New England Composers, Schools of
- Charles S. Freeman
Two groups of American composers. The members of each are considered by historians to be unified on account of the area of their activity (New England), their Anglo-Saxon ethnic background, and the similarity of their musical training, style, and career. Writers have used different terms to categorize them; the most neutral of these—First and Second New England schools – was introduced by Hitchcock (1969).
The First New England School, which has also been referred to as one of “native pioneers” (Chase) and “Yankee tunesmiths” (Hitchcock, 1966), includes the late 18th- and early 19th-century composers of music for singing schools. Most of them were singing-school teachers themselves and composed or compiled at least one tunebook; they worked in the New England states, especially Massachusetts and Connecticut. In some cases these composers worked at trades and taught singing schools or published music as a secondary vocation.
William Billings is typically reckoned as the chief composer in this group; other figures of note include Daniel Read, Timothy Swan, Stephen Jenks, Supply Belcher, and Justin Morgan. These composers wrote psalm or hymn tunes, anthems, and fuging tunes. While most of this repertoire fell out of favor in New England after the turn of the nineteenth century, many pieces from this tradition were preserved in the shape-note tunebooks that proliferated in the American West and South in mid-century....