Singers and Musical Personalities ~ John Templeton 1802 - 1886

1. Templeton

John Templeton 1802 - 86

1.   John Templeton.  Based on an image reproduced in the book The Passing of the Precentor by Duncan Fraser, F.E.I.S.  Published at John Knox House, by W. J. Hay, Edinburgh, 1905.  (Book in the collection of the University of Toronto.)  Copyright expired.

The following texts are drawn from this book.

'John Templeton. . . , began his musical career as precentor in a Secession church in Edinburgh. Templeton's connection with the Seceders began in 1822, when he was just twenty years of age; but in spite of his youth his voice was well set, and its beautiful tenor quality drew large numbers of strangers to the church to hear such precenting.

The psalm tunes of those days were not like those of the present, syllabic chorales, but were florid and melodic, and, as the older precentors used to say: 'They gied your voice a chance.'

Templeton made the most of his 'chance,' and soon was advised to make solo-singing his profession. There was much head-shaking amongst the worthy Seceders when their young precentor resolved to go to London and study music with a view to operatic singing; but study he did, making his first appearance on the stage in 1828. His career as the leading tenor in opera was brilliant, and his association with Malabran and other great artistes brought him fame and fortune.

But opera alone did not absorb his talent; he also gave splendid ballad concerts and musical lectures. His beautiful singing of Scottish songs was one of the most memorable features of his concerts; and it is as a brilliant exponent of the songs of his native land that he doubtless owes his medallion memorial at the south-west side of the Calton Hill, Edinburgh, beside those of Wilson and Kennedy.'



James Morris , part owner of the Theatre Royal in Ayr, writes:

John Templeton, the well-known tenor, was often here. He created quite a metropolitan and provincial sensation for some years after his debut as a lad in Edinburgh, on which occasion I was present.

[This text draws on The Passing of the Precentor by Duncan Fraser, F.E.I.S. And Recollections of Ayr Theatricals from 1809, by James Morris, Ayr Advertiser 1872, Carnegie Library Local Collection.]

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2.  Templeton's Home

John Templeton 1802 - 86

2.   John Templeton's first retiral home in Richmond, Surrey.  Some time after his death, this property was named Templeton Lodge.  (Subsequently, Templeton moved to Hampton HIll and was buried at St James Churchyard.) Recent Photograph - Photographer unknown, from Blogspot 'London Bus Routes One by One - R70 route.)

Once when Templeton and Malabran and several other eminent artistes were touring in Scotland the stage-coach broke down just as they neared Aberdeen. There being no help at hand, and as the night was stormy, they were glad to avail themselves of the shelter of their disposal. Treated most hospitably by the farmer and his family, the storm-stayed singers found the evening pass pleasantly away.

When the hour for retiring to rest drew near, the farmer said they ' wad tak the Book?' The foreign artistes did not at once understand, but Templeton did. 'What psalm?' he asked. 'Oh, we'd better tak the lord.'

So, having handed round books, the farmer began the psalm to the tune of 'Coleshill.' The family had most of the singing to themselves in the first verse, when suddenly the walls seemed to open, and such a burst of harmony filled the room as farmhouse never heard before nor since.

Next morning as the strangers were leaving they proffered some acknowledgment for the hospitality that had been shown them.

'What,' said the farmer, 'gie money to us! I dinna ken wha ye are, but I'm far wrang if we've no been entertaining angels unawares.'


Templeton retired from public life when little more than fifty years of age, and thus escaped the awful sense of waning power which so often makes the lives of eminent singers painful. He enjoyed the esteem of hosts of devoted friends, and died much regretted, so recently as 1st July 1886, in his eighty-fourth year.

[This Text draws on The Passing of the Precentor by Duncan Fraser, F.E.I.S.  Published at John Knox House, by W. J. Hay, Edinburgh, 1905.]

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3.   Templeton

John Templeton 1802 - 86

3.   Portrait of John Templeton, 1846 by Alexander Keith.  Oil on canvas, 2120 x 1325mm.   Collection: East Ayrshire Council.  [This version of the Image in the public domain.]

Here is a precenting incident in Templeton's life, which, so far as we know, have never been recorded. It is told that, after he had become famous as the finest tenor of the day, he returned to Edinburgh for a short holiday, and made a point of calling on Dr Brown his old minister, then in Broughton Place Church.

In the course of their conversation Dr Brown said: 'Oh, John, I wish you would give us a day in the desk.' Templeton at once cordially complied with the request, but stipulated that the arrangement should be kept quiet.

Whether it was owing to the birds of the air, or some equally unusual agency making the matter known, does not appear, but when Templeton entered the 'desk' the church was crowded to the door. The service began by Dr Brown giving out a psalm, to which the famous singer took the grand double common metre tune called 'St Matthew.' Those who know this tune will recall that the first part is grand and inspiring, opening in C Major. The second part is equally fine, modulating into A Minor. The last two lines return to the original key, and finish with a ring of triumph.

As Templeton soared through the varying modes with his beautiful voice, the congregational singing gradually fell off until, when the second stanza was reached, not a voice was heard from the pews, emotion, or something akin to it, bringing an impressive stillness over all.   When the prescribed number of verses had been sung, but before Templeton could shut the book, Dr Brown leaned over the pulpit, and in his kindly voice, touched with emotion, said: 'Just go on, John; just go on!'

Yes; when voice and tune and spirit meet there is a magnetic power in psalmody; and certainly there is no medium likely to call it forth quicker than the fine example of Church music which we have in Dr Croft s beautiful 'St Matthew.'

[This Text draws on The Passing of the Precentor by Duncan Fraser, F.E.I.S.  Published at John Knox House, by W. J. Hay, Edinburgh, 1905.]

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Templeton Anecdotes

New York, 1845  ~ Concerts in Ayr and Kilmarnock ~ Concert in Glasgow - Drury Lane with Paganini

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