- Written by Joseph B. Barnes, Esq.
Andrew Law (1749–1821) was an American composer, preacher and singing teacher. He was born in Milford, Connecticut. Law, a devout Calvinist and an ordained Minister, never took a position as a clergyman. He was educated at Rhode Island College (now Brown Univ.). Music was his chosen profession.
Law wrote mostly simple hymn tunes and arranged tunes of other composers. His works include Select Harmony (1778) a compilation of sacred "Psalm" songs of America and Britain. He advanced American Music as he elevated relatively unknown, and unaccomplished, young American composers stature so as to stand beside William Billings and the well established and prolific Britons with his rules of singing.
In 1778 at 29, while the revolutionary war raged about him, he and his brother William set up a tune book printing business in Cheshire, often printing books he himself created by compiling the works of others (copyright issues anybody?). Ironically he petitioned the legislature to protect his compilation of mostly other's works, the ponderously titled "A Collection of Hymn Tunes from the Most Modern and Approved Authors," and won in 1781, by special act of the Legislature, the very first copyright ever granted in the state (the first Connecticut copyright law for "the encouragement of genius" was not passed until 1783 and repealed 1812).
Select Harmony was a revolutionary advance over the tune books of the time. It contained tunes and lyrics together in the same book. Typically tune books, as the name suggests, contained tunes only. A collection of Hymns only had text. Law's other books, including his copyrighted work, sometimes followed the more traditional approach.
Several updated editions of Select Harmony were produced in 1779, 1782 and 1812 and more books were produced as well including: Collection of Best Tunes and Anthems (1779); then, perhaps his most impressive work, the instructional Art of Singing (1780) a graded trio of books for beginners (Primer) moderate (Christian Harmony) and advanced choirs and musical societies (The Musical Magazine) then Rudiments of Music (1785) and later in life Essays on Music (1814).
Select Harmony was introduced at a time when America's first music educators were seeking viable approaches to the teaching of sight-singing, Andrew Law was a pioneer of the FASOLA system of musical notation which simplified lessons in reading music. FASOLA singing is also known as "Shape Note Singing," where Squares, ovals triangles and other symbols are used to denote easy to read musical notes do, re, mi, fa, sol, etc..
Andrew Law was less a musical innovator or composer than an editor, organizer and propagator of music to the general public. He was influenced a great deal by works of other Yankees. James Lyons' Urania, appearing in 1761, was found among the possessions of Andrew Law.
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