The Boston Glee Book

Lowell Mason, George J. Webb

Singing schools had been a part of American culture for quite some time when Lowell Mason and George J. Webb, among others, opened the Boston Academy of Music in 1833. While a continuation of the singing school tradition, they sought to elevate the quality of music and instruction, often offering sharp critique of the more rural singing school traditions. In 1838, the two published the Boston Glee Book to provide repertoire that met their exacting standards of quality and good taste. Lowell and Webb tenaciously petitioned for music education in Boston public schools, and in 1937 Mason became America's first public music educator.

Though all arrangements are a capella, the introduction states:

"The music contained in this book is intended to be strictly vocal - hence a separate accompaniment, which would have much increased the price, was thought to be unnecessary. Besides, any person who can play music of this description, in such a manner as to assist the singer, can play with ease from the vocal score. But while the accompaniment of a PIano_Forte, or of other instruments, may be of advantage, or even necessary to inexperienced performers, no person, who claims to be a Glee singer, will require instrumental aid; and a Glee or Madrigal, properly performed, should always be senza stromenti."

The volume is full of three, four, and five-part works, often with interesting contrapuntal sections and creative text painting. The entire volume is worth perusing, though I've featured here a familar favorite, a flexible round, and an SATB glee.

Learn more about Lowell's role in American public music education through my Library of Congress blog.

Note: Higher-quality images can be obtained by following the hyperlink in each title.

Students may be familiar with "Chairs to Mend" in a slightly different form. The first two measures may be taught as a round before adding the remaining measures, which challenge students' rhythmic independence.

"Hark 'Tis the Bells" would be a fitting number for a winter concert or any time of the year. The limited range of the tenor part is well-suited to young singers with changing voices; the D in measures 9-11 may be sung 8va to accommodate limited ranges.

Teachable moments in the piece include:

  • The chromatic fa-fi-sol melodic line for basses and altos
  • Drastic dynamic changes, somtimes coupled with accents, require great vocal control. Moreover, each dynamic serves a clear purpose in relation to the text. Linking technical challenges with a clear "reason why" can motivate students to remember and execute them well.
  • Can students notice and describe the text-painting techniques present throughout the piece?

Come Sing This Round With Me is a flexible choice for warm-up or performance. The first Soprano 2 stanza could be a warm-up for any skill level. The outlined triads, scalar passages warm up the ears while the Ha's encourage diaphgragm activation. It is equally satisfactory in two parts. The three-part section encourages listening across the ensemble and careful timekeeping before concluding with riotous peals of laughter.