Old Way of Singing
- Nicholas Temperley
Term used from the 18th century for a slow, heterophonic style of unaccompanied congregational hymn singing found in rural Protestant churches in Britain and the USA. It is also variously called the ‘Common Way’ or the ‘Usual Way’, to distinguish it from ‘Regular Singing’. The practice is orally transmitted. The tempo is extremely slow, lacking rhythmic drive and precision. Singers may diverge on their way from one tune note to the next, resulting in heterophony that is sometimes perceived as conscious embellishment. In some cases a harmonic element is present.
The origins of the ‘Old Way’ are uncertain. Similar practices have been noted among German-speaking groups tracing their descent from the 16th-century Anabaptists (see Amish and Mennonite music), and in several Scandinavian countries. This gives rise to the possibility that it preserves an ancient mode of singing that was once prevalent in northern Europe. But congregations did not sing in church before the Reformation, so it is more likely that the Old Way is a natural consequence of several generations of congregational singing without accompaniment or professional leadership, a condition that existed in several different Protestant sects (see Temperley, 523–4). In Britain and North America it has generally been associated with ...