Protestant Church Music

Protestant church music (Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United, for the purposes of this article). The first protestant church music to be heard in Canada was sung by French Huguenots who during the 17th century brought with them to Acadia the French Psalter of 1562.

Protestant church music (Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United, for the purposes of this article). The first protestant church music to be heard in Canada was sung by French Huguenots who during the 17th century brought with them to Acadia the French Psalter of 1562. They resisted the prohibitions (1627) of reformed worship in New France and, it is said, roared their psalmody with such vigour from their ships that they astonished the Indians on shore.

After the Huguenots' return to France ca 1630, reformed church song was not heard again until the early 18th century, when Anglican worship was initiated in Nova Scotia (see Anglican church music; Hymns and hymn tunes). Canadian Presbyterians, mostly from Scotland, brought with them to the Maritimes the metrical psalms ca 1750. Congregationalists and Baptists from New England brought the hymns of Isaac Watts.

Methodists reached Newfoundland in 1765 and Nova Scotia in the 1770s, though the greatest number arrived ca 1790 as part of the Loyalist migration to the upper St Lawrence River and the Bay of Quinte. To the Methodists, singing was as important as preaching, and their meeting houses resounded with the hymns of John and Charles Wesley. Their singing was unaccompanied, and leadership rested upon those who remembered a few tunes from former days. What they may have lacked in finesse they made up in verve, vigour, and volume.

The 19th century heralded enormous church expansion. Congregations multiplied until by the 1850s they were to be found as far west as the Pacific coast, and Canadian hymnbooks made their appearance.

Although a few Roman Catholic and Anglican churches had had organs installed during the 17th and 18th centuries (eg, the Jesuit chapel, Quebec City, before 1661 - probably the earliest - and St Paul's Anglican Church, Halifax, in 1756), Protestant congregations did not follow suit until the 19th century.

At the beginning of the century all singing was unaccompanied. In the Presbyterian church neither organs nor hymns were allowed; only metrical psalms were permitted. The psalter came without music and the congregation depended upon a precentor for the lead. How much he knew depended upon his own initiative and ability. Congregations which did not have a copy of the psalter waited upon the precentor to 'line out the stanzas.' Permission was given later for the use of a bass viol ('the Lord's fiddle') or a flute to support the singing. An early-19th-century Presbyterian service in St Catharines, Ont, prompted this remark: 'At the conclusion of the service, the clergyman gave out a hymn, which was sung by a party of young men who sat in the church gallery. The sound of a miserably played flute and a cracked flageolet, united with the harshness of the voices, produced a concert both disagreeable and ludicrous' (John Howison, Sketches of Upper Canada, Edinburgh 1821, pp 134-5).

In the 1850s 'a carnal instrument' (ie, an organ) was installed in a Presbyterian church in Brockville, Ont; another was installed in London, Ont, and a third in Toronto. A furor erupted in the courts of the church. John Robertson, a parishioner of St Andrew's Church, Toronto, stated that he felt compelled to leave that congregation as he could not 'conscientiously continue to attend upon the public worship of God in a church where a musical instrument is used in praising God' (appendix, A Memorial to the Presbytery of Toronto, Toronto 1859).

Generally speaking, while the Presbyterian clergy remained opposed to the introduction of organs, the laity was sympathetic to such innovations. The issue was not resolved until 1872, when the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church decided not to enforce any uniformity of usage but to extend liberty in the matter to each congregation. Even so, some Presbyterian churches did not secure organs until after 1900.

Baptist, Congregational, and Methodist congregations did not suffer such pains. For them, as for Anglicans and Roman Catholics, the organ was considered an adornment to Christian praise. Organs began to appear early in the 19th century, and by 1850 the rush was on. Every urban church that could afford it wanted a pipe organ; rural churches settled for melodeons.

Psalmody was losing its appeal by the mid-19th century. Precentors, on the whole, were poorly trained; their place was usurped gradually by choirs under the direction of the organists. Soon choirs dominated the singing. Later, finding psalms and hymns too confining, they sought works in which the congregation could not join, and so the demand for anthems grew. Thus the choir, originally created to assist the congregation in its worship, became a performing body. The quality of performance, however, was generally low. Edward Hodges, an outstanding English musician and composer who came to Toronto in 1838, so deplored the music in the church and city that he left almost immediately for another position in New York. The situation was lamented in the Musical Journal of 15 Jan 1888: 'We are looking hopefully for the day when we shall have in our midst some reliable institution for the training of choirmasters and organists for the service of the Church... How lamentably ill-judged are the majority of the ''voluntaries'' we hear in our churches!'

By the end of the 19th century, however, the situation in music had improved greatly. Internationally known artists performed in Canada with some regularity, and standards of composition and performance were being established at newly founded conservatories. Well-trained church musicians had begun to arrive in some numbers from Great Britain; among them were Vernon Barford, Edgar Birch, Edward Broome, Albert Ham, Charles A.E. Harriss, William Hewlett, Percival Illsley, Frederic Lord, Horace Reyner, and Frederick H. Torrington. The study and pursuit of church music as a career gained credibility as training at the hands of competent teachers began to make itself felt.

By the 1920s an entire generation of church musicians was being trained in Canada, notably under Hugh Bancroft in Winnipeg (and later Vancouver), Frederick Chubb in Vancouver, Healey Willan and Ernest MacMillan in Toronto, and Alfred Whitehead in Montreal. The Canadian College of Organists (RCCO) instituted examination procedures for its members, leading to associateship and fellowship diplomas.

A revised Methodist Hymn and Tune Book was published in 1917 and the Presbyterian Book of Praise followed in 1918. In 1925 the United Church of Canada was formed through an amalgamation of Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, and in 1930 The Hymnary of the United Church of Canada appeared, providing a richer pattern of congregational song than had been found in prior Canadian hymnals. With minor revisions The Hymnary was adopted by the Baptists in 1936. The Hymn Book, a joint production by the Anglican and United Churches, was published in 1971, followed by the Presbyterian Book of Praise in 1972 (a more conservative collection), and the Baptist Hymnal (a mixture of light and serious music) in 1973.

New liturgies, eg, A Sunday Liturgy for Optional Use in the United Church of Canada (1984) have led to other music requirements for services. Congregations are able to participate in sung responses that have been included in Songs for a Gospel People - a Supplement to The Hymn Book (1987). A new hymn book for the United Church is in the planning stages and publication is expected in 1995. A Guide to Sunday Worship in the United Church of Canada (1988) by the United Church Publishing House has also influenced many churches in the style and preparation of music selections.

As a result of a survey of church musicians, the United Church of Canada Association of Musicians was created in 1987 to encourage and support those who provide musical leadership for worship in local congregations, presbyteries, conferences, and at General Council. It aims to accomplish this goal through workshops, consultations, publications, and opportunities for musicians to work together.

A major event in the Toronto Baptist community occurred in 1987 with Celebration '87, in which 400 singers from Baptist choirs assembled in Roy Thomson Hall to sing under guest conductor Donald Hustad. The event was organized by the Music Leaders Fellowship a Toronto-based organization which provides support for musicians in Baptist churches.

The style and practice of music in Canadian protestant churches has varied. At one extreme has been the light music associated with Moody and Sankey before the turn of the century, the pop music of the 1920s, the evangelical songs of the Billy Graham crusades in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and the rock and gospel-singing of the 1960s and 1970s. At the other extreme has been the noblest music of the church in Christendom, extending from the 16th century to the late 20th, and including works by Canadians such as W.H. Anderson, Violet Archer, Gerald Bales, Hugh Bancroft, Keith Bissell, Barrie Cabena, F.R.C. Clarke, Robert Fleming, Graham George, Derek Healey, Derek Holman, Jacobus Kloppers, Gerhard Krapf, Walter MacNutt, Bernard Naylor, Arthur Poynter, Godfrey Ridout, Nancy Telfer, Ruth Watson Henderson, Healey Willan, and Alfred Whitehead.

Some congregations have gravitated towards songs such as 'What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought' (music by C.H. Gabriel, words by R.H. McDaniel). Some have desired a liberal supply of the hymns of Isaac Watts and the Wesleys. Others have responded best to contemporary writers such as Walter Farquharson, F. Pratt Green, Fred Kaan, and Brian Wren.

In the 1980s most churches had adult choirs, and some had junior choirs as well. Occasionally a church would support a comprehensive music program with as many as three or four choirs. In the more numerous rural congregations the resources have been fewer. Not infrequently there is neither choir nor organ and the congregation must depend upon a pianist and/or song leader.

After 1940 many churches that had been accustomed to melodeons or pianos installed electronic organs, sometimes to the dismay of tradition-minded organists concerned with the limitations such instruments impose. The electronic gadgetry of rock groups captivated a few congregations. Brass ensembles (once a rarity except in Salvation Army services) began to be heard more frequently. Handbells have also been used in worship service, whether as a call to worship, as accompaniment for hymns, or in an anthem. There are a number of Canadian guilds of handbell ringers (eg, the Alberta Guild of Handbell Ringers).

Nonconformist churches of the reformed tradition have leaned toward freedom in the order of worship. But with such freedom, certain misunderstandings concerning the nature of Christian worship have been construed as norms, and church music at times has become entertainment rather than worship, especially in those churches where liturgical fitness is secondary to performance.

Two working axioms have emerged for church musicians in the 20th century. Firstly, the noblest church music has arisen out of the matrix of sound liturgical practice; and secondly, the music of any church reflects the capabilities and competence of the organist-choirmaster. Consequently, if one were to hazard a guess about future developments in church music in Canada, one might cite the growth and expansion of training courses for organist-choirmasters. Signs have pointed in that direction: a Summer Institute of Church Music was inaugurated at Whitby, Ont in 1970, church music has been added to the courses in the faculty of music at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, and similar initiatives have been taken in other parts of Canada. Many RCCO centres have held either full-year or spring-session courses (eg, 'The Basics of Service Playing' at the Edmonton centre). These sessions instruct the amateur and professional at varying levels. The RCMT held a summer course for church musicians in 1990. On the other hand, there has been a decline in organ students at the university level, perhaps a result of the lack of well-paying church positions.

See also Religions and music for a directory of other EMC articles related to protestant church music.


Further Reading

  • Christie, Rev George. The Use of Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of God (Halifax 1867)

    Middleton, J.E. 'Music and the theatre in Canada,' Canada and Its Provinces, vol 12 (Toronto 1914)

    MacMillan, Rev Alexander. Hymns of the Church (Toronto 1935)

    Reed, Thomas.Arthur. 'Church music in Canada,' manuscript, Metropolitan Toronto Library no date

    Clark, S.D. Church and Sect in Canada (Toronto 1948)

    Osborne, S.L. The Strain of Praise (Toronto 1957)

    A History of the Christian Church in Canada, 3 vols (Toronto 1966-72)

    Rennie, F.H. 'Spiritual worship with a carnal instrument,' M TH thesis, University of Toronto 1969

    Peaker, Charles. 'Church music,' Encyclopedia Canadiana

    - 'Church music II,' Music in Canada