Introduction to West Gallery Music

West Gallery Music

"West Gallery music" or "Gallery music" (or, less commonly, "Georgian psalmody") is music performed by English parish church and chapel bands in the 1700s and early 1800s (originally only singers, but often with instrumentalists in the latter part of the period). As pointed out by Sally Drage, it was sung in both Anglican and non-conformist churches, and was not limited to rural areas or necessarily sung in "galleries". Most but not all of the composers were amateurs. This large and until recently neglected body of music is the antecedent and model for the musical idiom employed by New England tunesmiths of the late 1700s and early 1800s which is in turn the antecedent for the music of the Sacred Harp and other Southern shape-note books.

Although the music became almost totally extinct by about 1840, it has survived up to the present time in parts of Cornwall and in the "Village Carol" tradition in small towns in the Sheffield area. There has, however, been a recent revival of interest in this tradition, and today West Gallery music is being regularly sung, and often played, by a growing number of amateur groups in the UK and has then spread elsewhere, including to the USA.

(adapted from Dr. Steven Sabol's Sacred Harp & Related Shape-Note Music: Resources)