Baptists and the American Civil War: November 9, 1862

Illinois FlagWhile war is uppermost on the minds of many Baptists in the North, life otherwise carries on as much as possible. Today, the music program of the First Baptist Church of Peoria, Illinois is the subject of a lengthy letter to the editor published in the Peoria Morning Mail, and written by an unidentified “lady.”

Dear Mail:–I don’t profess to be a connoisseur in musical matters, nothing more than an amateur, but am passionately fond of the science, and when I go to church my first thought is, will there be good singing.  I must say, as a general thing one fails to hear a piece even passably performed in our western churches.  If you will allow me through the columns of your paper, I propose to set forth my views on church music.  I don’t intend to put myself up as an oracle or perfect critic, but merely give my ideas on the subject, and if I can be the humble means of making our church choirs pay more attention to the execution of their pieces, and in many cases make better selections, I shall feel amply rewarded for what little labor I spend in the cause.

Being a lady myself I suppose I have a perfect right to criticise both males and females alike.  And I would here say to all musical persons that they must not deem anything I may write now or hereafter, as meant to be personal or offensive.  I only have one object in view, namely:  the improvement of our church music.  The First Baptist church of this city have the material if they were properly trained to make a very good choir.  In making their selections now, they choose mostly old pieces.  This is a progressive age and I would advise them to buy a new book immediately.  They commence a piece and sing it right through without once minding the musical mark, such as piano, forte, or andante.  After getting voices to harmonize, the main feature to produce a perfect choir is expression.  For that reason I affirm that the best choirs in the land are quartettes.  Four persons can learn one another’s style and can easier be of one mind than can eight or a dozen.  Should the Baptist choir reduce itself to a Quartette, they would vastly improve upon their present singing.

I am confident, at present, their Bass at times is rather heavy, and one voice inclining to drag.  Their Tenor is pretty good, but a little inclined to flat on the high tones.  This can be overcome by throwing the mouth wide open and compressing or drawing the throat in a little.  The Alto is very good except on the low notes where it is harsh; a little cultivation and the Alto would be first rate.  They have an excellent voice in the Soprano so far as voice is concerned, but the lady lacks confidence—she is not always sure that she is right.  But if she would let her voice out [illegible] get over her timidity she would do much better.  This voice could have a good influence over the choir by paying strict attention to the words of the music and use her own judgment as to what portions should be sung loud and soft, fast and slow, and sing them accordingly, the balance of the choir would be sure to follow her.  In the absence of an organ a melodeon is the finest instrument extant for church music, but care should be taken to secure a good performer to play it.  Many persons agree because a person can play a piano well, they will also play an organ or a melodeon well.  But such is not the case without considerable practice.  The two instruments require altogether a different touch, and a person who could get depth of tone and a great deal of expression from a piano might not be able to produce either from an organ.  In most cases a good pianist plays too stacato on the organ or melodeon.  Such is the case of the performer at the Baptist church.  I sincerely hope the choir of which I have been writing won’t consider themselves flattered, or think that I am showing partiality by singling them out, for I shall take hold of some other choir next Sunday.  Till then,

Yours frantically, B#.

Source: “About Music,” Peoria Morning Mail, November 9, 1862 (link)