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2 Sacred and Secular College Singing, 1700–­1800 Early Singing at Harvard and Yale Many factors contributed to the growth of singing during the early years of the Ameri­ can colonies, and colleges incorporated a number of these elements as part of collegiate rituals. Singing in college kept pace with the larger singing trends in colonial America during the eighteenth century, reaping the benefits of singing from both religious and secular contexts and variations in between. Colleges and college students adapted these trends in singing, and music to a larger degree, by contributing their own unique qualities and purposes within the sphere of the campus. Religious singing continued to dominate the formal side of congregational and college singing, and the ministers of New England fretted over how to improve the quality of singing in their churches. However, from the earliest part of the century and perhaps even earlier, college leaders, alumni, and students took part in secular singing. For the first time, we have evidence of the incorporation of non-­ sacred or secular music into the observances surrounding commencement. At Harvard in 1701, the persistent diarist Samuel Sewall recorded that, owing to the absence of the lieutenant governor, he had the honor of hoisting the ceremonial bowl (a form of toasting). “After dinner and singing,” Sewall wrote, “I took it, had it fill’d up, and drunk to the president.”1 We have no evidence to suggest what form of singing took place, but it is hard to imagine that the Psalms or other sacred music would have been sung on such an occasion. Clearly, the celebratory mood of the event called for something lighter, perhaps something sentimental or even slightly boisterous. 22 Chapter 2 Some evidence exists to suggest that the singing of “convivial songs” posed problems at Harvard commencements. Samuel Sewall noted in 1707 that Rev­ er­ end Solomon Stoddard, a Puritan divine, “spake against the excess in Com­ mencem’t entertainments.” The ministerial complaint soon rose to a higher order of concern when Governor Joseph Dudley and Stoddard called on Sewall, a revered member of the Harvard Board of Overseers, demanding that he should “cause them [the excesses] to conclude.”2 Perhaps it was only drunkenness that prompted the concern over excesses, but it seems more likely that the combination of song and spirits gave rise to the gubernatorial visit. One Harvard graduate made it plain that commencements were in transition to becoming much more than purely formal academic observances and gravitated toward becoming larger pub­lic events. John Holmes, a Harvard graduate, offered a particularly sardonic depiction of a mythical procession proceeding toward a typical eighteenth-­century commencement at the Massachusetts school. “On the great roads,” he wrote, “the regular beggars of the day were making their best speed toward Commencement. . . . Blind men were pressing on to see the sights, dumb men to sing convivial songs, and the lame to join in the dance.”3 Fundamentally, Samuel Sewall simply seemed to love music and singing. When a Harvard classmate died in 1718, Sewall dutifully noted that he was a “good Scholar” and a “solid Divine,” but his fondest recollections came from the time when the two were “Fellows together at College,” when they “sung many a Tune in consort.” It was Sewall’s fondest hope that the two “shall sing Hallelujah together in Heaven.”4 A particular form of singing evolved in concert with commencement when students began the practice of serenading in unofficial conjunction with the academic ceremonies. John Holmes remembered a typical scene from the night before a commencement during the administration of Harvard President Edward Holyoke: “The night, we may be sure, was a lively one for the scholars. Tutors listened despairingly to those horrid endless choruses which conviviality engenders . President Holyoke’s dreams even, at the remote ‘Wadsworth House,’ were invaded by jovial fancies which he would have dispelled, officially, had sleep allowed him. These terrible choruses were ambulatory, now in front of Hollis [Hall], now back of Stoughton [Hall], and more formidable from the narrow limits of the then College Yard.”5 Serenading quickly became a regular social practice, and, depending upon who the auditors were, it could be regarded as “horrid endless choruses” or mere youthful disruptions to be tolerated in good humor. Samuel Sewall experienced such singing first hand in 1727. Sacred and Secular College Singing, 1700–1800 23 “Last night three musicians serenaded me under my Chamber Window once or twice,” he wrote. He seemed unperturbed: “But being...


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