Obrazy na stronie

ings he bestows, the duty is evidently one that should neither be neglected nor misunderstood.

Among the authorized methods of praise, that which employs devotional song holds a distinguished place; and to this method the precepts, examples and exhortations of Scripture seem chiefly to refer. God requires the whole earth to become vocal in his praise; nor can we for a moment suppose him indifferent either as to the manner or the spirit of our songs. And to bring our offerings with cold indifference on the one hand, or to cause them, on the other, to minister chiefly to the gratification of taste, must doubtless be displeasing to him as well as injurious to the public edification.

The subject of praise has not, in the present age, been often discussed with that freedom and fulness which its importance demands. The reasons for this neglect may be sought for in the unsettled state of public opinion in matters of taste. One class of Christians, distinguished for their love of music, have laid such peculiar stress on the cultivation of a favorite art as to awaken the prejudices of another class, who, deficient in musical taste, have regarded praise chiefly as a spiritual exercise, Both extremes have been in fault, and the disagreement has operated in various ways unfavorably to the interests of churchmusic. But if we would fully understand the claims of duty in this matter we must descend to first principles. Here the two parties may meet, and build together in repairing the wastes which have been occasioned through mismanagement and neglect.

What then is implied in the duty of singing to the praise of God? The answer is not difficult. The Scriptures furnish us with themes which are eminently distinguished for their spirituality, and these thenies are to be uttered with heart and voice, in the devout eloquence of song.

To say nothing of the higher claims of music, there are certain properties of style which may well be termed fundamental. There must be melody, and harmony, and measured time, or there will be no music in our performances. There must be articulation, accent and emphasis, or there will be no distinctness or propriety of utterance. Music in the absence of these properties degenerates into jargon. But melody and harmony, time, articulation, accent and emphasis are things which do not spring up spontaneously. They are the results of patient, well directed effort.

There must also be an expressive' utterance of the sacred text, accompanied with devout affections. And this, most of all, requires critical attention and mental discipline. Even in secular music, which employs feigned emotions, there is need of special training; and how much more is this essential where the nature of the exercise requires “truth within ;" when all our motives and feelings and purposes are to be consecrated to the great object of religious worship!

Music, when applied to the themes of inspiration, should serve to clothe them with the power of eloquence. This is its express design. The words being given, the singer, like the individual who officiates in prayer, is to utter them impressively, as conveying his own sentiments in the presence of the heartsearching God. This view of the subject, evidently accords with the whole tenor of the Scriptures. It shows us the very soul and essence of devotional song; and every thing short of it, however decent or tasteful in regard to manner, must fail to secure the divine acceptance. Nor can such a method of singing be attained without a twofold preparation of the voice and the heart. To meet in the presence of God, as is too often done, without this preparation, is to offer the lame, the blind and the torn in sacrifice. It is bringing an empty oblation.

And is it possible that a principle so obvious and so important as this, can be practically disregarded? Can the entire musical arrangements of a Christian assembly be so ordered as virtually to set it aside ? Nothing is more common. Instances occur throughout the land. To say nothing of the general deficiency in elementary cultivation by which the praises of Zion too often become a dead letter; it not unfrequently happens, when there is much appearance of talent, that the leading singers of either sex, are persons who make no pretensions to personal religion, while most of the associated band appear equally indifferent to the subject. Here of course the pleasures of taste are substituted for the fervors of devotion. At least this is true of the performers; nor is it for a moment to be imagined that they are alone in the transgression.

Charity requires us to impute many of the existing abuses to the absence of correct information. But this plea can never serve to annihilate responsibility. The requisite information should be obtained. Laid under infinite obligations to love and serve God, we ought by all means to ascertain what he requires of us in the celebration of his praise. This he has so plainly revealed, that no one who will examine the subject need be in doubt. Indeed there seems to be at this present time a general

conviction upon the minds of Christians, that all is not right, · and that something ought to be done; yet as to modes of operation, as well as in reference to individual responsibility, there is much darkness and misapprehension. Habits are to be rectified, prejudices to be obviated, false maxims and principles to be set aside; and above all, the public indifference is to be done away before any thing effectual can be achieved in the way of general reform. Many, whose attention has been called to the subject, feel the necessity of exertion, but are so surrounded with difficulties as to be in doubt how they should act.

Let us inquire, then, what methods of improvement can be adopted, which will prove equal to the exigency ? :

1. Correct information must be widely diffused. The con- . viction on the public mind with regard to duty is altogether too indefinite. The responsibility is, in imagination, so divided and subdivided, as to apportion a trifling share to individuals. This is a delusion that must be broken up and dissipated. A general disregard to duty forms not the smallest excuse for individual neglect, but on the contrary is a powerful motive to personal activity.

Information should also be given in reference to physical capabilities. A multitude of prejudices, false maxims and principles would thus be annihilated. The want of talent, which is so generally exhibited, is in most cases the mere result of neglect and mismanagement. All, it is true, have not been equally favored. Some have ten talents, some have five, and some have one. But to say nothing of music as a fine art, requiring peculiar genius and susceptibility, we may venture to affirm, that the God of nature has been sufficiently bountiful for all the purposes here under consideration. This accords with the testimony of intelligent musicians on either side of the Atlantic—testimony which has been given under all the advantages of practical demonstration. So far as regards the interests of devotional song, it is evident that taste and talent lie much within the power of cultivation. Our ordinary methods of instruction, in reference to the fundamental properties of style, are, however, susceptible of great improvement; and specific information respecting them should be everywhere sup

plied.* Where there is also the right disposition, there will in general be sufficient leisure for practice. Most of us can

* The following hints may serve as some illustration of what is needed :

1. During the period of infancy, the voice may be trained in song, much as in speech, and with about the same facility : while in later years the process becomes more difficult in proportion as it has been longer neglected. This shows the im. portance of early culture. Still adults should not be dissuaded from effort. All are susceptible of some improvement; and multitudes, if duly encouraged, might in time become useful singers.

2. Qualities of tone, whether agreeable or disagreeable, depend chiefly on the habitual treatment of the vowels; as upon these the voice is wholly formed. The amount of power, delicacy, &c., often depends on the character of training. Every teacher, therefore, should labor to improve his own voice, as well as his power of discrimination with regard to the voices of others.

3. Singing in just tune is by no means an instinctive fac. ulty, but is in every case the result of well-directed imitation. Voices once well trained in this respect, may afterwards be vi. tiated by neglect, or by the bias of an imperfect teacher.

4. The due observance of measured time is a mere species of mental calculation, rendered habitual by persevering practice.

5. A good articulation may in most cases be easily obtained where habits have not become too inveterate. Here almost every thing depends upon the right treatment of the consonants. While vowels only are to be sung, consonants are to be articulated at certain given moments, with great precision; and with a force always adapted to the circumstances of the auditor. Suitable reference must also be had to the power of accompanying instruments.

6. Music makes some general provision for accent and emphasis, but in sacred song, the sense of the words must take precedence of musical rules. Yet the latter must not be wholly disregarded. Breathing, too, should as far as possible be regulated by the punctuation and the sense of the language ; and the latter should by all means be made to flow with apparent ease and propriety.

7. The cultivation of right emotions in the singer is quite in. dispensable to just expression. This can never be done, with out example seconded by appropriate effort. Efforts should also be repeated, till they result in the formation of a settled doubtless command as much leisure as fell to the lot of the sweet Psalmist of Israel, sitting upon the throne of a mighty nation.

2. Let every one pursue the work of praise in his hours of private devotion. All who can speak have native talent sufficient for the ends of private edification. Multitudes who were never taught to sustain the melody of a tune, have acquired the important habit to which we here refer- a habit which no considerations could afterwards induce them to relinquish. It becomes in such cases a tich source of spiritual improvement. The Psalmist appears often to have been singing alone. This may be inferred from the occasional language of his themes, as well as from the circumstances that gave them birth. The primitive Christians appear to have acquired a similar habit. The Apostle says, “ Is any merry (joyful), let him sing psalms ;" not, let him wait till the hour of some public performance. Luther understood the importance of this method of singing; so did the late President Edwards. The latter, during the years of his ministry, would often retire into the forests and fields, spending hours together in singing aloud the joyous meditations of his heart.

3. Let there be singing uniformly at the family altar. This was one of the primitive practices that should never have been discontinued. It obtained also among the reformers of the sixteenth centuıy. At certain hours of the day, whole villages became vocal with the songs of praise. We see not why family praise is not equally as appropriate as family prayer. Why should we be so constantly asking favors of God, and as constantly neglecting to “ give thanks at the remembrance of his mercies ?" True, there are other methods of rendering praise ; but this is no reason why the one which has been constituted for this specific purpose should be neglected. Devotional singing has a delightful influence upon families, and were it generally practised in the domestic circle, we should soon see a corresponding improvement in the music of our churches. habit; every thing short of this will fail to secure the desired end.

And now, when it is remembered that such things as we have here enumerated are almost universally neglected in favor of the claims of notation, which also in their turn are but imperfectly sustained, it is easy to discover what improvements and facili. ties are wanting.

« PoprzedniaDalej »