Duly Noted

Today as I’ve been working on Then Sings My Soul Book 3 I came across something I hadn’t realized, having to do with the development of musical notes.

I’ve known, of course, that the introduction of “hymns” into the English church was a matter of great controversy in the early 1700s. Many thought only the Psalms should be sung, and the writing of hymns was greatly criticized at first.

What I didn’t realize is that it wasn’t just the hymns—it was the near-simultaneous introduction of musical notes into church life. Previously only a few ponderous melodies were commonplace. Now composers began introducing musical notes and creating new tunes. Many attributed this to the devil. One man wrote in “The New England Chronicle” in 1723 that if Christians began singing by note, soon sermons and prayers would be mechanically regulated as well. The objectors claimed that singing by note…

  • Was a new way, an unknown tongue.
  • Not as melodious as the usual way of singing.
  • Introduced too many tunes, more than churches could learn.
  • Disturbed the unity of the church, grieved good men, and exasperated worshippers.
  • The names of the notes were blasphemous.
  • It was needless, for the old way was good enough.
  • It was only a contrivance to get money.
  • It required too much time to learn the notes.[i]

And, of course, there were the ubiquitous complaints that some of the new noted music sounded suspiciously like that of the world.

But it should be noted… notes and tunes as well as hymns were here to stay.

PS – For information about ordering the first two volumes of Then Sings My Soul, click here.


[i] Wilber Fisk Crafts, Trophies of Song (Boston: D. Lothrop & Co., 1874), 29-30.

One thought on “Duly Noted

  1. Surely there were hymns before the 1700’s! I think of Martin Luther for one, who wrote a number of hymns set to popular songs of the day. “Why should the devil have all the good music?” Perusal of any commonly used hymn book will reveal a number of hymns written in the middle ages. Certainly hymn singing took off in the 1700’s. For example one can download a copy of the Olney Hymn Book, written by John Newton and William Cowper in the 1700’s.
    Often any new thing in the Church causes much angst for some members. There are many traditions that symbolise great things but sadly the great things have been lost and the traditions, the shadows, the symbols remain and nobody knows why, except that they cling doggedly to these shadows which they seem to prefer to the substance.

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