Canton Historical Society



Canton Home Of New England’s
The First Singing Society


The Canton Community Chorus, one the branches of the Town's Fine Arts Association, is present day evidence that singing is not a lost art. It may be of interest to learn that the chorus following a fine musical tradition started when the Town was still part of Stoughton.

As early as 1762 there was a "singing meeting" in the Town and two years later there was an organization in "working order for the purpose of practicing in vocal music," according to Huntoon. This was the year of the small-pox epidemic in Canton so Bridgewater singers who usually attended were advised to stay home.

Singing meetings were held at the houses of neighbors. It is recorded that sometimes they were a prodigious jarmgling. Whether this phrase referred to the music or to discussion among the singers is hard to say, for further information states that on February 11, 1767, the Braintree singers joined the group and got into a religious discussion that resulted in "a remarkable time." By March 9th of that year, all differences were resolved and the dedicated singers met for a peaceful song-test at the old May Tavern.

In 1774 William Billings, known as the father of American music, taught a singing school in the tavern of Robert Capen. Huntoon writes that Mr. Billings, then 28 years old, interested the young people in his work, Inspired them with his own enthusiasm, organized them into choirs, taught them to despise foreign music, especially that of England, and jumbled religion and patriotism into stanzas with such a grace that he became the most successful organizer of music In America

On November 7, 1786, about twenty-five people who were fond of music and social times met to organize a musical society, of which they made Elijah Dunbar president. Eijjah, who "had a voice like many waters," was passionately fond of music and had one of the finest music libraries in the country. He officiated as president of the "Old Stoughton Musical Society" for 22 years.

The singing society was still flourishing in Huntoon's day (late 19th century) and he writes, "Old Stoughton Musical Society has had among its members some of the finest singers in the State. Its meetings have always been attended with interest, the favorite times of meeting being artillery election days on the First. Monday in June, and at Christmas time."

This group was the first organized music society in New England, according to an account written by John S. Dwight in an 1882 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. He describes it as the "harbinger of the Boston Handel and Haydn Society."


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