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Contrary to what scholars long thought, colonial America was alive with the sound of music. Indeed, the very first book printed in the English-speaking colonies was a book of sacred music. The Bay Psalm Book, published in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1641, sought to make it easy for congregations to sing psalms, which ministers regarded as a form of prayer.

To be sure, some strict Calvinists and Quakers expressed an intensely negative attitude toward music, reflecting their hostility toward all kinds of worldly amusements. For example, in 1716, Quakers in Philadelphia advised members of the Society of Friends "against 'going to or being in any way concerned in plays, games, lotteries, music and dancing.'"

Nevertheless, music was far more prevalent in colonial America than previously suspected. There were as many as 7000 songs based on psalms published in America from 1698 to 1810. Musical instruments ranged from dulcimers and flutes to harpsichords, organs, recorders, trumpets, and violins,

The kinds of music were wide-ranging. There was both vocal and instrumental music. Music was used for entertainment, but also served a wide range of social functions. There was ceremonial music, dancing music, military music, and theatrical music. In addition to sacred music, there were diverse forms of secular music, including ballads, carols, folk songs, hymns, and ribald songs in taverns.

Diversity—religious, racial, and regional—were hallmarks of music in colonial America. Religious diversity was especially pronounced. Whereas Anglicans welcomed organs and choirs into their churches, Congregationalists and Presbyterians did not. These latter congregations sang psalms a capella (without instrumental accompaniment). It was not until the Great Awakening, the religious revivals that swept the colonies during the 1730s and 40s that instrumental music and choirs began to appear in areas where Calvinist orthodoxy predominated. For the most part, in colonial America, interest in balls, concerts, and opera was largely confined to Anglicans, and to a lesser extent among Catholics and Lutherans.

The singing of psalms was an especially important part of religious practice among the English colonists. Especially among New Englanders, the tunes were far less important than the words. It was not uncommon for one member of the congregation to read the psalm's words, line by line, and have the worshipers sing each line in turn. This practice, known as "lining-out," provoked a great deal of controversy in the early eighteenth century, since congregants were able to sing almost any way they wished. As one observer commented "tis hard to find Two [congregations] that Sing exactly alike. Reformers, arguing that tunes should be standardized, sponsored singing schools, produced tune books, and, by the 1750s, formed the first church choirs.

Music making prior to the American Revolution was largely an amateur activity. The first known concert in the American colonies took place in Boston in 1729, but the city did have a dedicated concert hall until 1754. It wasn't until 1730 that the first known advertisement for music lessons appeared in Philadelphia and not until 1757 that the first public concert took place in that city. The first music store in the colonies opened in Philadelphia in 1759.

Old Hundred
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Yankee Doodle
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Yankee Doodle
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Yankee Doodle
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