Lowell Mason was born January 8, 1792 in Massachusetts.
Lowell then moved to Savannah, Georgia where he ended up working in a bank, as well as choir director and organist for his local Presbyterian Church.
His passion for music led him to study music and eventually start to write his own.
Under Mason’s initiative, his church created the first Sunday school for black children in America.
Lowell began to assemble a hymnal whose tunes included European classical composers such as Haydn and Mozart. This work was eventually published anonymously by the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston in 1822 to much success. Mason felt his main career was as a banker, and he did not want to damage his career prospects.
In 1827, Mason returned to Boston, where he continued his banking career for some time. Mason served as choirmaster and organist at Park Street Church from 1829 to 1831, eventually becoming music director for three churches including the Hanover Street whose pastor was the famous Lyman Beecher.
Mason became an important figure on the Boston musical scene: He served as president of the Handel and Haydn Society, taught music in schools, was co-founder of the Boston Academy of Music (1833), and in 1838 was appointed music superintendent for the Boston school system.
In the 1830s, Mason set to music the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.
Joy to the World
In 1839, Mason adapted and arranged the lyrics of Joy to the World from an older melody which was then believed to have originated from Handel.
In 1845 political circumstances within the Boston school committee led to the termination of his services.
In 1851, at the age of 59, Mason retired from Boston musical activity and moved to New York City where his sons, Daniel and Lowell, Jr. had a music business.
On December 20, 1851 he set sail to Europe. During his tour of Europe in 1852 he developed a great interest and enthusiasm for congregational singing.
Following his return to New York City in 1853, Mason accepted a position as music director for the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church which had just completed construction of its new church edifice on Nineteenth Street.
Mason immediately disbanded its choir and orchestra and installed an organ with his son, William, serving as organist.
During his tenure, which lasted until 1860, he developed congregational singing to the point where the church was known as having the finest congregational singing in New York City. With this bold step, he had radically transformed American church music from a practice of having professional choirs and accompaniment to congregational singing accompanied only by organ music.
In 1859 Mason, along with Edwards A. Parks and Austin Phelps published the “Sabbath Hymn and Tune Book”.
In 1860 he retired to his estate in Orange, New Jersey, where he remained active in the Congregational Church there. He remained an important and influential figure for the rest of his life and is considered to be the first important music educator in the United States.
Lowell Mason died August 11, 1872 at the age of 80.
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