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CHRISTIAN PARLOR MAGAZINE.
REMINISCENCES OF A COUNTRY CONGREGATION.
WHY is it that the choir of a country congregation is always, or often, the source of discord? Every one who knows the internal polity of these societies, has met with the singular fact that the singing is the most difficult subject to be managed with harmony, yet a matter that, one would think, should never make any trouble, much less be a cause of quarrels and divisions. Yet true it is, and in making these records I must introduce the reader to
OUR SINGING SCHOOLS,
and let him into some secrets which may be both entertaining and profitable. You will therefore understand that the singing had become about as bad as it could be and retain the name. Deacon Small-a very large man, who could sing nothing but bass, and that very badly-had sung tenor and led the singing for ten years, until forbearance ceased to be a virtue, and some of the congregation, whose nerves were not made of steel wire, began seriously to talk of doing something to improve the music. The deacon said that for his part he should be glad to do anything reasonable, and he had sometimes thought the singing would be better if the young folks would come together once a month or so, and practise the tunes with him; he would give his time for nothing, and perhaps something might be done.
But this was not the thing. The deacon's singing was as bad as the choir's; in fact worse; for what he lacked in skill and taste he made up in volume; and his voice, in a part for
which it had no fitness, would swell above all the rest so as to make such dire music as no gentle ears could endure without grievous pain, causing strong temptations to feel wrong even in church. When therefore the reformers heard that Deacon Small proposed to drill the choir into harmony, they thought of hanging up their own harps; for the deacon's instructions could manifestly avail nothing but to make bad worse. They therefore held another consultation, and deterinined to submit the matter to the congregation, in full meeting, and make a desperate effort to bring about a change.
Accordingly, when the people assembled for the annual " letting of the pews," the matter was introduced with great caution, and it was proposed, after much discussion, to send to Connecticut (where else should they send), for a singing master. Deacon Small was roused. He could see no necessity for such a sudden and expensive measure; he knew as much about singing as any of them, though he said it himself, and he knew that they had as good singing as they could expect, and if they wanted any better they mustn't go off to hire anybody to come there and teach them a new set of tunes, to go away when they were about half learnt and carry all the singing away with him But the reformers carried the day, and next Sabbath, the choir, taking in dudgeon what they chose to consider an affront put upon them and their leader, took their seats in the body of the church below, leaving the front seats of the gallery empty. The pastor saw at a glance the state
of things when he went into the pulpit, and beckoning to one of the elders who was a good singer, and always led on communion occasions, to come up to him, he made the necessary arrangements, and as soon as the morning Psalm was announced, the worthy elder rose in his place, and "pitching the tune," led off Old Hundred, to the edification of the congregation and the discomfiture of Deacon Small, who thought there could be no singing unless he took the lead
By a vote of the congregation a committee was appointed to obtain a singing master to teach one quarter, for which he was to receive a hundred dollars, and all were at liberty to attend The committee heard of a teacher and hired him.
He came. His name was Bridge; and he very soon afforded fresh proof of the saying of the knowing old ladies of the place, “that a good singing master is good for nothing else." He was a good singer but a great fop, and a low, ill-bred, but cunning fellow, who soon ingratiated himself into the favor of one part of the congregation and disgusted the rest. The school, however, was vastly popular, especially among the young people, who were fond of coming together twice a week and spending the evening sociably. Bridge always gave a long intermission, which was the occasion for all manner of fun among the young people; and then by coming early, and staying after school was out, they managed to make the entertainment quite as diverting as a dance, which latter amusement was rarely allowed among the sons and daughters of that church. But before the quarter was out, the singing master was detected in some peccadilloes that rendered his dismission necessary in the estimation of the more discreet of the congregation. The communication of this decision to the school was the signal for an explosion. A part, perhaps a majority, acquiesced in the decision and sustained the committee, but others resented it and resisted, declaring that he should stay, and they would hire him for another quarter. The parties were now pitted against each other, and for a long time the contention raged with a fierceness that threatened the unity of the church. The pastor, of course, took ground against the teacher, for his moral unfitness to lead the worship of religious people was apparent, and this decided stand of the pastor brought down upon his head the wrath of all the Bridge men, who did not scruple to say that they would keep Bridge even if they lost their minister.
The Bridge party circulated a subscription
paper, and had no difficulty in raising the money to hire the teacher for another quarter, for when men get mad they are always willing to pay to have their own way. The elders refused to have him in the choir on the Sabbath day, and so the strange and disgraceful spectacle was presented of part of a Christian congregation employing a man to instruct them in the worship of God, while the officers of the church very properly refused him a place in the service. And this wicked war was prolonged until the second quarter of the teacher expired, when he and his friends resolved to have a great musical festival, to wind off with due honor the controversy in which they flattered themselves they had been victorious. They wished to have an address on the occasion, and applied to the pastor to deliver it. He answered that he would not speak if Bridge was to lead the singing, but would cheerfully give them an address if some one else were selected to take the place of a man whom he regarded as utterly unfit to conduct the devotions of God's people. The answer was far from being satisfactory. Bridge must sing, as the festival was designed for his glory. So the party cast about to find a speaker for the great occasion, and were at length successful in obtaining one in the person of a noted pulpit orator in a distant city, deposed from the ministry, who was glad to make his way into another congregation where he knew he could never speak on the invitation of the pastor. This irregular and disgraceful act of the Bridge party closed the campaign. The last performance was condemned by the people, and the second engagement having run out, Bridge departed, to find employment elsewhere, the party that had supported him became ashamed of their own conduct, gradually returned to their respective duties, said as little as possible about their late rebellion, and submitted themselves in silence to the constituted authorities.
But it was not until after many years that the wounds which this affair had made, were healed. The feelings of one part of the people were alienated from the other; the more serious and substantial of the congregation had opposed the Bridge party, which was composed of the younger and lighter portion; the pastor had been so deeply involved in the struggle that his preaching was not received with so much affection and tenderness by those from whom he had differed; and it may be that the Word of God was not accompanied with that spirit of prayer, without which it can never be effectual, and the day of final account can alone disclose the ex