the baby and the bathwater

The Serpent
November 6, 2008, 9:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I came across this display on a recent trip to Derbyshire – it was in a great museum in a very old, Tudor house.

It talks about the use of an instrument in churches around that time, strangely called the serpent – clearly because of it’s shape. It says this:

Unfortunately, the prominence given to musical expression at the expense of liturgy and the generally unihibited manner of playing and singing was not for the most part to the liking of the clergy. A Suffolk clergyman expressed himself thus in 1764:

“The performers form themselves into a round ring, with their faces to each other and their backs to the congregation. Here they murder Anthems, chuse improper Psalms, leave off in the middle of a sentence, sing psalms of all kinds to new jiggish tunes”

These ensembles eventually fell victim to the introduction of organs and a more sober and respectable conception of church music in the Victorian period.

Thomas Hardy’s novel ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ has a secondary theme which deals with the supplanting of the traditional church band by the new-fangled organ: “Times have changed from the times they used to be. Barrel organs, and the things next door to ‘em that you blow wi’ your foot have come in terribly of late years. Time was when not one of the varmits was to be heard of; but it served some of the quires right. They should have stuck to strings as we did, and kept out clarinets, and done away with serpents. If you’d thrive in musical religion, stick to strings, says I. Yet there’s worse things than serpents. Old things pass away, ‘tis true; but a serpent was a good old note: a deep rich note was the serpent. Clarinets, however, be bad at all times”

So let’s get this straight. The clergy were moaning about their musicians, musicians were playing badly, and organs were despised by everyone apart from the church choir.

Now where have I heard all that before?


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Jiggish Tunes… brilliant. Did the quote come from a guy who was actually sucking on a lemon at the time?

Comment by Steve Clarke

Ha Ha

At least Gate is managing to keep the jiggish tune alive in this generation.

Comment by Neil Bennetts

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