Cover image for From psalm to symphony : a history of music in New England
From psalm to symphony : a history of music in New England
Tawa, Nicholas E.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Northeastern University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiv, 466 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML200.7.N3 T39 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Beginning with the Pilgrim and Puritan settlers on the rockbound wilderness of Massachusetts Bay, New Englanders have left an enduring imprint on America's musical landscape. Now musicologist Nicholas E. Tawa examines for the first time New England's rich heritage of music making over a span of 350 years.

In this sweeping chronological account, Tawa traces the region's fascinating history of art music from the psalm and hymn singing of the early colonists, to the works of native composers, to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He chronicles artistic developments within the context of the geographical, economic, cultural, and political currents that influenced and defined the area's musical experiences, and he describes how ongoing societal transformations and evolving forms of music have both enriched and reinvented a New England identity.

Focusing on the people who wanted, produced, and listened to music, Tawa's eloquent narrative underscores how musical life in New England has played a significant role in shaping the nation's music. He highlights the region's preeminence in music publishing, its outstanding contributions to the improvement and manufacture of instruments, its commitment to music education, and its leadership in establishing first-rate musical institutions. Also featured are New England's many gifted and skilled composers, including William Billings, John Knowles Paine, Arthur Foote, Amy Beach, Charles Ives, Frederick Shepherd Converse, Randall Thompson, Walter Piston, Gunther Schuller, and John Harbison.

This highly readable and informative volume will appeal to music aficionados, historians, and general readers alike.

Author Notes

Nicholas E. Tawa is Professor of Music, Emeritus, at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is the author of numerous articles and books on American music history, including Arthur Foote: A Musician in the Frame of Time and Place, American Composers and Their Public: A Critical Look, and High-Minded and Low-Down: Music in the Lives of Americans, 1800-1861.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

In this aptly titled book, Tawa (music, emeritus, Univ. of Massachusetts), a prolific author on American music, narrows his focus to art music in the New England (primarily Boston) area. Against a backdrop of societal forces and philosophical ideals many of which have been prevalent since Colonial times he deftly chronicles the interactions of composers, musical organizations, and patrons. Complementing this overall organization are chapters devoted to individual composers, whose lives and works are discussed in a refreshing light. The author elucidates a transcendental or spiritual thread common to New England composers and their audiences. That this basic philosophical outlook is constant and yet subject to personal interpretation is demonstrated remarkably well in this staunch defense of art music. One finds a bold honesty and ring of truth in Tawa's final chapter, an uncompromising critique of the current state of art music in New England. Of value to musicians but accessible to nonmusicians, this work is essential for all American music collections and every library in New England. Teresa M. Neff, Massachusetts Inst. of Technology, Cambridge (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

As he did in such works as Art Music in the American Society (CH, Feb'88) and his biography Arthur Foote (CH, May'98), Tawa (Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston) champions US art music in this chronicle of the cultivation of primarily art music in New England from the 17th century to the present. A native son, Tawa unabashedly extols the Yankee pragmatism and ethos that led to the foundation of so many important musical organizations, conservatories, and publishing houses. The book consists mostly of short biographies of personalities and composers, with brief synopses of key compositions. This strategy works best through the 19th century for such men as Frederick Converse, who spent most of his life in the region, but it breaks down after WW II when Tawa claims as New Englanders composers who merely went to school or taught there for a time. The strongest part of the book is the last chapters--a diatribe against the ills that beset the genre today (e.g., lack of adequate federal funding, overpriced concert tickets, and the loss of young audiences). This section and Tawa's case for New England's unique "voice" are controversial and should spark needed discussion among music lovers and professionals. Very helpful bibliography. Lower/upper-division undergraduates and general readers. A. M. Hanson St. Olaf College



Chapter One TO SETTLE A WILDERNESS When we ask where the real start of music in the British colonies took place, we are most apt to find the answer in New England, and in the rather severe, restricted, and somewhat ordinary singing of psalms, which must have seemed off-putting to non-Puritans. In order to place this New England music in its proper perspective, I start by glancing at what was happening in the rest of colonial America. Music marked by taste and refinement existed elsewhere in America, except among some of the Quakers, who shunned music for religious reasons. Yet even in Quaker Philadelphia, music seems to have captured the fancy of many residents.     English people were in Virginia and the Dutch in New York about the same time as the Pilgrims and Puritans and certainly enjoyed making music. Nor were they bound up as rigidly as the Puritans by religious restraints that censored certain forms of musical expression. The first arrivals in Virginia came in 1607, in the form of the Virginia Company, which was intended to operate somewhat as a military trading spot. Ten years later, the inhabitants were allowed to hold property, and tobacco became a leading commodity. Yet for a while, hardship was their lot. Cultivation of food products was neglected, and massacres by native Indians in 1622 weakened the colony. The mortality rate was appalling. Revival would begin only after 1624, when Virginia became a Crown Colony. The Dutch occupied the Albany area in 1624, and Manhattan in 1626. Again, the initial intent was profit through trade. Inept leadership left people unhappy and ready to welcome drastic political change. The English would take over in 1664.     Because the first arrivals in Virginia and New York were often seekers of fortune, many here on speculation, they failed to identify with the New World. Even after they were comfortably settled on the Atlantic seaboard, quite a few of them wanted only to replicate what they had known in their former lives, with no intention of moving away from it. Thus, the music they produced was, insofar as circumstances permitted, identical with that of their place of origin. They tended, more than the Puritans, to compartmentalize their lives--certain hours given to God, certain hours to work, and certain hours to diversion, not excluding roistering.     Some fairly sophisticated music making would take place among the Spanish and Portuguese in Latin America and the French in Quebec, in the shape of masques, operas, masses, and motets. But these lands smacked more than a little of popery, with which none of the English colonists would have dealings, at least not until the next century. Only Maryland, to which Lord Baltimore had sent two ships in 1634, countenanced Catholic worship. Maryland's Toleration Act of 1649 gave emphasis to this open-mindedness. Nevertheless, nothing of a more than primitive nature was possible in music owing to the sparse and scattered homesteads in the region and the shortage of wherewithal.     The launching of schools for musical study and the inauguration of a music that had the stamp of the New World upon it was left for New Englanders to accomplish. Admittedly, it was not an imaginative, inspired, or ingenious music that the New Englanders brought into being. Nevertheless, the sound, whatever its debt to Europe, gradually took on a homegrown quality and shifted step by step away from the characteristics of its original model.     The English Pilgrims and Puritans who crossed the ocean from Holland and England to what they called New England quickly learned that past experience alone would fail them in their raw surroundings. At first, they struggled to apply what they knew in any fashion they could. Almost immediately they realized that adjustments needed to be made. Out from the modes of living they had known in Europe, they carved those symbols, designs, and articles of faith that would help deal with and overcome the problems and difficulties encountered in the American wilderness. In their European lives, they had used traditional procedures for coping with vexing questions. Many of those procedures resisted transplantation. As the residents of Massachusetts Bay dealt with novel events and resolved unexpected crises, they would find themselves altering old usages and originating new ones.     The challenges were great along the flinty Massachusetts shore. Complete adherence to the old would not do. The emigrants who established themselves along the New England coast could not help but build a new society, set up a new civilization, and express themselves in individual cultural ways. And music was an essential part of those ways. From the beginning, they would sing and play musical instruments, though not during religious service.     Each phase of New England's history had failings and successes and showed nastiness and thoughtfulness, drudgery and inspiration. Men, women, and children submitted routinely to some limitations and endured others uncomplainingly, however discomfiting they might be. Music born in New England would always embody the unsettled contrariness that was behind its existence. Again and again we find that a part of its strength and uniqueness arose from tensions and dialectical oppositions in the society that produced it.     As a music historian I wish to pay close attention to the shifting nature of New England's cultural history, looking to the mind-set and circumstances that caused music to exist--to be sung, performed on instruments, composed, desired, and given a hearing. I agree wholly with Michael Kammen when he writes that each society is different and each culture exceptional in its own way. I ask continually how and why New England society was different and in what ways was it exceptional.     I hope to steer clear of the major errors of judgment that have continuously popped up with the term Puritan. Those errors resulted from strongly marked biases and misunderstandings of the Puritan outlook on existence. They also resulted because it was mostly the religious leaders with strong convictions who wrote about their society and its moral stances. Unrecorded in history were the views of thousands of men and women below the rank of the highly educated and the economically better off.     The Puritan label itself is rather unfixed and applies to all classes and states of men's and women's affairs. Puritans held to a broad assortment of positions on religious and worldly matters. At the least, I want to do away with the common notion, not backed by any honest reading of history, that the Puritans were uniformly a narrow-minded bunch that discouraged every diversion related to this world and its pursuits, including music, rather than to religion or spiritual affairs. As will be shown, there were Puritan ministers open to the latest thing in law, politics, science, medicine, and philosophy. Ordinary people insisted on their secular amusements--including dancing, ballad singing, and musical games. ARRIVING IN AN UNKNOWN LAND The first English settlers disembarked on a seacoast barren of towns and empty of people to whom they could relate. Trees were everywhere and had to be cleared before crops could be planted. The soil was rockier and less fertile than they had anticipated. Winters froze them and afflicted them with snow, ice, and hunger. Summers left them stifled, overheated, and sticky with perspiration. They felt remote from Europe, and only small, slow ships with limited cargo space and precarious fragility provided links to the homes they had left behind. They struggled for food to survive, surrounded by potentially hostile American Indians and threatened by French Quebecers. The soil was shallow and grudgingly produced fruit, grain, and vegetables. The growing season was short and unpredictable. Game often proved illusive and required forays into intimidating forests; the ocean waited to swallow up fishermen. Given these circumstances, music could scarcely be of immediate concern, however much some men and women might love it.     On the other hand, the settlers were a determined lot and allowed nothing to faze them. Eventually music would indeed become a concern. The discouraging conditions would ameliorate and give way to enlightenment and music's cultivation. They would achieve both through education and training. There would also be a growing familiarity with a wide range of literature, other fine arts, and elements of science rather than just occupational and mechanical matters.     The Pilgrims were Separatists from the Church of England, with which they wanted nothing to do. They stressed the Bible as the source for spiritual value and the ability to read as the means for attaining spiritual knowledge. Common consent, on the congregational principle, selected those religious leaders who served the church in a public capacity. The implications for a future democratic society and for public education, including music education, are obvious. The Pilgrims left England for Holland in 1607-8, and 102 of them left Holland for America in 1620. A small settlement was established in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts.     The Puritans, in contrast, did not break with the Church of England. Rather, they wished to work from the inside and purify it. They not only promoted education but also laid emphasis on it as necessary for salvation. Unhappy in an England where Bishop Laud was exerting pressure on them, almost one thousand men, women, and children formed the Massachusetts Bay Company, obtained a royal charter, and crossed the Atlantic in 1630 to settle along "Massachusetts Bay in New England." Aboard the ship Arbella , during the voyage, John Winthrop delivered a sermon entitled "A Model of Christian Charity," declaring: "For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world." This sense of mission would imbue New England's educators, writers, musicians, and composers in later years. Lowell Mason's drive to introduce music into the public schools was bound up with it; Henry Lee Higginson's urge to accumulate the wealth to establish the Boston Symphony followed Puritan precepts; the composer Horatio Parker, gripped by a strong awareness of duty, echoed the values of New England; Henry Gilbert found his calling in the fight for an identifiably American music; and Charles Ives's dedication to emancipating music from its too well mannered fetters was a cause espoused from his youth.     Within half a decade, around ten thousand Puritans had arrived in New England. The nature of the land promoted small farms and discouraged a slave economy. Contiguous villages and towns formed around Boston. Their inhabitants bunched together to provide security from possible enemies, communal assistance in large tasks, and the fellowship of neighbors. They believed strongly in staying near each other as much as possible and erecting their homes about a church. Like a fan spreading out of Boston, community after community came into being. This would enable Thomas Ryan to state more than two hundred years later that the success of his chamber music ensemble was due to New Englanders' propensity for clustering together: In order to appreciate the environment of the Quintette Club during our early years [the 1850s], we have to remember that Boston, within a radius of one hundred miles, had a very large number of towns and cities of active working communities. With the exception of a few places like Providence, Worcester, and Portland, these towns had no theatres; their only entertainments were lectures or concerts and these were mostly given in churches; so we had all New England to ourselves (as far as supplying music was concerned) for many years.     Immediately, the colonists took action to organize an association of towns with Boston as the center, rather than just as an outpost, where they could put their principles into practice. By 1637 the Puritan migration had dried up owing to political problems in England, not least of which were the struggles of Puritans against Royalists. Realizing they were on their own, the settlers established their first free grammar school in 1635 and Harvard College in 1636. At Harvard's first commencement, the program's first paragraph stated: "After God had carried us safe to New England , and wee builded our houses, provided necessaries for our livli-hood, rear'd convenient places for Gods worship, and setled the Civill Government: one of the next things we longed for, and looked after was to advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministery to the Churches, when our present Minsters shall lie in the Dust."     The Puritan leaders agreed in 1647 that an urgent need existed to battle against ignorance. Education was seen as an essential means to understanding themselves and their relation to God, and to advancing the welfare of the Bay Colony. Therefore, they decreed that every town of one hundred families or more had to offer free grammar school education for all children. Boston Latin, Cambridge Latin, Roxbury Latin, and New Haven's Hopkins Grammar School soon achieved a reputation for excellence. Did not John Cotton (1585-1652), a very popular minister who had graduated from Cambridge University, in Christ the Fountaine of Life , explain, "Zeale is but a wilde-fire without knowledge?" The accusations of irrational religious beliefs, closed minds, extreme conservativism, and moral self-righteousness hurled against the first settlers along Massachusetts Bay require at least some modification.     For much of the seventeenth century, clerics managed the Bay Colony. They controlled the meetinghouses, the political direction, and the schools. They repeatedly tried to amend the lives of their parishioners, believing to do them good in the ways that they saw the good. Egalitarianism was absent from their lexicon. Rebels against the Puritan orthodoxy had to move away from the Boston area. Thomas Hooker traveled to the Connecticut River in 1635 to practice his beliefs, although feeling cramped in his Cambridge quarters also encouraged the move. The next year, Roger Williams left for Providence. Anne Hutchinson was banished in 1638; she relocated near Williams. The next year, William Coddington had to move to Newport. Mary Dyer, a Quaker who was repeatedly expelled and kept returning, was finally hanged. Then came the witchcraft accusations and trials of the early 1690s, which remain one of the darkest blots on New England's history. Yet even this horrible phase of New England history must be put into the context of the period. Even into the next century, Europe was still burning witches. France did not stop until 1746; Germany, 1775; and Poland, 1793. Moreover, the Inquisition and its tortures continued in Italy until the century's end.     At the same time, these same clerics, however preoccupied with maintaining the purity of their flocks, also refused to surrender to degrading circumstances created by the wilderness. Fallow minds and slackened morals loomed as dangers. A lapse into barbarism was not inconceivable. Therefore, even as their followings labored in the fields, forests, and small manufactories, the religious leadership demanded that they cultivate their intellects and tend their souls.     Clerical control, nevertheless, was bound to weaken. Seaports like Boston were openings on the world without. Rowdy sailors, cheap taverns, and sleazy brothels could not be excluded. Reports exist of drunkenness, unbuttoned merriment, and unseemly behavior, including wild fiddling and the bawling of lewd songs. Furthermore, the populace's love for brilliant colors, fine furniture, rich drapery, and modish clothes withstood repression. On 25 September 1638 John Winthrop (1588-1649) wrote into his Journal: "The court, taking into consideration the great disorder general through the country in costliness of apparel, and following new fashions, sent for the elders of the churches and conferred with them about it, and laid it upon them, as belonging to them, to redress it, by urging it upon the consciences of their people, which they promised to do. But little was done about it; for divers of the elders' wives, etc., were in some measure partners in this general disorder."     Nathaniel Ward (ca. 1578-1652) was a minister who lived in what is present-day Ipswich, Massachusetts. He became upset over the way women were chasing after fashion, even from the first arrival of the Puritans. He wrote in 1647 in The Simple Cobler of Aggawam in America: To speak moderately, I truly confesse it is beyond the ken of my understanding to conceive, how those women should have any true grace, or valuable vertue, that have so little wit, as to disfigure themselves with such exotick garbes, as not only dismantles their native lovely lusters, but transclouts them into gant bar-geese, ill-shapen shotten shell-fish, Egyptian Hieroglyphicks, or at the best into French flurts.... it is no marvell they weare drailes on the hinder part of their heads, having nothing as it seems in the fore-part, but a few Squirrills braines, to help them frisk from one ill-favored fashion to another.     Less strict members of the public countenanced the dancing to fiddled dance tunes not only of the sexes separated from each other but also of men and women together. Recognizing the prevalence of dancing, the righteous ones knew that some of it had to be approved. In 1684 the conservative minister Increase Mather, in An Arrow Against Profane and Promiscuous Dancing , gave his blessing to dancing and dance music so long as it was not "mixt or promiscuous dancing," that is to say, men dancing with women. And in the one conspicuous court trial of a dancing master, it was not dancing itself that was the transgression. It may also have been debts, arrogance, and serious blasphemy that were involved. Samuel Sewall's Diary , 12 November 1685, has the entry: "The ministers of this town come to the Court and Complain against a Dancing Master who seeks to set up here and hath mixt Dances; and 'tis reported he should say that by one play he could teach more Divinity than Dr. Willard or the Old Testament. Mr. Moodey said 'twas not the time for N. E. to dance. Mr. Mather struck at the Root, speaking against mixt dancing." On 17 December 1685: "Mr. Stepney, the Dancing Master, desired a Jury, so he and Mr. Shrimpton bound in 50 lbs. To Janr. Court. Said Stepney is ordered not to keep a Dancing School; if he does will be taken in contempt and be proceeded with accordingly." On 28 July 1686: "Francis Stepney the Dancing Master runs away for Debt. Several attachments out after him."     Sewall (1652-1730) was extremely fond of music throughout his life and engaged in part-singing whenever he found partners. He was, too, a judge at the Salem witch trials of 1692 who openly repented his actions five years later. He would publish an antislavery tract, The Selling of Joseph (1700), and author the Memorial Relating to the Kennebeck Indians (1721), advocating the humane treatment of Indians.     Singing games, many of them round dances, were regarded normally as straightforward diversions for children and young folk of sixteen to twenty-five. The amusements regulated by the singing of the group, when they were set forth as games, appeased the officials responsible for moral behavior. Rules of propriety remained unbroken even when kissing redeemed forfeits at evening social gatherings, since it "was in honor given and taken before witnesses." Several of the dance tunes for the young have continued into the twentieth century: "Did You Ever See a Lassie," "The Farmer in the Dell," and "Go in and out the Windows," to name three.     Many non-Puritans commenced migrating to New England after 1637 to better themselves economically. They disliked disenfranchisement in their new home and canvassed for change. Among the Puritans themselves, voices were raised against rule by only clergymen and theologians. Indeed, as generation succeeded generation, a growing number of New Englanders became lukewarm Puritans at best and named themselves so only because they were willing to take on the colors of the ruling party, either for the sake of expediency or because they were indifferent to what religious labels they applied to themselves. They were not prepared to give the clerics their head on all matters. Moreover, their ethical and religious loyalties could be redirected if adjustments to changing circumstances made a change in direction advantageous. These ordinary people began to insist on representation on the General Court. In 1644 two legislative bodies representative of both sides, clergy and populace, came into being, each able to veto the legislation of the other. A voluntary synod of all New England churches met in 1648 and adopted the congregational form of church government.     King Philip's War broke out in the mid-1670s. During 1675-78 the Nipmuck, Narragansett, and Wampanoag tribes formed a loose confederation that ravaged the frontier villages and rolled back the settlements almost to the sea. After a decade's lull, Indians led by the French again wiped out frontier communities, especially in 1689. There was a growing conviction that secular leadership was required. This diluted domination by the divines. More devastating still was the English king's revocation of the Massachusetts Charter in 1684 and the imposition of a royal governor. Anyone with an annual income of forty pounds or having property worth one hundred pounds was allowed to vote. The first Anglican service took place in Boston in 1686. Afterward, as life grew more comfortable, the desire for material things increased. Slowly, the happier, more festive, and lighthearted customs of England underwent rebirth along Massachusetts Bay.     At the same time, the principled commonwealth, whose idea the Puritan ministers had tried to maintain, declined. The witchcraft trials of 1692 condemned fourteen women and six men to death. After the trials, the guilt-laden New England public lost faith in the judgments of the religious leaders and was skeptical about their devotion to the common good. Well might Cotton Mather call the years 1685-95 "Decennium Luctuosum," the decade of sorrow.     When the eighteenth century arrived, the makeup of New England society was fairly diversified, and the political system much less dominated by an oligarchy. The system of town government and town meetings expanded popular participation. Population growth never ceased. A little after the mid-eighteenth century, Boston alone could boast fifteen thousand inhabitants. MUSIC ENTERS We know that England's Puritans, whether Oliver Cromwell, John Milton, or John Bunyan, took pleasure in music so long as it was not offensive to morality or decency. During Cromwell's rule over England (1653-60) he maintained a private orchestra, allowed Italian opera into London for the first time, and sanctioned the publication of much secular music, including dance tunes. The English heard their first genuine native opera, The Siege of Rhodes , in 1656, with music by Henry Lawes and Matthew Locke. Only during worship did Puritans believe in limiting the music to the singing of psalms without help of an organ. (Continues...) Excerpted from FROM PSALM TO SYMPHONY by NICHOLAS E. TAWA. Copyright © 2001 by Nicholas E. Tawa. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Illustrationsp. vii
Prefacep. ix
1. To Settle a Wildernessp. 3
2. Singing Schools and Teacher-Composersp. 23
3. The Road into the Musical Futurep. 44
4. Fostering Musical Improvementp. 69
5. Toward a New Music Erap. 100
6. Paine and Chadwickp. 130
7. Parker, Foote, and MacDowellp. 171
8. Beach and Ivesp. 204
9. Transformationsp. 227
10. Redefining Traditionp. 271
11. The Composers of the Post--World War I Periodp. 293
12. The Second Half of the Twentieth Centuryp. 329
13. Composers Briefly of New England after World War IIp. 350
14. Composers Resident in New England after World War IIp. 369
15. A Final Wordp. 393
Notesp. 407
Bibliographyp. 439
Indexp. 449