Georgian Psalmody 2: the interaction between urban and rural practice

Papers from the Second International Conference organised by The Colchester Institute, edited by Christopher Turner

Contents, biographical notes and introduction

After biographical notes on the contributors, Christopher Turner in his introduction considers themes running through the papers, and suggests questions needing further exploration.

Contrasts, issues, preferences

In his keynote address, Nicholas Temperley takes up some of the issues that have surfaced during the current revival of Georgian psalmody. It is generally acknowledged that there was a real distinction between urban and rural psalmody; and of the two, the urban kind tended to be closer to the norms of classical music. But there has been a wide divergence of views about how Georgian psalmody should be performed today. Opposing sides have appealed to historical scholarship and to ethnomusicology to support their positions. Temperley suggests that only the consumer (normally, the audience) can provide the ultimate verdict on styles of performance. Appeals to documentary evidence, or to performing traditions, can only tell us, imperfectly, what was done in the past. They cannot tell us what ‘should’ be done now. As an example he cites a common Georgian phenomenon: the parody hymn tune, extracted and adapted from a famous opera, oratorio, or concert work by a musical craftsman, and then entering the popular tradition. In the complex history of such a tune there is no authority to appeal to. Each group performed it in the way that suited its own habits and preferences. We should do the same, while respecting the rights of others to do it differently.

West gallery music and musicians in Wessex

Alan Dodge illustrates in graphic detail the evolution of psalmody from the Reformation to the 19th century as portrayed by records of Wessex village churches.

Richard Taylor of Chester (1758–1827): his music, life and times

This paper by Sally Drage aims to shed light on the life and work of Richard Taylor of Chester. He was a staunch nonconformist, who held strongly independent political views, and who ran a successful music shop, where he sold his own compositions. A brief résumé of music and society in late 18th-century Chester is followed by a description of Taylor’s early life. His religious beliefs and his musical career as a singer and precentor are outlined, and his compositions are discussed. The last part of the paper considers the problems of part allocation, with reference to the movement of the air from tenor to treble in provincial psalmody at the beginning of the 1800s.

John Deffray and the religious society of Romney

Helen Mitcham and Chris White write about John Deffray, a Huguenot refugee who took orders in the Church of England and became rector of Old Romney in 1690. Unhappy with the poor quality of religious observance in the parish, he formed a religious society of young men with the aim of remedying this. Contemporary manuscript accounts of services conducted for the society in 1701 and 1721 show that their repertoire was very similar to that of London religious societies at the same date and suggests the effectiveness of the society as a vehicle for transmitting urban innovations in psalmody to a rural area.

John Sayle: the boy, the man and the music

Like many similar manuscripts, as Fenella Bazin explains, John Sayle’s music book has the potential to reveal a great deal about its owner. Not only can we follow the development of Sayle himself as a musician but, through related research, we can chart economic, social and linguistic changes in a busy Manx parish of the mid 19th century.

The Colby manuscripts

Preserved in the Manx Museum at Douglas are fourteen part-books used by musicians at Kirk Christ, Rushen Parish Church, in the early decades of the 19th century. This paper by Francis Roads sets out to ask what can be learnt from the study of such a set, which represents the repertoire of a particular group of musicians at a particular place and period.

The Foundling Hospital Collection in the early 19th century

After outlining the earliest Collections of Psalms, Hymns and Anthems sung at the Foundling Hospital Chapel, Gillian Ward Russell describes the two Collections used during the time William Russell was organist (1801–1813). The later edition was compiled by Russell himself, and reflects contemporary trends. The musical styles of these two Collections are compared, and Russell’s revision process is explained. Music examples provide illustrations to the detailed analysis.

The place of Methodism in Georgian psalmody

This paper by Winifrid Stokes seeks to show that although Wesley himself would have been happier with either unison singing or the syllabic chordal harmonies of the Lutheran chorale, both the missionary character of Wesleyan and subsequently Primitive Methodism and contemporary musical taste pushed Methodist hymnody in the years before the large-scale introduction of organs and harmoniums in the direction of the fugal tunes with repetition and imitation characteristic of the period of its inception. The paper illustrates from primary sources the tenacious appeal of this style of hymnody and concludes that it could and should claim a central place in any consideration of form and practice in religious music during the Georgian period.

‘Miserable machines’: the role of the barrel organ within Georgian psalmody

In this paper Christopher Turner sets out to challenge the accepted view that barrel organs necessarily replaced church bands. He argues that barrel organs existed at the same time as the bands and that the psalmody repertoire they contain reflects this. He also suggests that the barrel organ is therefore an important source for understanding Georgian psalmody performance issues including basic repertoire, tempo, ornamentation, use of interludes and other characteristics which are found on the barrels, but are not notated in printed or manuscript sources.

Christ Church, Sydney, as an agent for change

In this paper James Forsyth argues that the repertory of Christ Church, in the Parish of St Lawrence, Sydney, from 1839 documents changes from village parish traditions of unstructured psalmody to a liturgically informed tradition which provided the cradle for present practices. An examination of the music presented at the Service of Consecration in 1845 and repertory contained in surviving part-books will demonstrate that elements of old and new practices co-existed. Metrical psalms continued to be sung by the people, while the choir sang chant settings of psalms, liturgically texted music, and anthems. Through a discussion of the music used on this occasion and the repertory it can be argued that Christ Church was an agent for change from Georgian village church practices to Victorian town church practices whose reverberations can still be heard.

Hymns for a pioneer child

This research started from Gillian Warson’s love of the ‘Little House’ series of children’s books by Laura Ingalls Wilder which describe pioneering life in the 1870s. The study is not intended to be a definitive analysis of American history of the time, or an authoritative consideration of American church music, but rather a look at how this particular author has chosen to emphasise a hymn-singing culture. Through the stories it is possible to trace the hymns as they shift from a largely oral-based tradition, to the introduction of hymn books, as well as concepts of performance practice and instrumentation.

Performing psalmody: a personal view

In 1996 Peter Holman began a project with Sally Drage to research, perform and record Georgian parish church music using the choir Psalmody and members of The Parley of Instruments. This paper discusses the decisions that they have to make when choosing repertory, deciding its scoring and developing an appropriate performing style.

Georgian psalmody in America

Georgian psalmody –- or at least the ‘roots’ of it -- has been part of the musical scene in America since the founding fathers colonised the New World. In this paper, Arlie Prokop offers some evidence that Georgian psalmody developed in America along much the same lines as in England, and that common ground is still evident regarding this music today. There are too many aspects to discuss at length here, but this paper sets out some of the more interesting parallels she has found.


This section is a compilation of works referred to in individual papers. It includes all printed works (except modern newspaper articles). Manuscript references are not included; details of these are given in footnotes in the papers. Some original printed sources are very rare, if not unique. These works are listed with shelfmarks, call numbers or a cross-reference to the paper that discusses them in detail.