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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1968 (SND Vol. VII). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

PRECENTOR, n. Also -ter, presenter, presenttor, prezentor. Sc. forms and usage, in the Presbyterian churches: an official appointed by the Kirk Session to lead the congregational praise. The office was freq. held by the parish schoolmaster. The precentor is still occasionally to be found in the remoter areas of Scot., esp. in the outer islands, in churches where there is no instrumental accompaniment to the singing, and in the smaller Presbyterian denominations where instrumental music is disapproved. Gen.Sc., obsol. Derivs. precentorship, n., the office of a precentor, precentorial, adj., pertaining or belonging to a precentor, precentress, n., a female precentor, a precentrix, in 1892 quot. used jocularly of a singing-teacher.Sc. 1700 R. Wodrow Early Letters (S.H.S.) 126:
You say the precenters reading exceedingly marrs the worship of God.
Sc. 1704 Proposals for Reformation of Schools 6:
I would have the Precentor of the Parish (who needs not to be a Master of Arts) to teach the Children to read and write English.
Sc. 1709 W. Steuart Collections i. x. § 5:
Precentors, or chanters, are they who begin and order the tune of the psalm that is to be sung, and thereby direct the church's music: By the vulgar sort they are yet called readers, though improperly. They are in most congregations clerks to the kirk-sessions.
Sc. 1736 Caled. Mercury (26 Nov.):
The Office of Schoolmaster of Falkirk (to which is annexed that of Precentor and Session-Clerk).
Sc. 1755 Session Papers, Hunter v. Aitken (24 Dec.) 23:
It is an ordinary Practice in the Kirk of Aberdour, for the Precentor to begin to sing Psalms before the Minister come in.
Ags. 1776 First Hist. Dundee (Millar 1923) 168:
The presenttors Seat or Letteron is also neatly covered with green, and likewise fringed.
Sc. 1812 Memoirs Highl. Lady (Strachey 1893) 205:
The minister stooped over the pulpit to hand his little book to the precentor, who then rose and calling out aloud the tune . . . began himself a recitative of the first line on the key-note, then taken up and repeated by the congregation; line by line he continued in the same fashion.
Sc. 1819 Blackwood's Mag. (Nov.) 174:
Saved by the well-timed exaltation to a neighbouring precentership [sic].
Sc. 1825 Carlyle Schiller 313:
The precentorial spirit of his father was more than reconciled, on discovering that Daniel could also preach, and play upon the organ.
Sc. 1838 W. Bell Dict. Law Scot. 762:
Precentor in the Presbyterian church, is a person whose duty it is to lead the congregation in the singing of psalms. He is, in the ordinary case, appointed by the Kirk-session. . . . Precentors are removable at pleasure. Although in country parishes, the same individual is frequently precentor, schoolmaster and session-clerk, there is no necessary connection between these offices; and a party holding one of them cannot be compelled to do the duties of any of the others, unless by special engagement. There is no general provision for the precentor's remuneration, but in practice he usually receives certain fees.
Fif. 1867 St. Andrews Gazette (20 April):
Which Meeting the said Commissioners are hereby required to attend; and this is ordered to be published by the Precentors from the Laterans of the several Parish Churches within the Shire.
Sc. 1870 I. Burns Mem. W.C. Burns 485:
A hymn was sung by the company under his precentorship.
Sc. 1887 Stevenson Underwoods 94:
The auld prezentor, hoastin' sair, Wales out the portions.
Sc. 1892 Stevenson Letters (Colvin 1899) II. 251:
Our boys and precentress (tis' always a woman that leads) did better than I ever heard them.
Cai. 1902 J. Horne Canny Countryside 16:
Peter Sandison the precentor sets off alone in the voice of one cooing to a chum up the face of a brae.
Kcd. 1929 J. B. Philip Weelum o' the Manse 22:
The precentor . . . sat in a box immediately below the pulpit and after the psalm or paraphrase had been given out struck his fork and raised the tune. There was neither choir nor organ.
Hebr. 1960 Scotsman (26 Nov.):
There [Isle of Lewis] the custom still survives of the reading, or rather chanting of each line of the Psalm in full by the Precentor, to a strange, sometimes almost oriental-like chant independent of and musically unconnected with the Psalm tune itself with which it alternates. . . . Often he sings with eyes closed, rolling out the softly sonorous Gaelic of the Psalm from memory, sometimes in a curious nasal quality of voice reminiscent of the old Puritans. The Congregation sing in unison, . . . but with the melody profusely ornamented with grace-notes, . . . each singer improvising his or her own pattern of ornamentation of the tune as the spirit moves him . . . To crown the whole musical structure, the precentor often breaks in with the next line before the Congregation have come to the end of theirs, causing a further deliberate collision of tones.
Abd. 1998 Sheena Blackhall The Bonsai Grower 48:
Mrs Mathers didna gie a boddle fur yon organist. She thocht organs a whiffle o papistry. Her faither hid bin precentor in his kirk - nae organ ava, jist the bare vyces an nae falderals.

[First recorded in O.Sc. in 1586 in reference to the director of music of the services in King's College, Aberdeen, then in Presbyterian usage in 1649, from Lat. praecentor, one who leads singing, praecinere, to sing before. See note to Precent.]

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"Precentor n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 24 May 2024 <>



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