Under the Greenwood Tree HTML version

This story of the Mellstock Quire and its old established west- gallery musicians, with
some supplementary descriptions of similar officials in Two on a Tower, A Few Crusted
Characters, and other places, is intended to be a fairly true picture, at first hand, of the
personages, ways, and customs which were common among such orchestral bodies in the
villages of fifty or sixty years ago.
One is inclined to regret the displacement of these ecclesiastical bandsmen by an isolated
organist (often at first a barrel-organist) or harmonium player; and despite certain
advantages in point of control and accomplishment which were, no doubt, secured by
installing the single artist, the change has tended to stultify the professed aims of the
clergy, its direct result being to curtail and extinguish the interest of parishioners in
church doings. Under the old plan, from half a dozen to ten full-grown players, in
addition to the numerous more or less grown-up singers, were officially occupied with
the Sunday routine, and concerned in trying their best to make it an artistic outcome of
the combined musical taste of the congregation. With a musical executive limited, as it
mostly is limited now, to the parson's wife or daughter and the school- children, or to the
school-teacher and the children, an important union of interests has disappeared.
The zest of these bygone instrumentalists must have been keen and staying to take them,
as it did, on foot every Sunday after a toilsome week, through all weathers, to the church,
which often lay at a distance from their homes. They usually received so little in payment
for their performances that their efforts were really a labour of love. In the parish I had in
my mind when writing the present tale, the gratuities received yearly by the musicians at
Christmas were somewhat as follows: From the manor-house ten shillings and a supper;
from the vicar ten shillings; from the farmers five shillings each; from each cottage-
household one shilling; amounting altogether to not more than ten shillings a head
annually--just enough, as an old executant told me, to pay for their fiddle-strings, repairs,
rosin, and music-paper (which they mostly ruled themselves). Their music in those days
was all in their own manuscript, copied in the evenings after work, and their music-books
were home-bound.
It was customary to inscribe a few jigs, reels, horn-pipes, and ballads in the same book,
by beginning it at the other end, the insertions being continued from front and back till
sacred and secular met together in the middle, often with bizarre effect, the words of
some of the songs exhibiting that ancient and broad humour which our grandfathers, and
possibly grandmothers, took delight in, and is in these days unquotable.
The aforesaid fiddle-strings, rosin, and music-paper were supplied by a pedlar, who
travelled exclusively in such wares from parish to parish, coming to each village about
every six months. Tales are told of the consternation once caused among the church
fiddlers when, on the occasion of their producing a new Christmas anthem, he did not
come to time, owing to being snowed up on the downs, and the straits they were in