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AMONG the psalmists of the Christian Church, Dr. WATTS stands pre-eminent,
His Psalms and Hymns have an established and consecrated character; and to Chris tians of sound piety and correct taste, it is matter of devout gratulation and thankfulness, that they are so extensively used, and so highly venerated. The Book, however, like the best of human works, has its imperfections. In regard to some subjects it is redundant, in regard to others it is deficient; and some of its contents fall very considerably below its general excellence. These imperfections have been extensively felt, and acknowledged; and for the remedy of them, various attempts have been made with various success. By what has been done, however, the way has been opened for some thing still further to be attempted.
The present work was undertaken from no spirit of innovation; but from a sincere desire for the improvement and stability of our publick Psalmody. On a careful examination of Dr. Watts's Book, it was found, or thought to be found, that it might be very considerably abridged, without any detriment:-that soine entire Parts, and many stanzas of other Parts, of the Psalms, and that some entire Hymns, and many stanzas of others, might very well be spared; as the subject matter and sentiments of them, were contained, and as well or better expressed, in what would still remain. By such an abridgment some important advantages would be gained: redundancies would be retrenched; passages of little merit would be excluded; some Parts of Psalms and some Hymns, so prolix and complex as seldom, perhaps never to be given out in publick, would be reduced to convenient and excellent portions for use; especially, room would be made for the admission of not a small number of Select Hymns, from various authors, eligible either for their sterling worth, or for their suitableness to supply the deficiencies of Watts. And thus, if the design were judiciously executed, a body of Psalms and Hymns would be formed, more compact, more complete, and more worthy of extensive adoption for permanent use, than any before presented to our churches.
To the high purposes of Psalmody, good and well adapted Tunes are essentially requisite. To aid the laudable exertions of respectable societies and individuals, for the general and established use of such tunes, was a primary object of this work. It was found to be the opinion of many, well qualified to judge, that a small but judicious selection of tunes, in the same book with the Psalms and Hymns, would be useful in several respects; as it might contribute to restrain the too common vagrancy of singing choirs, and to give permanency to the use of a standard set of tunes-would be a great convenience to singers in the choir, who might wish to refresh their memories in regard to the tune to be sung-and would be a help to many others in the congregation, who, by occasionally casting their eyes upon the tune, would be able to join in the performance, of this pleasing, animating, and exalted part of divine worship.
The effect of publick psalmody is often exceedingly marred by a psalm or hymn being sung to an ill adapted tune. The leaders of singing choirs are not always persons of good taste and judgment; and the best qualified leader cannot always at the moment, so fully possess himself of the sentiments of the portion given out, as immediately to recur to a tune well suited to express them. It might therefore, it was thought, be highly useful to sit down at leis and refer each psalm and hymn, not merely to the proper key, but to a suitable tune.
The grand defect of our publick psalmody in general is the want of proper explession. Should a preacher deliver his sermon in an unanimated, monotonous manner,
not varying the movement, or quantity, or tone of voice, nor even observing the pauses, be his sermon ever so good, or his pronunciation ever so exact, his hearers might sleep, and his labour be lost. So the best psalm may be sung to the best tune, and every note, in the several parts, be sounded with the utmost exactness, and yet the performance have little interest or effect. That performance of psalmody, and that oily, is entitled to be called good, in which the movement, quantity, and tone of voice, are well adapted to the general subject, and so varied as justly to express the different thoughts, sentiments, and passions. This, it is confessed, is an attainment of no small difficulty; and requires no ordinary degree of judgment and taste, attention and prac tice. Its importance, however, demands that every thing which can be done in aid of it, should be done. To assist singers extensively, in this essential, but neglected part of good psalmody, no method appeared more eligible, than that of so marking the psalms and hymns, by means of certain symbols, as to indicate, as correctly as possible, the requisite variations of movement, quantity, and tone of voice.
Such were the views of the Compiler, when he took up the design of this work. He was sensible in the outset, and became more and more deeply so in the progress of the undertaking, that it was a design of difficult execution, and of no ordinary responsibility; and in regard to its several parts, he has not failed to avail himself, as opportunity offered, of the judgment of clergymen, musicians, and others, respectable in character, and judicious in matters of this kind. From several of them he has received very valuable hints; and to the Rev. Dr. Griffin of Boston, and the Rev. Mr. Willard of Deerfield, he is under particular obligations. Upon himself, however, the responsibility of the work at large, both as to design and execution, must rest.
His Abridgment of Dr. Watts has been executed with a cautious and trembling hand; and, he would fain hope, in a manner not to offend the pious and judicious admirers of that justly venerated psalmist. In regard to Christian doctrine and sentiment, Watts remains unaltered and unimpaired; and in what is retained of his Book, even the verbal alterations are very few, and only such as seemed most obviously requisite.
It deserves particular notice, that the numerical designations of the psalms and hymns, parts and stanzas, retained, are the same as in Watts unabridged. No confusion, therefore, need ensue in a congregation should the minister use this book, while the people are yet furnished wholly or in part with the common book.
The Selection of Hymns from various Authors has been made with laborious care; after a perusal of all the Hymns which the Compiler could well procure, and with repeated and solicitous revision. To have adopted all the hymns extant which are good, would have swelled the book to an undue size. The design was to select a competent number of such as would form the best supplement to Watts; regard being had at once to intrinsic merit, to particular subjects and occasions, and to variety of metre.
Of Tunes, as well as of hymus, it is much less easy to make a selection than a collection. It is not expected, indeed, that singing choirs will restrict themselves entirely to the use of the tunes contained in this book, even in the churches, or congregations, in which the book may be adopted. The Compiler, however, is fixed in the persua sion, that these tunes are of the kind of musick the best to general use in the house of God. While they have long borne the test of musical criticism, they are simple, easy, and grave; while they will gratify a highly cultivated taste, they may be performed without difficulty or embarrassing solicitude, by a common choir, and heard without distraction or wondering curiosity, by a conmon congregation. He is also fully persuaded, and in this persuasion he is sure of the concurrence of the best judges, that the adoption of a few well chosen tunes, for permanent use, would be vastly preferable to a great variety, and a frequent change. The prurience, indeed, for variety and change is the bane of our public psalmody. It can never be sufficiently regretted that good tunes, as soon as the singers have learned to perform them with tolerable correctness, and just as the congregation begin to be pleased with them, should be capriciously exchanged for others. Good tunes, to be performed with any adequate effect, must be perfectly familiar to the performers. It is impossible that a psalm or hymn should be performed with proper expression, when the tune is not familiar; and until singing choirs will be content with the use of a few standard tunes,
not entirely excluding, however, the occasional use of others, Expression, that most important part of good musical performance will be but little Ruown. Besides, good tunes must be familiarized by use, before their beauties and excellencies will be in any good degree perceived and felt; the longer and better they are practised, the more they will be loved and admired; and when they are lightly esteemed, or willingly exchanged for others, it must be owing not to a familiar acquaintance with them, but to the want of such acquaintance.
In assigning particular tunes for the several psalms and hymns, regard has been had, not merely to the different key, but also to the peculiar air and character of each tune, and its appropriate adaptation to the psalm or hymn for which it is assigned. If therefore, in any instance, the leader of the choir, for some particular reason, think it not best to sing the tune, or either of the tunes, referred to; still the reference may be of use, as a direction to the sort of tune, suitable to be chosen.
Of the several parts of this undertaking, that of marking the psalns and hymns with reference to Expression, was not the least difficult. To indicate indeed, all the variations, which a skilful and well practised performer would observe, were imprgiticable; to designate some of the principal of them only, is what has been attempted. The method adopted for this purpose is simple, and easy to be understood.
The movement is divided into five degrees, which are supposed to be indicated by five vowels, in Roman letter: viz. a-very slow; e-slow; i-common; o--quick; u-very quick: but, in the actual marking, the i is omitted; as it was deeme! unnecessary for passages requiring only the common movement to be marked.--The quantity of voice is also divided into five degrees, which, in like manner, are indicated by the same vowels in Italick letter: viz. a--very soft; e-soft; i-common, but omitted in the marking; o-loud; u-very loud.
In some passages a variation is required both of movement and quantity. The Pathetick in general, and some other kinds of sentiment, require the slow and soft: this expression is denoted by the letter p. The Grand requires the slow and loud; this expression is denoted by the letter g. The Beautiful requires the quick and soft; this expression is denoted by the letter b. The Spirited requires the quick and loud; this expression is denoted by the letter s.
Some passages require, not any considerable change from the common, either in movement or quantity; but either a peculiar distinctness of utterance, or some peculiar distinction in the tone, or modulation of voice. This expression, or rather these varieties of expression, are denoted by the letter d. This symbol is intended, not so much to indicate the particular manner of performance, as to arrest attention, and notify that some peculiar manner is required. Where it is applied, however, whether to passages marked as quotations, or to such as express abhorrence, scorn, indignation, or any other passion or feeling, the judicious performer will in general readily perceive the requisite expression.
If a psalm or hymn begins without any symbol of expression, it is to be considered as common, until some symbol is applied. When any symbol is applied, that is to be considered as being continued, until some other occurs. The short dash (--) after any other symbol, denotes the passage to be in all respects common.
The general character of each psalm or hymn, as before intimated, is intended to be designated, by the tune, or tunes to which it is referred; and in applying the symbols of expression, each passage of the psalm or hymn has been considered relativety to the prevailing character of the whole, and to the bearings of the several passages. Hence, some passages are marked differently from what they would have been, had the psalm or hymn to which they belong, been of a different prevailing character, or the passages with which they stand connected required different kinds of expression.
In the Punctuation regard has been had to musical expression. In some instances, therefore, different points or pauses are inserted, from what would have been used, had the grammatical construction, only, been regarded. The dash is intended to denote an expressive suspension. In order to good expression, a distinct and judicious ebservance of the pauses is absolutely necessary.
In reference to persons, the relative who is preferred to that, because it is better for musical sound. For the same reason, in reference to things, that is preferred to which.
It will not be unexpected to the compiler, if not a few should consider all that he has done and said with reference to expression, as worthy of little attention: for he is fully aware that, by a great majority even of singers in our country, this subject has been almost totally overlooked. He does, however, entertain the hope, that by some, and by many, it will not be lightly regarded. In this hope he is strengthened by the knowledge he has of a pretty extensive excitement, which promises well for improvement in this respect. Expression is certainly the very soul of good musical performand cannot be too earnestly recommended. In singing schools, and in mectings for singing the practice has been to employ the time in merely learning, or rehearsing tunes, with very little attention to psalms or hymns. This is a capital fault. If in those schools and meetings, a due proportion of the time were employed in singin psalms and hymns, with particular regard to expression, the exercise would be vastly more interesting and improving. Such a practice would eminently serve to engage attention-to awaken thought and feeling-to cultivate judgment and taste;~~ above all, to preserve the minds of singers from fickleness and levity-to imbue them with the divine sentiments of Holy Song--and to impress them with the importance of singing "with grace in their hearts unto the Lord."
It only remains for the Compiler humbly to commend this Book to the candour of the religious publick-with the devout hope, that it will promote their improvement and delight in the high praises of God: and above all, to the favour of HIM, who is "fearful in praises," and whose approbation is the highest meed--with the fervent prayer, that, under his gracious blessing, it may contribute to the advancement of his great salvation, and to the glory of his adorable NAME,
Salem, Nov. 1814.
See the Explanation in the foregoing Preface.--The Preface should be read
WATTS'S PSALMS ABRIDged.
PSALM 1. C. M.
e 3 He, like a plant by gentle streams, Shall flourish in in mortal green;
The Way and End of the Righteous and b And heav'n will shine with kindest the Wicked. On ev'ry work his hands begin. [beams,
LEST is the man who shuns the
Where sinners love to meet;
2 But in the statutes of the Lord,
o 4 Green as the leaf, and ever fair
p 5 Not so the impious and unjust;
6 Sinners in judgment shall not stand
7 YORK. CANTERBURY,
The Difference between the Righteous and the Wicked.
1 HAPPY the man, whose cautious feet
2 He loves t'employ his morning light