The West Gallery Quire

We now have a blog. We’ll be putting announcements of meetings, gigs, etc. there. Anything that is of interest for more than a few days and less than a few months will go there rather than on this page.

West Gallery Music

DO YOU HARBOUR A SECRET BELIEF that a lot of Handel would sound great when sung like a pub tune? Do you think the church choir would be more fun if you could play along on your fiddle? If so, come and join us! Find out what the English were doing while we were evolving the Shape Note tradition, and hear what Thomas Hardy’s characters, or Jane Austen and her preacher father, heard on a Sunday morning!

FOR THE FIRST TIME in America, a group has been formed to sing and play the anthems, psalm-tunes, and hymns of the West Gallery tradition. Bruce Randall, a leading authority on Early New England music and a member of Britain’s West Gallery Music Association, leads monthly workshops in the Boston area. Now in their twenty-first year, these meetings are open to all interested singers and melody-instrument players.

WEST GALLERY MUSIC is traditional sacred music from English village churches of the 18th and early 19th centuries. As an attempt to introduce church music into rural areas, choirs were formed from the local residents; village instrumentalists were also recruited as a means of assisting the singers. The mixed ensemble of singers and players usually performed from a gallery at the west (rear) end of the church, so this music is now known as West Gallery music.

Novelist THOMAS HARDY came from a family of church musicians, and referred to this music frequently in his novels; in particular Under the Greenwood Tree which depicts the life and death of a typical church band and quire.

THE MUSIC is powerful, hearty and rhythmic. Some of the tunes sound like folk-Handel (also known as “Barnyard Baroque”), others are stark and simple (much like Appalachian folk-hymns), and many are in the fuging style which also became popular in late eighteenth-century New England.

INSTRUMENTS were quite commonly used, both to support the singers and to play interludes and verses on their own: bowed strings, flutes, woodwinds, serpents, trombones, and concertinas are the most suitable, but anything that can play a melodic line is usually welcome.

Meeting Schedule

The meetings take place monthly on Sundays from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. at the Newton Highlands Congregational Church, 54 Lincoln St., Newton, Massachusetts.

The meeting dates for Winter/Spring 2020 will be:

  • Jan. 12
  • Feb. 9
  • March 8
  • April 19 – CANCELLED because of the disease.
  • May 17- CANCELLED because of the disease.
  • June 14- CANCELLED because of the disease. I’m hoping we can resume in September. Watch this space, or sign up for the email list.

Newton Highlands Congregational Church is one block from Newton Highlands T Station (Green Line, Riverside Branch), and is easily accessible from Route 9.

IMPORTANT: In order to protect the floor, please do not wear your street shoes in the room. Bring some slippers or heavy socks if you want to wear something on your feet.

Also don’t miss this Special Event:

West Gallery Music at NEFFA! – also cancelled.

The West Gallery Quire would have been leading a West Gallery Music workshop at the New England Folk Festival on Sunday, April 27 in Acton, Mass. except the whole thing’s cancelled because of the stupid disease.

See their web site at for more information.

What we sound like

There’s a video clip from our September 10, 2006 rehearsal.

On November 19, 2000, we played and sang for the service at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Newton Lower Falls.
We sang the anthem, Harvest Home, by Anonymous, with the St. Mary’s choir; here’s the last verse.
At the same service, we also did Stocks with voices only. Here’s the first verse.

These MIDI files are awfully mechanical, but you may get some kind of idea of what the music is like by listening to them:

Mailing list

You can sign up for the mailing list to receive notices of meetings and other events here.

Song List

If you come regularly, you should take the notebook of songs home with you and maintain it when new things are added. Here’s the list of songs that should be in the book. If you are missing anything, let Bruce know before the next meeting.


You can help us with publicity by printing our flyers and taking them to places where people might be interested, or posting them on community bulletin boards.

A PDF file of the current flyer is here.

Other links:

Be sure to visit the West Gallery Music Association site. This includes articles about West Gallery music, descriptions of current West Gallery Quires, information on publications, and links to other sites of interest to West Gallery musicians. is a site by Sue Glover with many items of interest, including free music downloads, biographies of important West Gallery musicians, and several other interesting items.

Matthew McConeghy maintains a website with a very comprehensive list of places you can play folk and traditional music in Southern New England.

The Folk Song Society of Greater Boston organises and sponsors many events in the Boston area, including concerts, singing sessions, and workshops.

Suggested reading and listening:


  • Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy, 1896. Depicts the life and death of a rural church band and quire. Available from libraries and bookstores in several modern editions; there is also a text of this book online.
  • Good Singing Still: Handbook on West Gallery Music, by Rollo G. Woods, 1995. ISBN 1-8999-47-00-0.
  • Praise & Glory, a West Gallery Psalter, edited by Rollo G. Woods, Edwin Macadam and Sheila Girling Smith, 2000. ISBN No. 0-9538319-0-6. Published by the West Gallery Music Association. There is also a selection of MIDI files of tunes from this book.

RECORDINGS available in the US

  • The Mellstock Band and Quire have several recordings available from commercial sources in the US. These recordings include:
    • Under the Greenwood Tree: the Carols and Dances of Hardy’s Wessex (Saydisk CD no. 360);
    • Tenants of the Earth (Wild Goose Records CD no. 281);
    • The Dance at the Phoenix (Beautiful Jo CD no. BEJOCD-28).

These recordings present a selection of rural English church and village music, including dance tunes, hymns, carols, and traditional songs and ballads.

  • Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band have two recordings, Sing Lustily and with Good Courage and Paradise Found, featuring arrangements of 18th- and 19th-century hymns, accompanied by various instruments. Although many pieces lack vocal harmony, and some of the instruments and performance styles are not found in the West Gallery tradition, most of this music can also be found in the West Gallery repertoire, and some pieces come very close to West Gallery style (Saydisc CD no. SDL 383).

Several West Gallery Quires have released their own recordings, often including compositions from their region, but most are available only from the group itself. See links on the WGMA web page for more information.

7 thoughts on “The West Gallery Quire”

  1. I had a wonderful time today singing with you guys and gals at neffa.
    I was thinking of taking up a new instrument. I used to play fife, recorder and flute.
    If you had to pick an instrument that you either do not have presently or would like to see
    more of in the group what would it be.
    Thanks Vin

    1. Hi Vin,
      Either instrument would be fine, of course recorder is easier to learn, but choosing which recorder, is where to start. Ask Bruce Randall which kind would be needed, contrabass to soprano. Personally, I’d like to hear the flute, since you could change from tenor to alto depending on what is needed on any given week. Actually, consider what part you like to sing since in some pieces we do a voice only part. We always like singers.
      Next meeting is May 19. Come and sing.

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