Earlier this year a group of people from Frodsham Methodist Church travelled to Wrexham Methodist Church to listen to the Carnival Band, who performed half of their concert in the Church and half in a local tavern! They performed many hymns from the eighteenth and early nineteenth century in the style in which they would probably have originally been sung, followed by perhaps more bawdy songs in the tavern. In their words they hope to ‘capture the enthusiasm and enjoyment which they evidently brought to their music making’ when these hymns and songs were written.
The concert was thoroughly enjoyable, and certainly to be recommended. It was also very informative as we were told some of the history of the hymns and songs.
Until about 1700 congregations sang mainly metrical psalms. Much religious poetry was written, such as John Bunyan’s ‘Who would true valour see’, but it was not intended to be sung. Watts began to write hymns, which as they were not strictly based on scripture, gave more freedom of expression. John and Charles Wesley became interested in this and made hymn singing an important part of their ministry.
The Methodists soon began to write new tunes for their hymns, often in a quite secular style, such as they would hear at the theatre, pleasure gardens or even the taverns. The hymns were expressions of personal thought and feelings in emotional language. The new tunes were varied, vital and original. Many were written by professional musicians, such as Samuel Stanley (who also kept a tavern) but others were written by ordinary people who had no training in music. Small groups of men were formed to improve the singing, and gradually children and eventually women were allowed to join these choirs, with instruments such as clarinets, violins, flutes and guitars being added later.
In 1761 John Wesley produced his ‘instructions for singing’
I Learn these tunes before you learn any others.
II Sing them exactly as they are printed here without altering or mending them at all …
III Sing ALL. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can.
IV Sing LUSTILY and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead,
or half asleep: but lift up your voice with strength …
V Sing MODESTLY. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of
the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony.
VI Sing in TIME. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor
stay behind it, and take care not to sing too slow ….
VII Above all sing SPIRITUALLY. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at
pleasing Him more than yourself or any other creature.’
Now there’s something to think about next Sunday!
Written by the Minister & Members