A historian relates that in Worcester, Mass., in 1779, a resolution was adopted at the town meeting, that the mode of singing in this congregation here be without reading the Psalm line byline.  The Sabbath succeeding the adoption of this resolution, after the hymn had been read by the minister, the aged and venerable Deacon Chamberlain, unwilling to abandon the custom of his fathers, and his own honorable prerogative, rose and read the first line, according to his usual practice.  The singers, previously prepared to carry the desired alteration into effect, proceeded in their singing without pausing at the conclusion of the line.  The white-haired officer of the church, with the full power of his voice, read on through the second line, until the loud notes of the collected body of singers overpowered his attempt to resist the progress of improvement.  The deacon, deeply mortified at the triumph of this musical reformation, then seized his hat and retired from the meeting house in tears.

As the singers became more intelligent they desired a change from these monotonous, drawling tunes and about the time of our Revolution a Massachusetts singing master, by the name of Billings, introduced some tunes from the English, and prepared some himself, on a plan new to this country.  The new style of singing was called fuguing because the different parts took up a sentence in order, following each other, for example, the words:  "In reverence let the saints appear and bow before the Lord," were sung, and bow-wow-wow, and bow-wow-wow, and so on until base, treble, alto, counter and tenor had bow-wowed for about twenty seconds.

This lively music was very popular, especially with the young, and soon wrought a revolution in church music, though not without opposition.  One belligerent clergyman preached against it from the words of the Prophet Amos:  "The songs of the temple shall be turned into howling," and another Acts 17:6: "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also."

But the height of indignation and irreverence was reached by a worshipper who wrote on a panel in one of the pews in Salem church, as follows:

"Could poor King David but for once
     To Salem church repair,
And hear his psalms thus warbled out,
     Good Lord, how he would swear,
But could St. Paul but just pop in,
     From higher scenes abstracted,
And hear his gospel now explained,
     By heavens, he'd run distracted."

Hildreth tells us that in 1794 there was not a single violin in the Marietta garrison, while a few years later nearly every keel boat and barge on the western water carried one or more fiddles, and every night the men amused themselves with a hornpipe on the deck of the boat or by camp fire.  The practice was no doubt introduced by the French boatmen from Kaskaskia, who were always fond of the dance and the music of the viol.

A pretty good substitute was, however, found on these joyous occasions in the voice of an elderly man who had been a sailor in his youth and was familiarly known by the name of Uncle Sam.  He was fond of a dram and with the aid of the enlivening beverage would keep up a strain of fine vocal music the whole night.  When toward daylight he became a little drowsy, a kind word and another glass set all right again.  He oftener tired out the dancers than they him."

In our own "Belle Pre" or "Beautiful Valley," Farmers' Castle was erected in 1789, and in the following summer Rev. Daniel Story, the chaplain of the Ohio Company, preached once in four weeks.  Col. Ebenezer Battelle, a man finely educated, was made religious instructor, and kept up the meetings on the other three Sundays.

Although there must have been music in the old block house in the enclosure, we have no records of any, as far as I have been able to ascertain, other than that of the drum, the church bell of war, beaten by sixteen-year-old Ebenezer Battelle, Jr.

In 1802 a religious society was formed, and William Browning, Judge Foster and Perley Howe were appointed a committee to collect subscriptions for a church.  The members of this committee were very efficient in this line or else the people were more than generous, for history tells us that when the church on the bluff was completed they reported an excess over the amount expended of twelve shillings, nine pence, which was laid aside for current expenses.

At this time Rev. Samuel P. Robbins was hired to preach one Sunday during the month, and Isaac Pierce, Daniel Loring and Nathaniel Cushing were requested to read sermons on the other three Sundays.  Deacon Miles and Col. Putnam were appointed to pray, and Perley Howe was made sexton and leader of the singing.

Shall I tell you the story of a Sabbath in one family (which was typical of all), handed down from generation to generation, as an incentive for church attendance and punctuality?

There is none of the breathless hurry of our modern Lord's Day in the little plank house on the river, but the family waken in the morning to the holy Sabbath calm.

The preparations for this day of rest and worship were begun at six o'clock on Saturday evening.  The river flows gently on, a sweetly, lingering, melodious accompaniment to the notes of the sweet-voiced songsters of the forest.  A simple breakfast over, the old ox cart is brought to the door, a keg of water from the well (the only one in the settlement at the time) is placed therein, together with gourds for drinking and then upon splint-bottomed chairs, the mother and children take their places.  Close beside the cart the father walks, his musket upon his shoulder, ready to protect the little flock as they proceed through the rough hewn road of the forest.

They follow the river most of the way, until they reach the luxurious growth of cedars which suggested the name of Cedarville for the little town built there later.  Here they ascend the hill and proceed to the enclosure round the church, where the oxen are unhitched from the cart and fed the "wisp of hay" brought along for their especial comfort.

Entering the church, Great grandfather Howe (for it is in our own family the story has been handed down) takes his place in front of the congregation and leads the singing by reading two lines, then singing them, while beating the time, then two more, etc., until the hymn is finished.

The music is from the Psalms, and after prayer and a long sermon, there is a basket dinner.  The afternoon service is a repetition of that in the forenoon with the addition of catechism recitations.  The service ended - and the fitting crowd for such a day, so well and peacefully spent, is found, when we look on the family circle singing in the deepening twilight:

"Silently the shades of evening
     Gather round the lowly door
Silently they bring before me
     Faces I shall see no more."

Surely for them the prophetic words would be true:

"And the night shall be filled with music,
     And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
     And as silently steal away."

In 1822 the "Brick Church" was built and in 1827 withdrew their membership from the Marietta church and became a distinct organization.  It might be interesting to note the arrangement of the old church.  From a broad vestibule extending the entire width of the building, you enter the church through two broad doors.  Directly inside, occupying the space between these doors, is the pulpit on a raised platform, and enclosed with a very high railing, so that during the service, at least, the members of the congregation are compelled to "look up" to their minister.  By two aisles you reach the back of the church, where on another high platform, the choir (the first one in Belpre township) sits on benches arranged in tiers.

Here the musical mantle fell from Deacon Perley Howe as leader to his son, Rufus William Howe, who introduced the bass viol, as the first musical instrument ever used in a church in the settlement, tuning it with a letter "A" tuning fork.  As he played the bass, he sang either soprano or tenor, as needed.

Of this time Mr. Russell O'Neal tells of an amusing incident.  That Father Burgess, of Warren, came to preach one Sabbath in the old brick church and when he arose to announce the hymns and saw that they had brought a bass viol into church, he indignantly said:  "We will fiddle and sing the 148th Psalm."

At a later date Francis Stone became chorister and a melodeon was purchased.  His son Frank succeeded him.

You might be surprised to learn that with the exception of a postal of information on the subject of "Pioneer Music," there is no printed data concerning it in Marietta College, Marietta High School or Parkersburg libraries.

Dr. Dickinson's sermon from which I have already quoted, and an old family letter, which Mrs. Dale will probably read later, were the only items of information other than those gleaned, bit by bit, from talks with our own dear older folk, who smiled as they chatted of the memories of other days, and yet:

"How strange are the freaks of memory!
     The lessons of life we forget,
While a trifle, a trick of color,
     In the wonderful web is set."

Belpre has always been noted for her musical ability, and we find the older collections filled with the best productions of our great European composers.  Not until the year '51 do any of these song books contain secular songs.  Mr. Loring tells me the first time he ever heard "Old Kentucky Home" was in the old William Putnam home, when Elizabeth Putnam sang it, with wonderful sweetness and pathos.

Since the pioneer days we find the ways of writing music have changed greatly.  In the olden times the different parts were spoken of as top-lined, second, treble and bass and in some of the books, the name of every note - do, re, mi, was written throughout the entire piece.

At one time, too, the notes instead of being round, were made in different shapes and were called shaped notes.

About the year 1844 Augustus Curtis held a singing school in the old brick church, followed by Samuel Breckenridge, at the Town House, and about the year 1856, Consider Hitchcock and his brother Myron came up from Newberry and taught a singing school in the old brick church.  Consider Hitchcock led his singing class with a violin, and leaving his brother Myron in charge part of the time, held other classes in Marietta and vicinity.  All these taught before the Civil War, for Myron Hitchcock, the last to serve, entered the army and died there in 1862.

One favorite form of music in the old pioneer singing school days was the "round," and who of us nowadays is not familiar with "Three Blind Mice," and who has not breathlessly followed the farmer's wife in her exciting experiences?

The Hitchcocks were men of great executive ability and leadership.  Teaching in the old brick church, they trained the young people for the cantata, "Queen Esther," which was such a success that they reproduced it in Pomeroy and Parkersburg.  One singer in that cantata is living today - Mrs. Rowena Putnam Stone, the mother of the vice president of this Association.

Mrs. Mary Gilbert Porter has a program (which we had hoped to receive in time for this meeting) of an entertainment given in the old brick church when she was organist there.

Prominent in musical circles at this time were the Putnams, Stones, Lorings, Brownings, Gilberts, Goodnoes, Beebes, Danas, Simpsons, Pinnells and Howes.

In the old brick church we find all denominations worshipping together in peace and harmony - singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord.  The time came, however, when it seemed best for the people of Belpre to have a church in the village, so in 1820 the Belpre Methodist church was established and the Belpre Congregational in 1869, with Frank Stone as chorister and Mrs. Addie Pinnell organist.  Belpre Universalist in 1835, with Biles Steadman in charge of the music, who was their only chorister until Mr. Floyd Simpson.  At one time they had a melodeon with violin and bass viol.  Rockland Methodist church was built in 1832, and Alexander Kirkpatrick led the singing, using Watt's Hymnal.

If time permitted I should like so much to add a word of appreciation for the two lives (those of Mesdames Shaw and Pinnell) so unselfishly devoted to music in this our own day, leaving their impress on the character of those they have so generously trained, and keeping the tone of Belpre's music up to the standard already raised by the Pioneers.

It might appear that I have given more of church history than of music, but "Religion and music, twin sisters, born in heaven, have ever wandered hand in hand in their mission of love, to minister unto fallen man, to soothe, to strengthen and to save, civilization marks the path they have trodden, and superstition and unbelief have fled at their approach, like night at morning's dawn."

How much we enjoy thinking of the good old times when

"Memory sometimes bears us back
     To scenes almost forgot."

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