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date: 02 June 2020


  • Nicholas Temperley
  •  and Richard Crawford


A general term for music sung in Protestant churches in England and America from the 17th century to the early 19th. Following traditional practices of the Roman Catholic Church, the term was first associated with the chanting of psalms and later with the singing of metrical psalms, but as these were gradually replaced by hymns the term was retained to cover all kinds of music sung by amateur choirs. With the decline of the older type of parish choir in England the term fell into disuse, but it survived in America. It is now the most appropriate term to describe a body of music that, after long neglect, has recently attracted musicological attention.

Nicholas Temperley

Psalmody in England began with the rise of parish church choirs towards the end of the 17th century. It was a type of music specifically designed to allow such choirs to dominate or replace congregational psalm singing. Two categories of psalmody may be sharply distinguished: that of the country parish church without an organ, sung by a predominantly male choir to which instruments were later added; and that of the town church, sung by children accompanied by an organ. Both types were eventually taken up in Dissenting bodies and spread also to America, Scotland and Wales. Country choirs also sang psalmody outside church and often combined to form choral societies, which aspired to the performance of oratorios; smaller groups sang psalmody in the home for recreation. Psalmody of the country type was reformed out of existence during the 19th century as a result of urbanization and various religious movements. Towards the end of the 20th century it was revived by various groups as ‘west gallery music’, because in many churches the choir had sung from the gallery at the west end of the church (...

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