Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

October 18, 2012

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

Andover Stories Gail RalstonAndover Historical Society
The Andover Townsman

---- — 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.

One featured band was the Andover Brass Band, founded in 1878. Continuing for 62 years, the group practiced in the Musgrove Building and offered Sunday performances at the Park. Local druggist Arthur Bliss, also a selectman (1893-1898), was once manager of the band, and had chaired the Music Committee for the 250th event. A news article listed another selectman, B. Frank Smith (1888-89, 1902-07), as a strong supporter of the group.

Local businessman Omar P. Chase was listed in the 1898 Town Directory as “manager of the Andover Orchestra,” a group organized in 1872 and incorporated in 1891. An offshoot of this orchestra was the Orpheus Quartet Inc., which played at social functions.

Of all the local business support, none was stronger or more enduring than that of J. Everett Collins, who came to be known as “Andover’s Music Man.” Mr. Collins, a Selectman for 20 years, began his musical career in 1906 as a soloist at Christ Church. Soloist at South Church between 1912 and 1923, he was that church’s choir director from 1923 to 1929. For the next 50 years, he also directed the choir at the First Calvary Church in Lawrence.

Collins, a long-time Mason, formed the Square & Compass Glee Club in 1926 whose purpose was to learn four-part classical repertoire. Reorganized in 1930 with about 50 voices and still directed by Collins, the group was now known as the Andover Male Choir. The choir became affiliated with the New England Federation of Men’s Glee Clubs that same year, and went on to win many competitions. When asked to sum up who these men were, one member responded, “we are just a bunch of guys singing out because we love music.”

Still later, the choir was re-named the Andover Choral Society, boasting nearly 100 members, and known for its annual presentation of “The Messiah.” Soon women joined the group. In 2004 the Andover Choral Society celebrated its 75th anniversary, now under the direction of Allen Coombs, and establishing its place as the longest-running music group in Andover’s history.

Going back in time to the town’s 300th anniversary, we get a sense of how important music had become to the town. On that auspicious occasion, the Tercentenary Concert was performed by the Andover Community Orchestra with Percy Grainger, the well-known Australian pianist and composer, as guest soloist. This was considered quite a coup for this “timid and scratchy little group.”

The orchestra had been formed in 1939 by two Phillips Academy instructors, Herbert Kinsolving and Bartram Kelley. As amateur musicians, they recognized others who were musically inclined and who could benefit from expert direction. Engaging George Brown, well-known conductor of Melrose and Cambridge orchestras, the group first practiced in a member’s living room. Soon outgrowing that space, the orchestra moved to the Parish House of Christ Church, making its first public appearance on Dec. 6, 1941. Seasonal programs followed, up to its crowning achievement at the 200th. As one witness to this program declared, “For those of us who see in the rise of music in a community a measuring stick for its civilization, it was a proud day.”

Next Week: Part II: “Music Swells the Breeze”