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A few notes about the historic singing tradition in Stoughton...
For over two centuries citizens of the Town of Stoughton, Massachusetts
have been singing! This is perhaps the longest singing tradition of any small town in the USA! But why has there been so much disagreement about their two historic musical socieites: The Stoughton Musical Society and The Musical Society in Stoughton?
Stoughton Historical Society President, Dwight MacKerron, has written that, "there is a long and complicated history between these two groups."
That is an accurate statement and this page seeks to clarify that "complicated history."
Musicologist documents local singing tradition
The person who knows the most about Stoughton's past singing history is musicologist and composer, Roger Hall, a former Vice-President, Historian and Conductor of the Old Stoughton Musical Society, serving from 1977 to 1989.
In 1981, Roger Hall was the Chairman of the Stoughton Town Hall Centennial which included a special concert after the ceremony. See the program for this event at the Stoughton Historical Society website -- CLICK HERE
A CD with highlights from that concert is available
-- CLICK HERE
In 1985, he was able to get the Old Stoughton Musical Society listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the "oldest choral society in the USA."
Over the past few decades, he has written and produced music collections, CDs and DVDs about Stoughton's longtime singing tradition.
For this AMP page, he has written many of the highlights relating to the two musical societies in town.
Who is the oldest singing society?
Unfortunately, over the years there has been a minefield of misinformation about which is the oldest musical society in the USA.
It has been written that the Handel & Haydn Society (H&H) Society in Boston,, organized in 1815, was the oldest musical society in America. Not true!
The Stoughton Musical Society (later called Old Stoughton Musical Society or OSMS) is the oldest, though it is not the same sort of organization, performing mostly shorter choral works rather than large oratorios and symphonic works like the H&H in Boston. But in terms of their date of organization, the Stoughton group is older by almost 30 years.
OSMS has distinguished itself by performing music by American composers, especially from New England, longer than any other performing group in the USA, starting back in the 18th century.
Let's Get The Facts Straight!
Unfortunately, many historians and journalists have continued to repeat the same incorrect information about Stoughton's two historic musical societies with similar names:
The Stoughton Musical Society - organized November 7, 1786
The Musical Society in Stoughton - organized January 1, 1802
Some have written that 18th century choral music ceased to be performed in New England by the late 19th century. That is not true in Stoughton where there was an effort made to perform and preserve early American choral music into the 20th century.
Yet, their efforts continue to go unmentioned in scholarly publications and media outlets by those who have neglect to give this musical society its due.
Just to give one example:
There are 28 tunes by William Billings, the best known 18th century American choral composer, in The Stoughton Musical Society's Centennial Collection of Sacred Music (1878/reprint, 1980). This important music collection is not even listed in the
Catalog of the Musical Works of William Billings, a scholarly publication compiled by musicologist, Karl Kroeger.
Also, there continues to be errors written about Stoughton's two musical societies. For example, this entry by a past local historian ---
"Musical Club, First Parish Church. Beginning Old Stoughton Musical Society: Capt. Samuel Talbot, leader."
-- Beyond the Blew Hills: A Brief History of the Town of Stoughton, Massachusetts by John E. Flynn (1956/1976).
That is both misleading and incorrect. It is documented in Elijah Dunbar's journal that there were "sings" in 1762 but that does not mean there was any music organization in existence. While it has been reported that Capt. Samuel Talbot led "sings" at the First Parish Church, that was not the beginning of the Old Stoughton Musical Society (OSMS). They were officially organized
14 years later in 1786, and their leader was Elijah Dunbar, not Capt. Samuel Talbot. This might be the case of bad blood between Dunbar and Talbot or even possibly between Canton (the town where Dunbar resided) and Stoughton (where Talbot lived). Even so, both musical societies had some of the same members. Former Musical Society in Stoughton President, Frank W. Reynolds, quoted John Flynn who said, when speaking about the two societies: "It was like your right hand shaking hands with your left."
The fact remains that Old Stoughton, once known as the "Grand Club" is today the oldest choral society in America, and the Musical Society in Stoughton was the second oldest one but it was disbanded in 1982 after 180 years in existence.
Local songwriter named Songwriter of the Year
Congratulations to Stoughton songwriter and singer, Lori McKenna, who was named Songwriter of the Year by the Academy of Country Muusic. She also won 2016 Song of the Year for her song, "Humble & Kind," Hear her sing the song on YouTube
Two CDs with music by another Stoughton songwriter...
For more information - click here
Learn more about the fascinating singing history
and also early music in New England...
New DVD edition for 2017!
"DEDICATION" - Singing in Stoughton, 1762-1992
Two new CD releases for 2017!
Old Stoughton Music Sampler
(AMRC CD 0037)
"How Lovely is Zion" -
Music in Old New England, 1778-1878
Stoughton Musicologist Makes Music
Thanks to the efforts of musicologist and composer Roger Lee Hall, the Old Stoughton Musical Society (OSMS) was listed as America's oldest choral society in The Guinness Book of Records and in Chase's Calendar of Events.
For many years he has been involved with music preservation.
He served as the first Chairman of the Stoughton Arts Council from 1980 to 1984, and also was a member of the Massachusetts Arts Advisory Committee during the 1980s.
Between 1979 and 1987, he was the Historian and Vice-President of the Old Stoughton Musical Society and organized several music festivals: "Music in Old New England" (1978) and "Musick in Old Boston" (1980).
Also, Mr. Hall was the Chairman of the Old Stoughton Musical Society Bicentennial Committee in 1986.
In the 1980s he discovered the manuscript music of E.A. Jones and especially his major work, the 1881 cantata for soloists, chorus and orchestra titled, Song of Our Saviour, Op. 16, which received its World Premiere performance in Stoughton on May 3, 1992 and was written about in the Boston Globe newspaper.
Mr. Hall was also the OSMS conductor for several seasons and composed two commemorative works for them:
"Peace" (premiered in 1981)
"Dedication" (premiered in 1986)
To read about his preservation efforts, click on this link:
Saving Local Music
Roger Lee Hall is an authority on music from earlier America and is currently
Director of the American Music Recordings Archive [AMRA] and
Center for American Music Preservation [CAMP].
Read the Boston Globe online article
about Mr. Hall's extensive music activities,
A few of Mr. Hall's programs concerning Stoughton music, all presented at the Stoughton Public Library:
"The Lore and Legends of Christmas Carols" (1982)
"E.A. Jones: His Life and Music (1984)
"Old Stoughton and The Grand Constitution" (1987)
"A Stoughton Musicfest - A Celebration of Local Composers and Musicians (1990)
Read about Roger Hall's programs and how to contact him at this link:
Lectures and Workshops
Compiled by Roger Hall, musicologist and composer
Earliest Singing Meetings
The first known singing meetings held in Stoughton took place in 1762. There were 30 singing meetings listed in the journal of Elijah Dunbar (1740-1814), who later became the First President of the Stoughton Musical Society in 1786. The music sung at that time consisted of mostly English psalm tunes.
All the singing meetings in 1762 and 1763 from Dunbar's original diaries are listed in an essay, "The Musical Elijah Dunbar," by Roger Hall, included in this publication with historical material researched by Stoughton Musical Society President, Dwight MacKerron, and Stoughton genealogist, David Lambert:
This book, A Man for All Seasons, may be purchased at the Stoughton Historical Society
America's Oldest Surviving Musical Society
It was first called The Stoughton Musical Society when it began in 1786. Many years later it was renamed - The Old Stoughton Musical Society (OSMS), after being incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and their Charter is dated February 25, 1908.
In 1986, the OSMS Bicentennial Committee (Roger Hall, Chairman; David Benjamin, Edward Ivaldi, Paul Larivee, Sally MacKerron) designed a plaque (shown above) that was installed at the entrance of the Lucius Clapp Memorial Building, home of the Stoughton Historical Society in Stoughton Square. Here is the plaque:
The choral society had its first meeting at Robert Capen's house on November 7, 1786 near Stoughton Square.
The house shown shown below was at the corner of Seaver and Park Streets and was at or near the site of Robert Capen's house where the musical society was founded in 1786. That house was torn down and a new house built, reportedly with some of the original floor timbers from the Capen house, for Rev. Edmund Richmond in 1825.
In the early 1900s, the house was moved down Seaver Street and extensively altered.
In the picture below, seated in front of the house is composer and violinist, E.A. Jones and his wife, plus his brother Henry Jones, also a musician, and his wife in what at that time was considered the birthplace of choral music in Stoughton:
The Stoughton choral music tradition lives on with four music albums released in the Stoughton Music Series.
To read more about these CDs -- click here
Many of the first members in this musical society were from what is now Canton, Massachusetts, including their first President and Director, Elijah Dunbar (1740-1814), who served as President until 1808. He was a graduate of Harvard College and active in many duties, including naming the Town of Canton, when it was incorporated in 1797.
The Stoughton Musical Society Vice-President was Capt. Samuel Talbot, who later served as as their second President from 1808 to 1818. The first Secretary was Lt. Samuel Capen, serving from 1786 to 1800. For the first few years there were two Treasurers: Joseph Smith, 4th and Andrew Capen.
At first it was exclusively an all men's singing group. Then in 1844, "it was voted that ladies be invited to sing with the Society," after the serving of alcohol had been abolished.
The Stoughton Musical Society has the oldest constitution of any musical organization in America, written in October of 1787, just a few weeks after the U.S. Constitution.
This musical society accepted singers from all the surrounding towns, including Avon, Braintree, Bridgewater, Brockton, Canton, Randolph and other Massachusetts locales.
During their peak years during the 19th century there were several hundred members in the chorus and also a small orchestra.
In 1893, they were the only chorus performing early New England music at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Read more -- click here.
An LP album was released by Old North Bridge Records in 1975 featuring music by William Billings, Oliver Holden and other New England composers. The album featured the choruses of Old Stoughton Musical Society and The Musical Society in Stoughton and it was titled,
This LP album is now out-of-print.
In 1995, thanks to the efforts of Roger Hall, this choral society was listed in The Guinness Book of Records.
Mr. Hall also submitted the information to Chase's Calendar of Events, a national directory, which had this entry:
"OLD STOUGHTON MUSICAL SOCIETY: ANNIVERSARY. Nov. 7, 1786. Founded at Stoughton, MA, the Stoughton Musical Society is the oldest choral society in the United States."
See recordings available with music by Stoughton composers, E.A. Jones and Roger Hall, in the
American Music Recordings Collection (AMRC)
America's Oldest Music Constitution
The Stoughton Musical Society's constitution was written
just a few weeks after the U.S. Constitution.
It is believed to be the oldest constitution of any musical organization in the U.S.A.
Here is part of the opening statement or Preamble to this Constitution with Rules and Regulations, approved on October 8, 1787:
And as the powers of harmonious music are most admirably calculated to humanize the ferocious passions, to increase the various emotions of the mind, the different degrees of sensibility and all the feelings of the heart, that not only the sense of hearing receives the highest gratification from sounds the most congenial to the organs of man, but we are made partakers at one and the same time of instruction and delight in viewing the noblest work of the Almighty, put in motion to answer the noblest ends...
We, therefore, esteem it our duty to study to promote that harmony which is pleasing to our Maker and so delightful to ourselves. Stimulated with these salutary and laudable motives, we, whose names are underwritten, form ourselves in a society by the name of the Stoughton Musical Society, for the implied purpose of practicing vocal music.
America's First Singing Contest
"The Heavenly Vision" (Jacob French)
and "Hallelujah Chorus" (G.F. Handel)
from Laus Deo, The Worcester Collection of Sacred Harmony (3rd ed, 1791)
Long before "American Idol" or other television contests, the first singing contest held in the U.S. was held about the year 1790. For more, click this link:
America's First Singing Contest
The Musical Society in Stoughton, 1802-1982
The Musical Society in Stoughton (MSIS) was organized in Stoughton on January 1, 1802. Because it had a similar name to the older Stoughton Musical Society it has been confusing.
Why have two choral societies in town?
The only difference between the two societies was that only Stoughton residents could join this MSIS. Many of them also belonged to the Stoughton Musical Society as well.
For example, the first President of MSIS was Capt. Samuel Talbot, who also served at the same time as Vice President of the Stoughton Musical Society (SMS).
Talbot served as President of the Musical Society in Stoughton from 1802 to 1808. The first Vice President was Robert Swan, who served from 1806 to 1808. First Secretary was Abram Capen (1802-1806), and first Treasurer was John Dickerman Jr. (1802-1806).
For many years the Musical Society in Stoughton officers claimed to have been founded in 1762, but there are no documents to support that claim. Their claim was that the first singing meetings in 1762 were the beginning of MSIS. Actually, there are no records to prove there was any musical society organized in 1762.
One of their last officers, Frank Reynolds, had the original sign board painted over with the incorrect date of 1762 substituted for the date of 1802, bringing great dishonor to him for tampering with an artifact of history. But his dirty deed didn't go unpunished. After years of incorrectly claiming they were the "oldest choral society in America," The Musical Society in Stoughton (MSIS) continued to have less members until they finally dwindled down to only a few and were disbanded in 1982, with their remaining assets given to the Old Stoughton Musical Society, which was the oldest one in town.
There are still traces of the wrong date for the Musical Society in Stoughton, such as in the Pilgrim Monument at Provincetown, Massachusetts, which may be "set in stone" but is still incorrect when it states the Musical Society in Stoughton began in 1762, instead of 1802. The 1786 is correct for the Old Stoughton Musical Society. Actually both musical societies had singers who were attending informal singing meetings in 1762 in Stoughton -- see "OLD STOUGHTON: Singing Meetings and Concerts."
"SONG OF THE OLD FOLKS" - Father Kemp and the Old Folks Concerts
Read the article about the American "Auld Lang Syne" by Roger Lee Hall
at this online site -- We're History
The World's Columbian Exposition Concerts in 1893
For a complete list of the music performed in these concerts in Chicago, Illinois, by the Stoughton Musical Society --
Fall Music Festivals
(1978 and 1980)
"Musick in Old New England"
Old Stoughton Musical Society's First Fall Music Festival was held in Bridgewater, Massachusetts at the First Parish Unitarian Church on October 14-15, 1978.
The Festival Speakers (October 14):
Roger Hall, OSMS Historian: "Singing Stoughton"
David McKay: "The Singing Master's Assistant" (William Billings)
Barbara Lambert: "Music Instruments and Musicians"
"The First century of the Organ and its music in New England"
Mason Martens: "Early New England Choral Music in Modern Editions"
The Festival Concert (October 15):
Choral music by William Billings, Bartholomew Brown, Samuel Capen, Lewis Edson, Jeremiah Ingalls, Edwin Arthur Jones, Nahum Mitchell,
and organ music by James Hewitt,
Oliver Shaw and others.
The Old Stoughton Musical Society Chorus, William J. Childs, director. Richard Hill, organist.
"Musick in Old Boston"
Second Fall Music Festival:
Boston, November 22-23, 1980
The Stoughton Town Hall Centennial Concert
This concert honoring the centennial of Stoughton Town Hall was performed by the Old Stoughton Musical Society, conducted by Roger Hall on November 22, 1981.
A special banner with the Stoughton Town Seal was designed for the occasion by artist Mildred Wilson.
All the music was by American composers, including William Billings, Supply Belcher, Samuel Barber, and Randall Thompson.
Some of the pieces in the concert were by local composers, including several choruses by E.A. Jones,and an anti-war song, "Peace," set to a poem written in 1814 by a Stoughton teenage girl, Esther Talbot.
This is the first verse of her poem:
Come, gentle Peace, with smiling ray,
Beam on our land a cloudless day;
Beneath thy influence serene,
The olive wears immortal green.
The poem was set to music by composer Roger Hall and received its First Performance in the 1981 concert.
Read the newspaper article about this song -- CLICK HERE
Read about the 1981 concert and the CD with highlights
from this Stoughton Town Hall Centennial Concert
The Bicentennial Anniversary in 1986
November 7, 1986 was declared as "Old Stoughton Musical Society Day" in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by order of Governor Michael S. Dukakis.
Shown here behind Gov. Dukakis are (left to right):
State Senator William R. Keating; O.S.M.S. President David M. Benjamin;
State Representative Marjorie A. Clapprood; O.S.M.S. Treasurer Joseph M. Klements;
O.S.M.S. Vice President and Bicentennial Chairman, Roger L. Hall
The Old Stoughton Musical Society Bicentennial Season included special exhibits at Harvard University, in Lexington and Stoughton, all prepared by Bicentennial Chairman, Roger Hall.
There were four concerts given during 1986.
The first one was given on April 20 in North Easton, Massachusetts, under the direction of Earl Eyrich. It featured the World Premiere performance of the hymn tune, STOUGHTON, by William Billings [original 1770 printed copy shown above]. It originally had music only without any words. The Billings tune was edited by Roger Hall, who added a hymn text by Dr. Isaac Watts which was popular in 18th century New England.
Also, there was a special exhibit in the music library of Harvard University and two concerts given at the Museum of Our National Heritage in Lexington, Massachusetts:
The first concert in Lexington was presented in October and titled: "Two Centuries of Piano Music in New England," featuring pianist David Hagan performing works by Charles Ives, Edwin Arthur Jones, Roger Hall and other composers.
The following month a second concert was presented: "Two Centuries of Choral Music in New England," with the Old Stoughton Musical Society Chorus, directed by Earl Eyrich, performing music by William Billings, Jacob French, Oliver Shaw, Edwin A. Jones, George W. Chadwick, and Roger Hall, who composed an 18th century style fuging tune titled, DEDICATION, based on words printed in the 1794 tune book of William Billings.
Two hundred years after the date when it was organized, the OSMS Bicentennial Concert was held on November 7, 1986 at Stoughton High School.
This Bicentennial Concert was held at Stoughton High School exactly two hundred years later on November 7, 1986. The 60 member chorus first performed the William Billings hymn, STOUGHTON, edited by Roger Hall.
The featured work was Franz Joseph Haydn's oratorio, The Creation, for soloists, chorus and orchestra, conducted by Earl Eyrich. This was the same work that had been performed in the 1886 concert of the Old Stoughton Musical Society.
The soloists for this 1986 concert:
Hazel O'Donnell, Soprano
Kyle bradford, Tenor
Donald Wilinson, Bass-Baritone
The complete recording of Haydn's The Creation is available upon request on two CDs for a preparation fee. Write to: Bicentennial Concert
The Bicentennial Commemorative program booklet contains congratulatory letters from President Ronald Reagan, an entry in The Congressional Record by Hon. Joseph Moakley, and concert notes by Earl Eyrich and Roger Hall.
In honor of this 200th anniversary, Roger Hall wrote a special Bicentennial Hymn based on the familiar psalm tune, "Old Hundred." This hymn text was included in the Bicentennial Concert Commemorative Program Booklet. A copy of the Bicentennial Booklet is available in a folder on the multi-media DVD-ROM, DEDICATION - Singing in Stoughton.
Also on November 7, Roger Hall was a guest along with William Billings biographer, David McKay, on the popular classical radio program, "Morning Pro Musica," on WGBH-FM in Boston hosted by Robert J. Lurtsema, whose mother once lived in Stoughton. A portion of this radio interview is available on the CD titled, Best of William Billings (AMRC 0001).
The Stoughton Musical Society
Constitution Bicentennial in 1987
The bicentennial of the oldest constitution of any musical society in the United States was celebrated at the Stoughton Public Library on October 8, 1987, exactly 200 years after the Stoughton Musical Society's constitution was approved.
The program was titled, "OLD STOUGHTON and THE GRAND CONSTITUTION."
This bicentennial program included an original play by Roger Hall about the writing of the Stoughton Musical Society's Constitution in 1787.
A video of the 1987 program with readings from the U.S. Constitution and the one-act play, with two local actors and singers from the Old Stoughton Musical Society, are included on the computer disc titled,
"The Grand Constitution" -
Old Stoughton in 1787
List of Officers (1929-1984)
The following list of officers from 1929 to 1984 is from
Singing Stoughton: Selected Highlights from America's Oldest Choral Society
by Roger L. Hall, Historian, Old Stoughton Musical Society (1985) --
(number, town of residence, years served)
Joseph Belcher (28th) Randolph, MA 1929-1935
Edwin B. Arnold (29th) Braintree, MA
Merrit A. Godwin (30th) Brockton, MA
G. Lester Gay (31st) Stoughton, MA 1947-1960
David M. Benjamin (32nd) Stoughton, MA 1961-1984
Roscoe C. Adams Braintree 1948-1949
Mrs. James Buckley Brockton
Archie T. Morrison South Braintree
Charles P. Buckley Brockton 1959
David M. Benjamin Stoughton 1960
William J. Childs Stoughton 1961-1966
G. Carl Anderson Stoughton 1967-1977
Roger L. Hall Stoughton 1978-1984
Merrit A. Godwin (Secretary-Treasurer) Brockton 1929-1937
G. Lester Gay (Sec-Treas) Stoughton 1938-1947
Ernest S. Weaver (Sec-Treas) Stoughton 1948-1951
Harold R. Paul (Sec-Treas) Stoughton 1952-1955
Herman A. Barber (Clerk) Avon 1956-1959
Charles P. Buckley (Clerk) Brockton 1960-1982
Mildred K. Wilson (Clerk) Stoughton 1983-1984
Joseph M. Klements (Treasurer) Stoughton, 1983-1984
William H. Capen Stoughton 1930-1939
Carl L. Smith Stoughton 1940-1967
Roger L. Hall Stoughton 1979-1984
CHORISTERS (MUSIC DIRECTORS)
George Sawyer Dunham (18th) Brockton 1929-1949
Carl L. Smith (19th) Stoughton 1950-1966
William J. Childs (20th) Stoughton 1967-1979
Roger L. Hall (21st) Stoughton 1980-1981
Earl Eyrich (22nd) Sudbury 1982-1984
VICE-CHORISTER (ASSISTANT MUSIC DIRECTORS)
Mrs. Laura Shafer Gebhardt (27th) Stoughton 1929-1938
Mrs. Cora G. Brooks (28th) Braintree 1938-1949
Carl L. Smith (29th) Stoughton 1939-1949
Mrs. James Wesson (30th) Stoughton 1950-1952
Frank W. Reynolds (31st) Stoughton 1950-1974
Blanche D. Pickering (32nd) Brockton 1953-1963
Reuben L. Willis (33rd) Stoughton 1962-1968
[office deleted after 1968]
Mace Gay Brockton 1929-1932
Elmer B. Wright Brockton 1929-1932 (Asst.)
Walter E. Loud Braintree 1937-1944
William R. Park Taunton 1945-1949
Meriel Blanchard Brockton 1950-1963
[office deleted after 1963]
For the officers from 1786 to 1928,
see The Old Stoughton Musical Society: An Historical and Informative Record
of the Oldest Choral Society in America (1929).
Past Old Stoughton Musical Society Conductor
Earl E. Eyrich, 1944-2001
Two former soloists
Sally MacKerron Worthen, 1947-2011
(female tenor soloist
and OSMS Bicentennial Committee Member)
David M. Benjamin, 1921-2008 (bass soloist and OSMS President)
Stoughton Choral Composers
(18th, 19th, 20th centuries)
Portrait and signature of Supply Belcher from
A History of Farmington, Franklin County, Maine
A research article written by Roger Lee Hall titled,
"The Handel of Maine:
The Musical Life of Supply Belcher"
is included on the CD-ROM:
"DEDICATION" - Singing in Stoughton
18th century Stoughton composers
There were at four composers born in 18th century Stoughton, and two of them, Supply Belcher and Jacob French, became better known when they moved to other New England states.
Supply Belcher became a prominent judge in Maine and Jacob French taught singing in Connecticut. Both produced music collections (called tunebooks).
Belcher published only one tunebook, The Harmony of Maine (Boston, 1794), which may have tunes he composed while living in Canton, Massachusetts.
Jacob French published three tunebooks: The New American Melody (1789); The Psalmodist's Companion (1793), and The Harmony of Harmony (1802).
Music by both these Stoughton composers are on the CD:
Make A Joyful Noise - The New England Harmony.
The four Stoughton-born composers from the 18th century are:
- Supply Belcher(born: Stoughton, 1751/ died: Farmington, Maine, 1836)
- Samuel Capen (born: Stoughton, 1745 / died: Canton, Massachusetts, 1809)
- Edward French (born: Stoughton, 1761 /died: Sharon, Massachusetts, 1845)
- Jacob French (born: Stoughton, 1754 / died: Simsbury, Connecticut, 1817)
19th century Stoughton composers
- Alanson Belcher (born: 1810/died: Stoughton, 1900)
- Edwin Arthur Jones (born: 1853/died: Stoughton, 1911)
20th century composers
- Laura Shafer Gebhardt (born: 1885/died Stoughton, 1959)
- F. William Kempf (born: 1901/ died: Stoughton, 1950)
- Frank W. Reynolds (born: 1887/died: Stoughton, 1975)
- Roger Lee Hall (born: 1942)
Old Stoughton vs. Sacred Harp Singing
by Roger Hall
Two of the oldest amateur singing traditions of religious or harmony music in the U.S. are the two musical societies in Stoughton, and the Sacred Harp singing in the South, especially in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.
Of these, Stoughton is the oldest, performing choral music consisting of plain tunes, fuging tunes, set pieces and anthems. Also, this music has been supplemented with performances of larger choral works, such as cantatas and oratorios -- both types composed by an unjustly forgotten 19th century Stoughton composer: Edwin Arthur Jones.
There were two music collections published by the Stoughton Musical Society, the first in 1829 and the second one in 1878, which had tunes by Stoughton-born composers, such as Supply Belcher, Jacob French, and his brother, Edward French.
In 1980, The Stoughton Musical Society's Centennial Collection of Sacred Music (Ditson & Co., 1878), was reprinted with an Introduction and New Index by Roger Hall (New York: Da Capo Press, 304 pages). There are about 160 tunes in the collection, most of them by New England composers and some edited music by European composers (Haydn, Mozart, Naumann, Stephenson, Tans'ur). There are more New England tunes in this Stoughton collection than in other tune books of the 19th century, including The Sacred Harp.
Just to give an example, here are the number of tunes by William Billings in these collections:
The Sacred Harp (1844/ revision, 1991) = 14 tunes
The Stoughton Centennial Collection (1878/ reprint, 1980) = 28 tunes
There are approximately 48 early New England tunes in The Sacred Harp and 33 of these tunes are also found in The Stoughton Centennial Collection -- which is not a shape-note tunebook.
Thus, contrary to common belief, 18th century tunes did not disappear during the 19th century and early 20th centuries in the North, at least in Stoughton and surrounding towns.
Unfortunately, this fact is forgotten or not known by scholars and those who sing the New England music from The Sacred Harp, and other contemporary tune books, like The Northern Harmony (1998) and The Norumbega Harmony (2003).
They all fail to mention the important singing tradition in Stoughton that has been continuous since the 1760s.
The only event ever mentioned about Stoughton is the famous singing school taught there by William Billings in 1774. It is incorrect to say that Billings actually organized the Stoughton Musical Society, though he was greatly admired and five of the pupils in his singing school later joined the musical society when it was organized in 1786.
Also, these singing traditions in the North and South are not the same.
The Sacred Harp (or Shape-note) Tradition features a different singing style, with more emphasis placed on lung power and less on subtle singing. It is a much better known tradition than the one from Stoughton, and much appreciated, as it should be.
The Stoughton Tradition has been a more cultivated one. Like the Sacred Harp Tradition, the singers are not usually professional musicians. In the past, most of the chorus was made up of singers from many nearby towns in the Stoughton area. Their concerts have often included many of the same people who meet to enjoy the singing experience. It has remained the longest such tradition but unfortunately seems to have lost its way in the present day, with fewer good singers and a change of repertoire away from the singing of early New England tunes.
For over two centuries, 18th century choral music was continued by the Stoughton Musical Society, and deserves to be remembered for that achievement.
Stoughton Music Programs
Civil War Commemoration in 2012
Civil War Event at
Among the events at a Civil War re-enactment at Faxon Park was a display of music books and CDs prepared by Stoughton musicologist, Roger Hall, who also sang what is believed to be the first modern day concert performance of the original version
of "Battle Hymn of the Republic." This original version of the Battle Hymn performed by the Old Stoughton Musical Society Chorus is included
on a CD titled,
Glory, Hallelujah - Songs and Hymns of the Civil War Era
E.A. Jones: Stoughton's Past Music Man
The year 2011 marks the centennial of the death of Stoughton composer and town benefactor, Edwin Arthur Jones (1853-1911). In addition to his musical activities, Jones also designed the Stoughton Town Seal which includes a music symbol. His major composition, a dramatic cantata titled, "Song of Our Saviour", received its World Premiere performance in Stoughton in 1992.
On Sunday, March 13, 2011 at the Stoughton Historical Society, Jones biographer, Roger Hall, presented several of his DVDs to Dwight MacKerron, Historical Society President. Roger also gave a slide show about the music of E.A. Jones at their monthly meeting.
E.A. Jones and Isabella Stewart Gardner:
On April 28, Roger Hall discussed and played a string quartet by E.A. Jones which was first performed at the home of Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston in 1889. This discussion was part of the Stoughton Reads Together series about the book, The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Heist by Ulrich Boser.
Read more at this link: Edwin Arthur Jones
Roger Lee Hall presented a complimentary copy of the NEW ENGLAND MUSIC SAMPLER DVD to the Stoughton Public Library Director, Pat Basler, for their collection.
2010 marked the 250th anniversary year of what is believed to be the first singing school held in New England.
According to Daniel T.V. Huntoon, Elijah Dunbar, a recent Harvard College graduate, returned to his hometown of Stoughton and taught a singing school there in 1760. More singing meetings were held in the years that followed and by 1774, the Boston composer, William Billings, the Father of American Choral Music, came to town to teach another singing school.
One of the early New England Christmas carols was by Edward French in 1799...
To help celebrate this 250th anniversary, Roger Hall, Director of the New England Music Archive, presented a music program for the Randolph Historical Society, in the Jonathan Belcher House, 360 North Main St., Randolph, on Wednesday, Dec. 8.
The program was titled, "The Christmas Sings in Randolph."
He read excerpts from his new latest publication on DVD: OLD STOUGHTON – Singing Meetings and Concerts and focused on the Christmas Day concerts held in Randolph, and also compared them to a story by the popular 19th century writer, Mary Wilkins Freeman, who wrote about a Christmas sing in Randolph, published in The Ladies’ Home Journal in 1897.
Here are a few of the old New England tunes performed in an 1896 Christmas Sing in Randolph:
INVITATION -- Jacob Kimball
VICTORY -- Daniel Read
MAJESTY -- William Billings
NEW BETHLEHEM -- Edward French
NEW JERUSALEM -- Jeremiah Ingalls
Some of this music in the Randolph program is included on a CD, Christmas Music From New England. It includes many carols from New England, including popular ones like “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Joy to the World.”
Patriotic Songs in Early Canton
On July 11, Roger Hall, presented a program titled,"Music in Early Canton" at the Canton Historical Society.
His program featured music by local composers, plus patriotic songs from a CD recorded in Canton titled, "A Toast - Music of George Washington's Time" including these patriotic songs:
Father and I Went Down To Camp
(tune: Yankee Doodle)
Ode To President George Washington
(tune: God Save The King)
Books and Articles
Billings, Edward Adams
Roger Billings of Sharon, Massachusetts: A Family Tree.
Barre, Vermont: L. Brown & Sons, 2001.
Includes brief information about composer William Billings who is incorrectly identified as a "musicologist." It is stated that William was not from the Roger Billings family line in Sharon.
Also included is the tune STOUGHTON, edited by Roger Hall, incorrectly listed as from Canton.
Flynn, John E.
Beyond the Blew-Hills: A Short History of the Town of Stoughton, Massachusetts. Stoughton: Stoughton Historical Society, 1976. Originally published in 1956. Information about the Old Stoughton musical Society is incorrect -- click here for correction.
Hall, Roger L.
- "How Lovely is Zion" - Music in Old New England, 1778-1878 (radio documentary)
Stoughton: PineTree Music, 1978.
- "DEDICATION" - Singing in Stoughton, 1762-1987, - 2015/ 2nd ed, 2017
- E.A. Jones: His Life and Music,
Old Stoughton Musical Society, 1984.
- "Elijah Dunbar: Canton's First Music Man,"
Stoughton Journal newspaper, February 20, 1997.
- "MAJESTY" - William Billings and The Stoughton Musical Society,
Stoughton: PineTree Press, 2000. Includes Music Supplement.
- Music in Early Canton: Historical Notes and Music.
Stoughton: PineTree Press,1997.
- Music in Stoughton: A Brief Survey,PineTree Press, 1989.
- "OLD STOUGHTON" - Singing Meetings and Concerts
Stoughton: PineTree Press, 2010/2nd edition, 2012. Multimedia DVD.
- SINGING STOUGHTON: Selected Highlights from America's Oldest Choral Society, Old Stoughton Musical Society, 1985.
- "Stoughton Choral Society - America's Oldest - Turns 225"
Wicked Local online, October 28, 2011, and Stoughton Journal.
- "Stoughton's Singing History," Stoughton Patch (online),
December 11, 2012.
- The Stoughton Songster: Music performed between 1980 and 1990
Stoughton: PineTree Press, 1991.
- Ten Town Tunes - Music From Stoughton, 1770-1990.
Stoughton: PineTree Music, 1998.
- The Stoughton Musical Society's Centennial Collection of Sacred Music.
Boston: Ditson & Company, 1878/ Reprint, DaCapo Press, 1980.
Introduction and New Indexes by Roger Hall.
"This reprint is a most welcome offering for anyone interested in examining our native musical heritage, particularly those concerned with the choral tradition... This volume should furnish hours of pleasant singing -- useful in the church, concert hall and the home."
--from a review by David P. McKay, The Hymn, 1982
- "When will Stoughton get back on the musical map?"
Stoughton Journal newspaper, December 11, 1997.
- "William Billings songs to be remembered, Celebration set Oct. 6 at Boston Common," Stoughton Journal newspaper, September 26, 1996.
Huntoon, Daniel T.V.
History of Canton, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, Cambridge, MA: John Wilson and Son, 1893. Includes a chapter on music in Canton and Stoughton.
Jones, Mary (Swan) and Frank W. Reynolds
History of the Musical Society in Stoughton, no date.
Note: The sub-heading on the cover --"Formed in 1762"--is incorrect. This society was formed on January 1, 1802.
"Choral group gets credit as nation's oldest"
The Patriot Ledger newspaper, January 8/9, 1994.
Story about Old Stoughton Musical Society being listed in The Guinness Book of World Records.
Standish, Lemuel, editor
The Old Stoughton Musical Society: An Historical and Informative Record of the Oldest Choral Society in America. Stoughton, Massachusetts, 1929.
Stoughton Music Heritage Series
written by Roger L. Hall
See the complete list:
Stoughton Music CDs
produced by Roger L. Hall
Album 1. A Dedication Concert
In Honor of the 100th Anniversary of
Stoughton Town Hall
Read more about this special concert presented by the Old Stoughton Musical Society, conducted by Roger Hall, on November 22, 1981 --
For more information,
Click this link
Album 2. "How Lovely is Zion" - Music in Old New England, 1778-1878
Radio program with commentary by musicologist Roger Hall and highlights from the Old Stoughton Musical Society's First Fall Music Festival in Bridgewater, Massachusetts on October 14-15, 1978. Featuring choral music by William Billings, Bartholomew Brown, Samuel Capen, Lewis Edson, Jeremiah Ingalls, Edwin Arthur Jones, Nahum Mitchell, and organ music by James Hewitt, Oliver Shaw and others.
The Old Stoughton Musical Society Chorus, William J. Childs, director. Richard Hill, organist.
Album 3. Old Stoughton Music Sampler
A selection of choral music from the 18th to 20th centuries performed by the Stoughton Musical Society Chorus with music by William Billings, Oliver Holden, Daniel Read, Jeremiah Ingalls, Supply Belcher, Edward and Jacob French, Samuel Capen, E.A. Jones, Charles Ives, and Roger Lee Hall.
The local Massachusetts towns represented are:
-Edwin Arthur Jones - The Lord is King, 1890
-Roger Lee Hall - Dedication, 1986 and Peace, 1981
-Edward French - New
Jacob French - The Heavenly Vision, 1786
-Supply Belcher - Make a Joyful Noise, 1794
-Samuel Capen - The Dove, 1805
Album 4. "Chester" - The Stoughton Harmony (AMRC 0031)
A selection of choral music by composers from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries which have been performed in Stoughton, some of them from local music collections and editions.
each CD is by donation of $17.95,
or receive all four albums
on one CD-ROM
for donation of $48.00
- a 30% discount!
Make your donation by credit card payable to PineTree Productions
through safe and secure PayPal.
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Price includes shipping on any of these titles (USA only)
After you have made your donation, please indicate which CD title you wish
and send your mailing address to:
Stoughton Music Series
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Please pass the word along that this Massachusetts town deserves to be recognized for its distinguished musical heritage and thus be called:
For comments or questions, write to:
Community Forum TV Show
Watch the Community Forum talk show from June 6, 2013 hosted by Roxanne Morse with guest:
Roger Lee Hall speaking about his many Stoughton music accomplishments including publications and CDs. Click this link to watch the free one hour program:
Stoughton Media Access Corporation
If you have any questions about the titles listed above write to:
New England Song Series No. 6: "Song of the Old Folks"
Edwin Arthur Jones (1853-1911):
A Centennial Remembrance
Singing New Englanders:
From The Pilgrims to The Shakers
Lectures and Workshops
New England Music Archive
Heritage Series (Monographs, DVDs, CDs)
Stoughton Musical Society
Stoughton Historical Society