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by singing through a comb. It used to be said of him that he sang as if he had studied music in a mill during a high wind. To the two flutes and the hautboy were added two clarionets, because two of Gripe's younger brothers were growing up, and had a fancy for music. Young Grubb, the son of the butcher, began soon to exhibit musical talents, and accompanied his father at home on the violoncello, which instrument, with the leave of the rector, was added to the church band in a very short time— a time too short, I believe, for the perfection of the performance.
The rector, dear good man, never refused his leave to anything, especially what the singers asked; they might have had leave to introduce a wagon and eight horses if they had asked: but still the rector did not like it, and every time he was called upon to christen a child for one of his parishioners, he trembled lest the young one should have a turn for music, and introduce into the gallery some new musical abomination. It was next discovered that only one bass to so many treble instruments was not fair play, so to the violoncello was added a bassoon, and to the bassoon a serpen What next?-nothing more at present; but if the movement party retains its ascendency, triangles and kettle-drums may be expected. The present state of Snatcham Choir is as follows. In the first place, there is Martin Grubb, the butcher, a stout robust man of about fifty years of age, having a round head and a red face, with strong, strait, thick brownish-gray hair, combed over his forehead, and reaching to his very eyebrows. He is the oldest, the wealthiest, and the most influential man in the choir. He sings bass, and is said to be the life and soul of the party, though there are no great symptoms of life and soul in his face, which is about as full of expression as a bullock's liver. Then there is young Martin Grubb, who is a bit of a dandy, with black curling hair, and whiskers of the same pattern, pale face, thin lips, long chin, and short nose; his instrument is the violoncello. James Gripe is leader of the treble voices, with occasional digressions, as above noticed. And, in addition to the two younger Gripes, Absalom and Peter, who play the two clarionets, there are Onesiphorus Bang, the shoemaker, who plays the first flute; Issachar Crack, a rival shoemaker, who plays the second flute; Cornelius Pike, the tobaccopipe maker, who plays the bassoon; Alexander Rodolpho Crabbe, the baker, who plays the hautboy; Gregory Plush, the tailor, who plays the serpent: together with divers others, men, boys, and girls, who make up the whole band.
This renowned choir has for a long time considered itself the ne plus ultra of the musical profession, and consequently equal to the performance of any music that was ever composed. The old-fashioned psalm tunes are, therefore, all banished from Snatcham church, to the great grief of the worthy rector, whose own voice is almost put out of tune by hearing Sternhold and Hopkins sung to the tune of "Lovely nymph, assuage my anguish," and such-like Vauxhall and Sadler's Wells music. The members of the choir, too, like other political bodies, have not much peace within, unless they have war without. If any attack be made upon their privileges, they stick together like a swam of bees; but at other times they are almost always at loggerheads one with another. Old Martin Grubb wields a precarious sceptre; for James Gripe is mightily tenacious of his rights, and resists, tooth and nail, the introduction or too frequent use of those
tunes which superabound with bass solos. Grubb and Gripe, by way of an attempt at compromising the matter, have latterly been in the habit of taking it by turns to choose the tunes, and their alternate choice puts one very much in mind of the fable of the fox and the stork, who invited one another to dinner, the fox preparing a flat dish, of which the stork could not avail himself, and the stork in return serving up dinner in a longnecked bottle, too narrow to admit the fox's head. When James Gripe chooses the tune, he flourishes away in tenor and treble solos, leaving the butcher as mute as a fish: but when the choice devolves on Martin Grubb, he pays off old scores by a selection of those compositions which most abound in bass solos. And in such cases it not unfrequently happens that Martin, in the delighted consciousness of a triumph over his tenor, treble, and counter-tenor rival, growls and roars with such thundering exultation, that the gallery quivers beneath him, while his son saws away at his violoncello as though he would cut it in half from very ecstasy. Cornelius Pike and Gregory Plush also spend as much breath as they can spare, and perhaps a little more than they can spare conveniently, in filling the vast cavities of their respective serpent and bassoon.
All this disturbs and distresses the feelings of the worthy pastor, who thinks it possible, and feels it desirable, that public devotion should be conducted with a little less noise. It appears, indeed, and no doubt the choristers one and all think so, that Snatcham church and Sternhold and Hopkins' psalms were all made to show forth the marvellous talents of the Snatcham choristers. They think that all the people who attend there come merely for the music, and that the prayers and the sermon have no other use nor object than just to afford the singers and other musicians time to take breath, and to give them an opportunity of looking over and arranging their books for the next outbreak of musical noise. So little attention do the Snatcham choristers pay to any other part of the service than that in which themselves are concerned, that during the whole course of the prayers, and in all the sermon time, they are whispering to one another, and conning over their music books, sometimes almost audibly buzzing out some musical passage, which seems to require elucidation peradventure to some novice; and Master Grubb the younger is so delighted with his violoncello, that he keeps hugging the musical monster with as much fondness and grace as a bear hugs its cubs, and every now and then, in pleasing anticipation of some coming beauties, or in rapturous recollection of some by-gone graces, he tickles the sonorous strings with his clumsy fingers, bringing forth whispers of musical cadences loud enough to wake the drowsy and to disturb the attentive part of the congregation. And then the good rector casts up to the music-gallery a look, not of reproof, but of expostulation, and thereupon Master Grubb slips his hands down by his sides, and turns his eyes up to the ceiling, as if wondering where the sound could possibly come from.
The supplicatory looks of the music-baited clergyman are on these occasions quite touching and most mutely eloquent: they seem to say"Pray spare me a little ;-suffer me to address my flock. I do not interrupt your music with my preaching, why should you interrupt my preaching with your music? My sermons are not very long, why will you not hear them out? I encroach not on your province, why will you encroach on mine? Let me, I pray you, finish my days on earth as pastor of this
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flock, and do not altogether fiddle me out of the church." But the hearts of the "village musicianers" are as hard as the nether millstone: they have no more bowels than a bassoon, no more brains than a kettle-drum.
Another grievance is, that the Snatcham choristers have a most intense and villanous provincialism of utterance: it is bad enough in speaking, but in singing they make it ten times worse; for they dilate, expand, and exaggerate their cacophony, till it becomes almost ludicrous to those who are not accustomed to it. The more excited they are, whether it be by joy or anger, the more loudly they sing; the more broadly they blare out their provincial intonations: and it is very seldom indeed that they ascend their gallery without some stimulus or other of this nature. If they be all united closely in the bonds of amity and good-will; if Martin Grubb have suspended his jealousy of Gripe, and if Gripe no longer look with envy and hatred upon Grubb; if some new tune be in preparation wherewith to astonish and enrapture the parishioners; if there be in the arrangement tenors and trebles enough to satisfy the ambition of Gripe, and bass enough to develope the marvellous powers of Grubb :-there is a glorious outpouring of sound and vociferation, which none but the well-disciplined ears of the Snatcham parishioners can possibly bear. The walls of Snatcham church must be much stronger than those of Jericho, or they would have been roared to rubbish long ere this. But if the agreement of the choir be the parent of noise, their disagreement is productive of much more. More than once the Gripe and Grubb factions have carried their animosity so far as to start two different tunes at the same time. And what can be done in such a case? Who is in the wrong? If the Grubb faction were to yield, they would betray a consciousness that they had not acted rightly in their selection of a tune; and if the Gripe faction were to withdraw from the contest, or to chime in with the Grubbs, they would seem to show the white feather; so they battle it out with all their might and main, and each party must sing and play as loudly as possible, in order to drown the noise of the other. After church-time the Grubbs throw all the blame upon the Gripes, and the Gripes retort the charge upon the Grubbs, and a man had need have the wisdom of a dozen Solomons to judge between them. So excited with passion, and puffing, and singing, and playing, have the parties sometimes been after a flare-up of this kind, that they have looked as tired as two teams of horses just unharnessed from two opposition stage-coaches;―nay, the very instruments themselves have appeared exhausted, and an active imagination might easily believe that the old big burly bassoon, standing in a lounging attitude in one corner of the gallery, was panting for want of breath. Such explosions as these, however, do not frequently occur, and it is well they do not; when they do, a reconciliation generally takes place soon after, and an apology is made to the good pastor, more, perhaps, from compassion to his infirmities than out of respect to his office or his years; and his mild reply is generally to the following effect: "Ah! well, my good friends, I think another time you will find it more easy to sing all one tune. I marvel much that ye don't put one another out by this diversity of singing."
There is also another mode in which the parties manifest their discrepancy of opinion, or discordancy of feeling, and that is, by the silence of half the choir. Now one would think that such an event would be a joy and a relief to the good man, who loves quiet; and so it is physically, but
not morally for though his ears are relieved from one-half of the ordinary musical infliction, yet he is mentally conscious that evil thoughts are cherished in the breasts of the silent ones; that they who sing are not praising God in their songs, and that they who sing not are not praising him by their silence.
But the climax of the abominations of the Snatcham choristers I have yet to record, and I hope that by their follies, other choirs, if there be any so absurd, will take warning. It has been already said that this celebrated Snatcham choir made it a great point to obtain leave from their rector for all the abominations and absurdities which they were accustomed to inflict upon the parish under the guise of music; but the arrogant importunity of their solicitation was such that they seemed to bid defiance to refusal, so that their asking leave was after the fashion of the beggar in Gil Blas, who held his musket in the direction of the donor's head. At a large town in the county in which Snatcham is situated there had been a musical festival, the directors of which, in order to give eclat to their advertisements, had used all manner of means to swell the number of the performers. For this purpose they had sought every hedge and ditch, and high-way and by-way in the county, to pick up every individual who had the slightest pretension whatever to musical talent. In such a search, of course the Snatcham choir could not by any possibility be overlooked. They were accordingly retained for the choruses, in consequence of which they underwent much musical drilling; nor were they a little pleased at the honor thus thrust upon them. They of course distinguished themselves, though I must say that the wisest thing chorus singers can do is not to distinguish themselves; but the Snatcham choir, it is said, actually did distinguish themselves, especially in the Hallelujah Chorus, and so fascinated were they with that chorus, and their own distinguished manner of singing it, that they resolved unanimously to perform it at Snatcham church. This was bad enough; but this was not the worst, for nothing would serve them but they must have it, of all the days in the year, on Good Friday!
On the evening of the day before, the whole body of the choristers, vocal and instrumental, went up to the rectory, and demanded an audience of their worthy pastor. The good man trembled at their approach, and his heart sank within him at the announcement that they had something very particular to say to him. He thought of harp, flute, psaltery, dulcimer, sackbut, and all kinds of music, and his ears tingled with apprehension of some new enormity about to be added to the choir, in shape of some heathenish instrument. It was a ludicrous sight, and enough to make the pastor laugh, had he been at all disposed to merriment, to see the whole choir seated in his parlor, and occupying, after a fashion, every chair in the room; for if they were never harmonious in any thing else, they were perfectly harmonious as to their mode of sitting; they were all precisely in the same attitude, and that attitude was—sitting on the very outward edge of the chair, with their hats carefully held between their knees, their mouths wide open, and their eyes fixed upon vacancy. At the entrance of the clergyman they all rose, bowed with simultaneous politeness, and looked towards Martin Grubb as their mouth-piece. Martin Grubb, with his broad heavy hand, smoothed his locks over his forehead, and said " Hem!”
"Well, Mr. Grubb," replied the rector, "you and your friends, I understand, have something particular to say to me."
"Why, yes, sir," said Mr. Grubb, "we are called upon you by way of deputation like, just to say a word or two about singing; and for the matter of that, we have been practising a prettyish bit of music out of Handel, what they sung at the musical festival called the Hallelujah Chorus; and as our choir sung it so well at the festival as to draw all eyes upon us, we have been thinking, sir, with your leave, if you please, and if you have no objection, that we should just like to sing it at church."
"Yes, sir, if you please, at church, to-morrow. The Hallelujah Chorus you know, sir, being part of the Messiah, we thought it would be particular appropriate; and we are all perfect in our parts, and here's two or three chaps out of the next parish that are coming over to Snatcham to see their friends, and they'll help us you know, sir; and every thing is quite ready and rehearsed and all that; and we hope, sir, you won't have no objection, because we can never do it so proper as with them additional voices what's coming to-morrow, and there will be such lots of people come to church on purpose to hear us, that they will be all so disappointed if, we don't sing it."
Here James Gripe, somewhat jealous of his rival's eloquence, and taking advantage of Martin's pausing for a moment to recover breath, stepped forward, saying "No, sir, we hope you won't refuse us your leave, because all the people so calculate upon hearing it, that they will go away in dudgeon if so be as they are disappointed, and mayhap they will never come to church again, but go among the methodishes or some of them outlandish sexes; and it would be a pity to overthrow the established church just for the matter of a stave or two of music."
The rector sighed deeply, but not audibly, and replied, saying, in a tone of mild expostulation-" But to-morrow, my friends, is Good Friday, a day of extraordinary solemnity, and scarcely admitting even the most solemn music in its service."
"Exactly so," interrupted Martin Grubb, "that's the very thing I say, sir, and therefore the Hallelujah Chorus is the most peculiar appropriate : it's one of the most solumest things I ever heard-it's quite awful and grand-enough to make the hair of one's head stand upright with sublimity."
""Tis indeed, sir," added James Gripe: "you may take my word for it, sir."
Perhaps," returned Martin Grubb, " your reverence never heard it : now if so be as you never heard it, mayhap you don't know nothing about it, in which case we can, if you please, with your permission, sing you a little bit of it, just to give you an idea of the thing."
The poor persecuted pastor looked round upon his tormentors in blank amazement, and saw them with their ruthless mouths wide open, and ready to inflict upon him the utmost penalty of their awful voices. In tremulous tones the worthy man exclaimed, "No, no, no, pray don't pray don'tdon't trouble yourselves-I beg you will not. I know the piece of music to which you refer, and I think, if you could perform it on any other day than Good Friday"
Singers are a peculiarly irritable class of persons, and the slightest opposition or contradiction irritates and disturbs them, so that at the very moment that the rector uttered a sentence at all interfering with their will,