In A Human Moment

Miscellany from the 19th century

“…that wretched instrument and revolting song…”


Ghostly Music (from the New York Times)

Spiritualism which is represented by those who believe in it to be vastly superior to Christianity, differs, of course, from the latter in its revelations as to the state of music in the other world. The church has always held that the angelic host sings and plays on the harp and trumpet in a way altogether beyond the reach of criticism…But Spiritualism, on the other hand, shows us that the state of musical culture among ghosts is no better than that which characterises an Indiana country town. The average ghost plays only the most execrable instruments, and sings only the most empty and aggravating songs. As for producing a decent note with a trumpet, or playing the simplest melody with the harp, the ghosts of spiritualism have never even ventured to make the attempt.

When a “materialising seance” is held, the medium always requests the circle of believers to sing; alleging that under the influence of music ghosts materialise with comparative ease. But what are the songs that are sung in spiritual circles? The “Sweet Bye and Bye” is a fair sample of them. They are invariably the illiterate sentimental songs popular among people who know absolutely nothing about music.

They are sung through the nose with the mechanical sameness of the barrel-organ, and with a dragging of the time that is simply maddening. One would think that if the singing of the “Sweet Bye and Bye” could induce any ghost to materialise it would be a large one with a heavy club, and a wild desire to brain the singers. Unfortunately, this is not what ordinarily happens. The singing is followed by the appearance of ghosts who are in the best of tempers, and apparently satisfied with the “music” which has lured them from the other world. Of course this is fatal to our respect for ghosts. If a ghost will deliberately come to earth to hear people whose voices are as cracked as their brains sing the “Sweet Bye and Bye” they are wholly unfit to be noticed by persons of any sort of musical culture.

This being the kind of musical taste which prevails in the other world we need not be surprised to find that not a single ghost has yet materialised who can play on any decent instrument. What is even worse is the fact that the entire ghostly world seems to be given over to the accordion. Occasionally a ghost will strike the strings of a guitar so as to produce a discordant noise, but the accordion is positively the only instrument which ghosts will play in public. If spiritualism is true, it is evident that the first thing a disembodied spirit does is learn to play on the accordion. Men who in this world would have smitten to the earth the wretch who should have tried to place an accordion in their hands will in their ghostly state, take up the instrument from the medium’s table, and proceed to encourage its asthmatic wheezing.

It is certainly very strange that we should thus deteriorate after death. The late Daniel Webster was confessedly one of the greatest men of any age. He never played on any instrument, and in fact, had no liking whatever for music, but his views of the accordion were such as become a statesman, a Christian and a gentleman. Yet, now that he is dead, he has devoted himself with much assiduity to the accordion, and when he condescends to materialise for the benefit of a roomful of spiritualists – as he frequently does – he is pretty sure to say, “Gimme that there accordion and I’ll play a little suthin,” whereupon he plays the “Sweet Bye and Bye”, “Mollie Darling”, or “Beautiful Spring”.

George Washington is equally bad, and even Shakespeare has repeatedly shown that he shares the ghostly fondness for accordions.

Inevitably this casts a gloom over the future world. If, when we are dead, we sink to the accordion and find pleasure in the “Sweet Bye and Bye”, we are decidedly better off here than we will be hereafter. So far as we can learn from materialised ghosts, there is not a harp nor a brass instrument in the other world, and if there were there is not a ghost who could play on them. Were we to adopt the hypothesis that only the ghosts of bad men had the power to return to earth and that their familiarity with the accordion is acquired while undergoing punishment, we might feel a little encouraged gyt it point of fact, the ghosts of the very best and noblest men play the accordion, so that the hypothesis suggested is clearly untenable.

Our best plan is to decide that spiritualism cannot be true. It is far more probable that mediums lie and that spiritualists are deceived than it is that Daniel Webster and Dante play the accordion. Let us cherish our old belief in celestial harps and angelic trumpets, and hope that in the future life we shall be free from the sight and sound of the accordion. Perhaps the fallen angels, having dropped and broken their harps, torment miserable sinners by singing the “Sweet Bye and Bye”, and accompanying themselves on the accordion but surely in any other part of the universe of ghosts that wretched instrument and revolting song must be unknown.
The Blackburn Standard: Darwen Observer, and North-East Lancashire Advertiser (Blackburn, England), Saturday, July 02, 1881; pg. 2; Issue 23804.
Gale Document Number: R3208205767
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2 thoughts on ““…that wretched instrument and revolting song…”

  1. I like music for the illiterates 🙂

  2. Thanks! I was pleasantly surprised to find them.

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