Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

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October 18, 2012

Music in Andover, Part I: 'A measure of its civilization'

Andover is a town that appreciates a good tune. From “America,” written by Samuel Smith in 1831, to Daniel Pinkham’s 350th celebratory compositions, music has become a part of our very fabric.

It didn’t start out that way, however. The role of music was minimal in the Puritan Andover of the 1600s. What gradually did exist were church hymns based on the book of Psalms in the Bible. This was called “Psalmody.” Limited to only nine identifiable tunes, the church leader would teach these hymns – with no instruments – by “lining out,” a method whereby the leader would sing a phrase and the congregation would repeat it.

In 1769, South Church in Andover voted down the singing of the Psalms. Three years later, Watts’ “Psalms and Hymns” was approved. In 1794, “lining out” was discontinued. A bass viol was used by 1800 and a flute had been introduced in 1829. A money appropriation for church music came in 1805.

Music for its own sake, as entertainment, had appeared in Boston as early as 1730, but Andover was slow to join in. When music was mentioned, it was usually as part of the Revolutionary or Civil Wars periods. One song that Andover soldiers would have been familiar with during the Revolution, was simply titled, “A Song,” and spoke of “war-like trumpet sounds” and “the drums a-beating.”

Into the 19th century, every church and school in town sponsored a choir. In 1882 and 1883, a choral society was associated with James R. Murray, a local music teacher and composer of “Away in a Manger.”

By the time of the town’s 250th anniversary, in 1896, Andover had enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon. Bands now played a prominent role in the celebration, not only in the services at South Church, but at the banquet on Bartlet Street, sporting events, and in several concerts throughout town. These included performances at the cricket field, the Phillips Academy field, Elm Square, in Locke’s Field (further down Elm Street), and of course in the grand procession down Main Street.

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