The earliest church music in the colony
On the 3 February 1788 the first Divine Service was held in Australia and to mark the anniversary we hear a lost tradition of grass-roots sacred music that may have been amongst the earliest church music heard in the colony.
In the years before organs and robed choirs came to dominate Anglican worship in the 19th century, there was another tradition of sacred music known as west gallery music. This was the music of the gallery bands found in English parish churches of the late 18th century. It was a grass roots music played by local parishioners in the western galleries of their churches using instruments like bassoons, cellos, flutes, serpents and vamp-horns. There was an enormous repertoire of west gallery music, most of it now forgotten, but it deserves to be better known in Australia where it was amongst the first church music of the fledgling colony. These are the sacred songs that built a nation.
It was a tradition that came with the First Fleet. Divine service was first celebrated in New South Wales, “under a great tree”, on Sunday 3rd February 1788 by the chaplain Rev Richard Johnson. What was sung that day isn’t recorded, but it’s likely the music was provided by the drummers and buglers of the Marines. For the next forty years, regimental bandsmen along with convicts and settlers continued to provide music both sacred and secular in the new colony using their own instruments, well before pipe organs arrived in the 1820s. Most of the church music was Anglican (with a strong Methodist influence) and consisted of metrical psalms, hymns, Christmas carols, and music for Church festivals. The performance style though came directly from the English gallery band tradition.
Source – ABC Radio National, Encounter: Sacred songs that built our nation:
http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2009/12/eer_20091225.mp3 Duration 48:30 minutes
Image source and further information: http://www.historyservices.com.au/resource_material_johnson.htm
National Christian Heritage Sunday – the first Sunday in February each year:
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