Lowell Mason

Lowell Mason (1792-1872), American music educator, tune-book compiler, and composer, was called the "father of singing among the children." He was the outstanding American music educator for over half a century and was the leading reformer of American church music.

Lowell Mason, born in Medfield, Mass., on Jan. 8, 1792, was basically self-taught in music. At the age of 13 he learned the rudiments from a local schoolmaster, and he directed singing schools in the area while still a teen-ager. Moving to Savannah, Ga., in 1812, he served as organist-choirmaster of the Independent Presbyterian Church while earning his living as a bank clerk. He also began to study harmony and composition.

By 1820 Mason had compiled a collection of psalm and hymn tunes in which he utilized many melodies then popular in England, some snippets from such masters as Handel, Haydn, and Mozart, and a few of his own compositions. The collection was published anonymously as The Boston Handel and Haydn Society Collection of Church Music (1822), and its success (it went through 22 editions and sold more than 50,000 copies) led Mason to Boston in 1827.

Influenced by the theories of Johann Pestalozzi, Mason began teaching children's music classes in 1829, and in 1833 he founded the Boston Academy of Music. Music was introduced into the Boston public school system in 1838 as a direct result. Mason served as Boston's superintendent of music until 1845.

Teacher training was also a matter of concern to Mason. Out of his experiences in the academy grew the idea of a "musical convention," a crash course in musical pedagogics. By 1850 some 1,500 teachers from all over the country were flocking to Boston for 5 days of lectures and music making under Mason's direction, and musical conventions in other cities were almost as popular. Out of the musical convention grew the idea, in 1853, of the "normal musical institute," which was to provide still more comprehensive training.

In 1853, after a 15-month visit to Europe, Mason moved to New York City. He devoted his later years primarily to compiling collections of music for religious and educational purposes and to writing and teaching. He died in Orange, N.J., on Aug. 11, 1872.

More than a hundred compilations bear Mason's name. Among the most popular are The Boston Academy's Collection of Church Music (1835), The Boston School Song Book (1840), and Carmina Sacra (1841). Mason's most important writings are the Address on Church Music (1826), Manual of the Boston Academy of Music (1843), and Musical Letters from Abroad (1853).

Further Reading on Lowell Mason

The best biography of Mason is Arthur Lowndes Rich, Lowell Mason (1946), which also contains a comprehensive catalog of his works. A complete listing of Mason's original hymn tunes and hymn-tune arrangements is in Henry L. Mason, Hymn Tunes of Lowell Mason (1944). Mason's career in sacred music is discussed in Frank J. Metcalf, American Writers and Compilers of Sacred Music (1925), and Robert Stevenson, Protestant Church Music in America (1966).

Additional Biography Sources

Pemberton, Carol A. (Carol Ann), Lowell Mason: his life and work, Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1985.

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