"Old Hundred"
Margaret Dodd Singers. "Old Hundred." The Bay Psalm Book. MIA-102. Society for the Preservation of the American Musical Heritage, 1958. LP 812

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Hymns: Make Yee a Joyfull Noyse

During the mid-sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, psalmody-the singing of psalms according to metrical schemes found in psalters-was the music of devotion and recreation for the inhabitants of the British colonies. Originally, the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 had brought along the psalter of fellow Separatist Henry Ainsworth. However, in 1636, soon after the arrival of the Pilgrims and the Massachusetts Bay Puritans, Richard Mather, John Eliot, and other "pious and learned Ministers" created their own psalter, containing more accurate translations from the Hebrew and simplified metrical schemes. In 1640, Stephen Daye made history as his printing press, the first in the colonies, turned out 1700 copies of what came to be known as the Bay Psalm Book. It was the first book printed in British America, and next to the Bible, it was the bestseller of the times, going through nine editions in the seventeenth century alone. Its popularity soon spread across the Atlantic to England and Scotland as well.

The origin of psalmody grew out of a church ordinance demanding that the book of Psalms be sung in sequence throughout the church year. Each psalm could be sung to any one of a number of tunes, as long as the number of syllables in the text matched the metrical scheme of the melody. However, since the lay population could not read music, a call-and-response style developed, known as "lining out." A cantor intoned each line of the Psalm, and the congregation responded. According to Calvinist practice, psalms were sung in unison with no musical accompaniment.

The Psalms Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, of the Old & New Testament: Faithfully Translated into English Meetre. Boston: Printed by B. Green, and J. Allen, for Michael Perry, 1698.

From the Mather Family Library in the
Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.

One of only two extant copies, this ninth edition of the Bay Psalm Book contains the first music printed in America. Each of the 200 Psalms could be sung to one of thirteen tunes, which were drawn from editions of John Playford's An Introduction to the Skill of Musick. A famous passage, often quoted as evidence of the sorry state of singing by untrained worshippers, advises the cantor to "begin the Tune of your first Note as the rest may be sung in the compass of your and the peoples voices, without Squeaking above, or Grumbling below." In fact, this quotes verbatim the 1667 edition of Playford and speaks to similar singing problems in English psalmody of the late seventeenth century.




Playford, John. An Introduction to the Skill of Musick. London: Printed by William Pearson for John and Benj. Sprint, 1724.

From the Mackay-Smith Music Collection.

The thirteen tunes and accompanying bass lines in the 1698 edition of the Bay Psalm Book came directly from three different editions of Playford's An Introduction to the Skill of Musick, the standard English theoretical treatise of the time.




The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, of the Old and New-Testament: Faithfully Translated into English Meeter. Boston: Printed by B. Green, for Benjamin Eliot, and Nicholas Boone, 1705.

From the Mather Family Library in the
Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.

For the 1705 edition of the Bay Psalm Book, the music was completely reset. This edition lacked bass lines, which had never been used in divine service because instruments were prohibited, as well as "fasola" syllables that previously had been added to aid in music reading. In resetting the book, however, the printer revealed his musical illiteracy: clef signs were omitted and the tune "Oxford" showed an incorrect key signature.




Psalterium Americanum. The Book of Psalms. Boston: Printed by S. Kneeland, for B. Eliot, S. Gerrish, D. Henchman, and J. Edwards, 1718.

From the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.





Portrait of Cotton Mather by E. Pelham. Engraved by C. E. Wagstaff & J. Andrews. Ca. 1700.

From the Mather Family Papers in the
Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History.

Best known in our times for his role in the Salem witchcraft trials, Congregational minister Cotton Mather (1663-1728) was one of the most famous New England clergymen of his day. He entered Harvard at the age of twelve and became a prolific author on scientific and theological subjects. As a scion of the illustrious Mather dynasty and therefore connected with the Bay Psalm Book, Cotton Mather served as pastor of the Second Church of Boston from 1685 to his death.

Around 1720, Cotton Mather and other clergymen began issuing tracts advocating the singing of psalms as they were notated instead of "lining out." Musical illiteracy, combined with the improvisatory nature of "lining out," resulted in melodies which often bore little resemblance to the original psalm tune. In an attempt to reform the singing of the psalms, Mather hoped to displace his grandfather's Bay Psalm Book with a new compilation, the Psalterium Americanum. This attempt proved unsuccessful.



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