Billings’s Introduction to The Singing Master’s Assistant

note. Billings’s Introduction to The Singing Master’s Assistant was newly set in type for each of the four editions, and each differs in punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and occasionally wording. The most consistent and accurate version is that of the third edition (1781) which, together with a new section in the abridged Introduction to the fourth edition ([1786–89]), is reprinted here. Billings footnoted his own Introduction heavily, and his footnotes have been reproduced. Editorial footnotes are also added. The editor has numbered the footnotes consecutively, enclosing his own in brackets and leaving Billings’s without.


kind reader,

No doubt you (do or ought to) remember, that about ten years ago, I published a Book entitled, The New England Psalm Singer, &c. And truly a most masterly and inimitable Performance, I then thought it to be. Oh! how did my foolish heart throb and beat with tumultuous joy! With what impatience did I wait on the Book-Binder, while stitching the sheets and putting on the covers, with what extacy, did I snatch the yet unfinished Book out of his hands, and pressing it to my bosom, with rapturous delight; how lavish was I in encomiums on this infant production of my own numb skull? Welcome; thrice welcome, thou legitimate offspring of my brain, go forth my little Book, go forth and immortalize the name of your Author; may your sale be rapid and may you speedily run through ten thousand editions; may you be a welcome guest in all companies, and what will add tenfold to your dignity, may you find your way into the libraries of the learned. Thou art my Reuben, my first born, the beginning of my strength, the excellency of my dignity, and the excellency of my power. But to my great mortification, I soon discovered it was Reuben in the sequel, and Reuben all over; for unstable as water, it did not excell: But since I have began to play the critic, I will go through with my Criticisms, and endeavor to point out its beauties as well as deformities; and it must be acknowledged, that many of the pieces are not so ostentatious, as to sound forth their own praises; for it has been judiciously observed, that the oftener they are sounded, the more they are abased. After impartial examination, I have discovered that many of the pieces in that Book were never worth my printing, or your inspection; therefore in order to make you ample amends for my former intrusion, I have selected and corrected some of the tunes which were most approved of in that book, and have added several new pieces which I think to be very good ones; for if I thought otherwise, I should not have presented them to you. But however, I am not so tenacious of my own opinion, as to desire you to take my word for it; but rather advise you all to purchase a Book and satisfy yourselves in that particular, and then I make no doubt, but you will readily concur with me in this sentiment, viz. That the Singing Master’s Assistant, is a much better Book than the New-England Psalm-Singer. And now Reader I have no more to say, or even desire, but your compliance with the following


MANY of my Musical friends in the Country, have taken Copies from this work, and perhaps with some variation; therefore, I should esteem it as a pecul[i]ar mark of their favour, if they would kindly submit all former Copies to this Publication, which has been corrected and amended by their sincere friend and well wisher,


P.S. I have been very careful, to give credit for words, and where no credit is given, the words are written by the Author.

☞ WHERE the words are not written under each part, you may find them under the Counter.

*** By way of Apology, I take this Method to acquaint the Public, that the Book of Anthems which I promised them, was just upon the point of publication, when Hostilities commenced between Britain and the Colonies; which Unhappy War, was the sole motive that induced me to “hang my harp upon the willows,” and suppress the publication; but relying so far upon their Candour, as to suppose myself already forgiven, I here renew my former promise of publishing, as soon as our political affairs have assumed a still brighter aspect.