1 See The New-England Psalm-Singer, p. 15; The Continental Harmony, p. xx–xxi.
2 For more on tempo see David P. McKay and Richard Crawford, William Billings of Boston (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 241–45.
3 See The Singing Master’s Assistant, Lesson X, p. 16.
4 The introductory matter in Billings’s publications, however, appears with original spelling and punctuation.
1 For the Notes, Rests, and other Characters, see page 103. [In the original the examples using musical notation are engraved on p. 103–04; in the present edition they are interpolated into the text.]
2 And here it may not be amiss to inform you, how the length of Pendulums are calculated; take this instance, suppose a Pendulum, of thirty-nine inches and two tenths, will vibrate in the time of a second, then divide 392/10 by 4, and it will give you the length of a Pendulum, that will vibrate twice as quick; and, multiply 392/10 by 4, and it will give the length of a Pendulum, that will vibrate twice as slow. Make a Pendulum of common thread well waxed and instead of a bullet take a piece of heavy wood turned perfectly round, about the bigness of a pullet’s egg, and rub them over, either with chalk, paint, or whitewash, so that they may be plainly seen by candle light.
3 [4th edition: “twenty-two inches and one twentieth.” In the later Continental Harmony (1794) Billings reiterates the measurement of 22 1/20 inches, making the figure in the 4th edition appear to be his last thought.]
4 [4th edition: “almost out of use in Vocal Musick.”]
5 [4th edition: “by even Numbers.”]
6 [Billings seems to have meant: “could be perswaded to leave the practice of music to such as have.”]
7 In fuging Music you must be very distinct and emphatic, not only in the Tune, but in the pronounciation; for if there happens to be a Number of greater Voices in the Concert than your own, they will swallow you up; therefore in such a case, I would recommend to you the resolution (tho’ not the impudence) of a discarded Actor, who after he had been twice hissed off the Stage, mounted again, and with great Assurance he thundered out these words “I will be heard.”
8 I have heard it remarked that “Order was the first thing which took place in Heaven.”
9 It is recorded in sacred writ, that while I was in Embryo “The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” And that Miriam and the children of Israel sang praises to God; but I suppose it was by immediate inspiration, or some supernatural assistance; for I frankly confess they had no assistance from me.
10 The wise man says, that “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the sun.” And the Royal Psalmist says, “I will sing of mercy and of judgment,” surely, this holy example is wortky [worthy] our imitation, and if we are authorised to sing both of mercy and of judgment, we may sing day and night without ceasing; for the prophet Jeremiah tells us, that his mercies are new every morning; and in another place, he says “righteous art thou O Lord, yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments.” It remains then, that we “Bless the Lord at all times, and let his praise be continually in our mouths.”
11 This Dominant Tone, is typical of a strong faith of which David seems to avail himself, and upon this strength he (in the language of a Christian hero) most emphatically expresses himself, in the following words, “The Lord is on my side, I will not fear what man can do unto me.” And again, “Though an host should encompass me about, yet I will not be affraid; for I will go on in the strength of the Lord my God.”
12 A Canon is a sort of musical composition variously composed and performed.
13 The Tone which was chosen by King Jehoshaphat’s army was this, viz. “Praise the Lord, for his mercy endureth forever.” It is worthy of notice, that the canon was pointed towards heaven, and not towards the enemy. And farther it has been observed, that whenever the Israelites were not furnished with this kind of artillery, they were easily vanquished by their enemies.
14 Philosophers agree, that there is a natural propensity in every sonorous body to reply (by way of echo) to any sounding body in unison with itself; and it is well known that the deeper the tone, the greater the tremor. Hence it is, that cannon[s] by reason of their extream depth, affect the air so sensibly.
15 Historians relate, that “Pythagoras, in passing by a Smith’s shop, found that the sounds proceeding from the hammers, were either more grave, or accute, according to the different weights of the hammers. The Philosopher, to improve this hint, suspends different weights by strings of the same bigness, and found in like manner, that the sounds answered to the weights. This being discovered, he found out those numbers which produced sounds, that were consonant: as that two strings of the same substance and tension, the one being double to the other in length gave that interval, which is called a Diapason. The same was also effected from two strings of the same length and size, the one having four times the tension of the other. By these steps from so mean a beginning did this great man reduce what was only noise before, to one of the most delightful sciences, by marrying it to the Mathematicks.” Note, that Pythagoras was born in Samos, 524 years before Christ.
16 Guido lived about 710 years ago. He was a great improver of the Musical Scale: He caused it to be called Gamut, that it might begin with the first letter of his name. Historians relate, that he was born in Tuscany.
17 The sharp Keys are ranked in the Masculine Gender; therefore, Dame Gamut calls them her sons.
18 By this, is understood the Fife and Drum, and other martial instruments of music.
19 The flat Keys (by way of contrast to the Sharp) are ranked in the Feminine Gender. N.B. These Genders admit no neuter.
20 I had almost forgot to inform you, that some of my sons are wholly employed in making pills, to purge melancholly; and as I have no desire to keep this salutary preparation a secret, I here present you with the receipt, verbatim. “Take of Bass, Tenor, Counter, and Treble, each an equal proportion; mix them in a Vehicle of Consonance, with as great a number of Vibrations, as will amount to a Coincidence. Let this be conveyed into the ears, through the medium of vociforation and articulation; and it will not fail of having the desired effect.” Approved.
21 By these remarks, the absurdity of adapting a sharp keyed tune, to a Psalm of Penitence and Prayer, and a flat keyed tune, to a Psalm of Praise and Thanksgiving, is strikingly set forth. Suppose a preacher, on a fast day morning, for his discourse, should speak from these words, viz. “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise.” And for the afternoon, “Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared; neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” We will carry this supposition yet farther, and suppose, that in his great wisdom, he should on a thanksgiving day morning, speak from these words, viz. “A day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness.” And in the afternoon, “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock taste any thing; let them not feed nor drink water; but let man and beast be covered with sack cloth.” But says the impartial reader, “this is ridiculous, this would be intolerable; but is the simile just, is it not exaggerated”? “I answer, it is just, and without exaggeration.”
22 Note, that every piece of music is called an Air.
23 History informs us, that Dr. De Maris, a Frenchman, was the first that invented and ascertained the length of the notes, and their proportion from each other, viz. “That the Semibreve is twice as long as the Minim; the Minim twice as long as the Crotchet, &c.[”] N.B. He lived about the year 1330.
24 Alluding to Revelations, Chapter 6, “There shall be time no longer.”
25 As penitence and prayer, are not mentioned as the business of Heaven; but are supposed to be swallowed up in praise and thanksgiving; so Dame Gammut may with propriety say, that “her daughters will be extinct, and her sons rise and shine, &c.”
26 See page 102 [p. 263].
27 [After “To the goddess of discord” comes “An Alphabetical list of tunes and anthems, contained in this Book.” This is followed, in all except the fourth edition, by “An Encomium on Music” and, preceding the musical section, six stanzas of “A morning hymn. To be sung in the Tune called Aurora.”]
28 Job 38 chap, verse 7.
29 Exod. 15, verse 1.
30 2 Chron. 5 chap, verse 13.
31 2 Chron. 20 chap, verse 21–22.
32 Acts 16, verse 25–26.
33 Luke 2, verse 13–14.
34 Matth. 26–30.
35 i. Sam. 16 chap. verse 23.
36 To illustrate this I shall I [sic] take this opportunity to inform the reader, that I am intimately acquainted with several singers, who are not able to speak one short sentence in common conversation, without stuttering and stammering to such a degree, as to excite great pain in the audience, and are often-times so confused and abashed at their own unintelligable jargon, that they are obliged to leave the meaning of the half uttered sentence to the sagacity of the hearers: When to great admiration, these same people will perform n [a] lengthy piece of music, and they will not only sing musically and delightfully, but they will pronounce with the accuracy of a scholar, without the least hesitation whatever: Upon the strength of such conviction, who can forbear breaking out into the following exclamation “Great art thou O music, and with thee there is no Competitor—Thy powers are far beyond the powers of—utterance.”
1 [Footnote 2 below gives Billings’s characterization of this essay as a “burlesque.” It appears at the end of the introduction to The Singing Master’s Assistant, fourth edition, where it is preceded by a short version of the Introduction to the earlier editions. The item of which this is Billings’s parody is printed on p. 141–43 of The Heidelbergh Catechism, bound with The Psalms of David . . . for the use of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of the city of New York (New York: James Parker, 1767), Evans 10561, under the title: “The Creed, of Saint Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, Written in the Year of our Lord, 333.”]
2 ☞ I hope no pious Episcopalian will so far misconstrue my intention, as to suppose this is intended as a burlesque upon their form of Devotion: I was pleased with the stile, and wrote this by way of Imitation.
3 Composers of Musick say,
“Could you erect a thousand parts or more,
“They, in effect, will prove the same as four.”
*Titles with an asterisk (*) are not by Billings and are not included in this edition. Royalston is “by Wood.”