This article originally appeared in the November 23, 1984, issue of Christianity Today.
"We feel overawed by the constellation of mysterious motives prompting Providence to send to our shores, out of all the millions who inhabited Europe, just those few thousand beings who had no music in their souls."
Common misconceptions of the Pilgrims' attitude toward music and toward life in general — such as the one above, made in 1907 by Oscar Sonneck, then music director of the Library of Congress — impoverish our appreciation for their musical legacy. We owe an incalculable debt to these early Americans for their priority on worship in music, their emphasis on music in the home, their integration of secular music as part of a balanced Christian life, and their inauguration of music education in America.
We think of the Pilgrims primarily in relation to the Puritan work ethic, Plymouth Rock, and the first Thanksgiving. However, not only should we thank them for the Thanksgiving delicacies we enjoy so much (including fruit pies and popcorn!), but also for their love of music, which is an increasingly dynamic force in our contemporary society.
The Puritans "had a granite heart and a suspicious eye for music," wrote Rupert Hughes in 1900. But there is no evidence that the Pilgrims and the Puritans hated music. True, they sang only the Psalms in church, rejecting the hymns of the German Reformation. But the Puritans actually enjoyed all kinds of fine music, giving a breadth of musical culture to early northeastern America. Gilbert Chase considers their Ainsworth Psalter "a document fully worthy to be the cornerstone of America's music" (America's Music; McGraw-Hill, 1966).
Music in worship
Identical in theology, essentially two ...