I’m writing this in late August, while Twitter is alive with posts on what people have accomplished, or not, over the summer, and the guilt they feel or don’t. It’s got me thinking.

summer steps

summer steps (copyright Jenni Hyde)

There were so many things I planned to do this summer:

  1. Rewrite and resubmit my Pilgrimage of Grace article.
  2. Write and submit my music article.
  3. Start work on some new music research
  4. Chase up a book chapter that was supposed to be being submitted for publication but I’ve heard nothing about.
  5. Prepare my teaching for Lancaster after Christmas (yes, I know I’m a precrastinator, but something always seems to crop up).
  6. Immerse myself in some reading.
  7. Have a holiday.

Well, I managed 2, 3 and 7.

So what have I done?

  • presented at 2 international academic conferences (total time away – 1 week, but then there’s all the preparation on top of that).
  • taught on the summer schools at Edge Hill and Liverpool Hope (again, the teaching time was about a week, but there was plenty of extra preparation time).
  • spent a week trying to work on my music research, but without it really going anywhere – ultimately a quite depressing experience because I’m not sure it’s going to work.
  • spent a couple of days reading up on pedagogy.
  • had a week’s holiday in a trailer tent in the Isle of Wight, where I did Absolutely No Work Whatsoever.
  • spent a day in Birmingham talking to the Open University History Society.
  • spent a day at Alder Hey Hospital for a follow up appointment with my daughter.
  • had a meeting with the manager of my local library about an event in October and then spent half a day working on a proposal (more on that later).
  • binge watched Midnight Caller on YouTube by myself.
  • watched several episodes of Fake or Fortune with my daughter.
  • had breakfast with a friend (one morning).
  • visited the Other Academic In The Village (one morning).
  • did a week’s work on the Pilgrimage of Grace article, before abandoning it because it’s already too long and the reviewers’ revisions would make it longer still.
  • trawled the State Papers Online looking for further hits on ballads and suchlike for two days.  This is work that is unfinished.
  • spent a day preparing the season’s materials for the Bolton Historical Association annual mailout.
  • applied for two non-academic jobs, for which I didn’t get interviews (two days).
  • marked the exam scripts from Edge Hill (two days).
  • climbed Parlick (one day).
  • had a day shopping (this is only remarkable if you know me!).
  • booked a trip to London (half a day).

These are the most significant things that spring to mind.

So, time flies, and actually, I’ve achieved a lot.  It just wasn’t what I set out to do, which is why I am having a hard time not feeling like I’ve wasted the summer (a feeling which is completely ridiculous – even more so because at the moment, I don’t owe anything to anyone except myself).



This is the final post in a short series about my trip to the Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference in Maynooth during July 2018.


The final day of the conference dawned bright and clear (again!), so once I’d packed up and checked out of my accommodation, I headed over to the south campus for the roundtable on ‘Researching Renaissance Soundscapes’.   The participants talked about the authenticity problem facing researchers, and how putting music into its spatial context makes it easier to understand how the relationship between power and sound worked.  Tim Shephard pointed out that one approach starts with sounds and works up, the other starts with power and works down.  There is, however, a tension between which is the most useful.  He asked if we should we see composed music as an effort to impose control upon sound in a spatial way?  

Vincenzo Borghetti suggested that power tries to control everything – what sounds you are allowed to make, when and where.  But rules are often disregarded and what is written on paper and what people actually do are different things. This is true, but the historian in me might suggest that rules are only put in place when there is a reason to do so, and a governing regime doesn’t usually try to control things that are not happening or that they didn’t perceive as a threat.  In which case, you read back from the rules to see what people might have been doing in the first place, as well as whether they are actually prosecuted.  As the panelists pointed out, Le Febvre makes a distinction between top down and bottom up spatial control, which is why historians like legal records – they show where the two collide.  Nevertheless, many things happen which are never recorded, especially in music.  Things are done and used in ways that were not the way that the composer or choirmaster intended.

The discussion was then opened to the floor.  There were questions about how the materiality and visuality of objects can help us to understand the spatiality of sound too.  Objects imply the spatial dimension of the users too, giving us a level of meaning beyond the sound.  Tess Knighton commmented that although we can’t reconstruct and hear with 15th century ears, other factors such as placement and materiality help us to understand the conditions of an object’s use.  Moreover, discussion centred on the ways in which we have to integrate the object into its social practices, with several layers coming together.  Music isn’t just an abstract idea, but its the social practices that make it meaningful in everyday life.  We can begin to understand how different areas of the city sounded.   Tess provided the example of ephemeral, cheaply-printed song: as soon as you think about the way that the text was used, heard, and valued, it becomes a portal.

The use of music to keep people under control is more complex than it at first appears.  Who is controlling whom if a churchgoer pays a blind singer to sing a prayer for him? Especially given that this was a state-controlled service (or should that be enterprise?).  People also believed that if they gave money to orphans and the poor it gave them a spiritual advantage, so spiritual and urban perceptions of life and the afterlife meshed with social welfare because the blind were given a role in society which didn’t make them dependent or criminalise them.


As I know from my own work, it is the music about which we have least information  (and is least studied) which is the most pervasive and as much the part of the soundscape as the footfall.  Polyphony was exceptional and denoted particular things, including power and the celestial, but there are more pervasive musics, right down to the firecrackers.  Recreating and understanding street sounds is difficult because it was everyday sound, and those are the sounds that were least worthy of contemporary comment even if, for me at least, they are perhaps the most interesting because they were so widely experienced.

Vincenzo also reflected on how quickly things have changed in recent years. Now we can project music beyond its physical spatial limits with amplifiers.  People just used to sing, even during his lifetime.  Of course, as a folk musician as well, I would probably argue that people still do.  My own children can be heard singing as they go about their daily lives, sometimes with each other.

We can think about music through the objects we can exhibit – finding ways to make it meaningful for people who know nothing about it – not having any actual music can make it easier for people to engage – we have to think about the musicality of it, starting from the visual.

The discussion also reflected on the problem musicologists have with positivism – that is, accepting suggestions that cannot be proved and allowing the resultant contingencies.  This has an impact on their ability to take interpretative risks, and also allowing them to work with academics from other backgrounds.  This was a really interesting comment to hear coming from musicologists themselves, given that it’s something I have struggled with for a long time as my work is interdisciplinary! 

Michael Noone noted that music is often an added extra and, sadly,  misrepresented in otherwise glorious exhibitions.  Music breathes life back into parchment, which was itself once alive.  He commented that this made it  a fragile but terribly important thing.  The transmission of musical texts was an aural thing and even the parchment music books in Toledo cathedral were not exclusively (maybe not even mainly) about transmitting the parts: these large, highly decorative books made a statement, especially glittering in candlelight.  Maybe new technology can help us bring life back into these objects.

Tim noted the risk that sound in an exhibition becomes a soundtrack. The V&A are working on avoiding this by asking how is the sound linked to other objects in the exhibition, as this is often where a weakness lies.  Instead, each object is a way in to much more than just itself, because it is indicative of broader issues.  Although I was a little alarmed by the comment that historians and art historians are too quick to claim they have no responsibility for music because they “can’t read music” or “can’t play the lute”.  Almost no-one doesn’t engage with music, as the vast majority of the music making public are not professional musicians.

Unfortunately I missed the launch of the exhibits in the Museum of Renaissance Music, but of course that is the nature of a big conference such as this – you simply can’t be in two places at once, so there are things that you would like to see but don’t.

Instead, after the coffee break, my final panel was on Song and Singing.  First up was Elizabeth Lyon on ‘Jesus Christ Superstar: Medieval Tales of a Singing Saviour’.  She pointed out that the Gospels do not present the main characters in the New Testament as musicians or singers, unlike the sacred works of other religious traditions.  There is a reference to Christ and the apostles saying a hymn in gospels of Matthew and Mark, and while this could have been speak or chant, either way this was understood as musical.  But the Gospel writers don’t refer to Christ as a singer. 

It is, then, quite unexpected to find that Tinctoris portrays Mary and Jesus as singers.  But the ordinals of Christ suggest that he was a psalmist.  If the ordinals provide a way to see Christ as the original cantor, it is the Magnificat that makes Mary a singer, even if she only ‘said’ it.   The Bible doesn’t provide any evidence that Christ or Mary studied singing which is why medieval thinkers didn’t really include them in their histories of music.  Late medieval authors characterised the Magnificat as the outward overflowing of spiritual contemplation, while there is a variety of opinion among theologians about whether there was music in the Garden of Eden.  Tinctoris was different because he drew on scholasticism, but also more humanist spheres of knowledge, such as lived experience.

Tinctoris starts his history of music with the infusion of music in Adam’s spirit – this was different to all others.  If Adam was perfectly made with all knowledge of things that were knowable and important for man, he must have known music.  This knowledge gave Adam the ability to sing.  Tinctoris draws this down through the Old and New Testaments, making an effort to show that musicians had a lineage back to Adam and can model themselves on the Godhead.  Finally, Tinctoris makes the extraordinary claim that eternal life is given out to all the faithful but most exaltedly to the musicians.  

The next paper was given by Uri Jacob on ‘Love, Crusade and Distance in Songs by Jaufre Rodel‘.  Jaufre Rodel was an early troubadour in the Occitan tradition.  Love and Crusading are commonly juxtaposed in the songs but not in obvious ways.  Instead, it was based on ‘caritas’ (Christian love), which was understood as a heightened state.  

6 Jaufre poems survive in manuscript, of which 4 have melodies.  Uri hopes that the songs will help us to understand representations of the Crusade in medieval music.  He argued that physical and mental distances are reflected in the music and his first example was a strophic song.  The motto – a refrain unit – is the word ‘loing’, meaning distance.  In a typical courtly love song, distance is a metaphorical distance, such as different social background of the lovers.  In this case it’s physical distance as the beloved is in the Holy Land.  Uri argued that the poetic context of the song plays into the sonority of the verses.  The pes ends on a destabilising C cadence, while the mid point is on the stable d cadence.  These coincide with the word ‘loing’.

The final paper that I heard at the conference was ‘Doctors, Dowries and Funerals: negotiations between the singers of the Cappella Pontificia and the  oman Arciconfraternita del SS. Crocifisso in the late sixteenth century’. Noel O’Regan shared with us a unique document in which the papal singers confidently attempted to negotiate terms with the confraternity SS. Crocifisso for membership, medical insurance, death rites, the right to vet those girls who were nominated for dowries etc.  The demands relating to the dowries were rejected.  There was no more discussion, and the papal singers continued to be involved with the confraternity, so it seems they accepted the decision.  The confraternity pointed out that they always gave preference to the female relatives of members, which is what it seems that the papal singers actually wanted.  There were benefits for both sides in the arrangement between the two.

The confraternity controlled access to a miraculous holy cross, supported a house of nuns and gave dowries to poor girls.  The papal singers sang Mass twice a year, and there were spiritual and material benefits to joining the confraternity, even if their status as singers who had been through a rigorous audition process meant that they believed themselves to be a cut above the rest.  There is little evidence that the members of the Tredici, the representatives of the papal singers in the confraternity, had any hand in organising their music.

The conference was friendly, supportive and, all in all, a pleasure to attend.  I don’t think I’ll be back every year, but I’m sure they’ll see me again sometime in the future!

This is the third in a short series of posts about my trip to the Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference in Maynooth during July 2018.

Saturday morning was D-day.  Our panel, on musical prints and misprints, put together by the delightful Samantha Arten.  Anne Heminger was unable to be with us in person, so her paper, ‘Marketing a misprint: Christopher Tye’s The Actes of the Apostles and early English music publishing’, was read by Kathryn Butler.  Tyes Actes of the Apostles has a significant place in English music printing as it is the first volume completely of biblical music . One of the later editions has 14 music settings.  It was, however, hampered by the publisher’s  lack of musical literacy – and it was sold with errors in tact.


Anne described how Seres was not himself a printer but instead employed others to print on his behalf.  The Actes of the Apostles was printed by Hill and included metrical translations of 14 chapters of the First Book of Actes.  Its small size suggests that they had affordability in mind.  Each chapter has its own 4 part music. The significance and substance of the errors made it impossible to sing,  which also might explain why so many copies were printed without music.  She posited that if those printers who had access to musical type were not musically literate, it was easier to print without music than risk errors.  Nevertheless, the ‘wrong’ copies were used rather than discarded, in a text only edition aimed at a different audience.

John Milsom then talked about the musical type used by ‘John Day, London music printer and publisher, 1560-65’.  He argued that Day’s Morning and evening prayer (IAKA Certaine Notes) has been rather overlooked.  Many of the part books in the period are incomplete, but the Morning and evening prayer survives in all parts.  The music is modest, by little known composers and contains several contrafacta.  Day was not a specialist music printer.  Rather, he was best known for role in Protestant literature, especially in printing the Actes and Monuments. John pointed out Day’s music fonts were nested rather than linear, which was very unusual.  In linear type, each note has its own space on a line and you simply set it up next to the previous.  The words need to be aligned with the music text, so he argued that printers presumably started with words and put spaces in the music to make sure the notes sat in the right place over the word.   With linear type, it is easy to correct mistakes if you have proofreader.  But in nested type, each element has its own piece of fount, such as single note heads, stems, ligatures, and individual bits of single lines as well as full staves. This made it a much more complicated job to set up the music and therefore,  it was extremely difficult to correct.

The third paper was by our convener, Samantha Arten, on ‘The pedagogical Failure of The Whole Booke of Psalmes’.  She commented that one source implies that the multitude could not read music, even though the Whole Booke of Psalmes included music tuition features which suggest that one of its aims was to increase musical literacy.  Samantha catalogued many specific errors in the printed music, the music treatise preface and then their cascade effect over the various editions of the book.  She suggested that there were three types of errors:

  • omission,
  • commission,
  • placement. 

She suggested that although those who could read music could easily overcome these issues, they would have caused confusion for novices or those that were trying to learn to read musical notation.  Furthermore, a lack of editorial oversight compounded the problem: new editions took older ones as their models and therefore replicated the errors.


The final paper in the panel was my own, in which I argued that although the mistake in the music on A New Ballade of a Lady was a problem, it nevertheless points us towards a printer who was attempting to experiment with new markets.  I’ve been working on expanding my paper into an article, so hopefully at some stage it will get a proper blog post all of its own!

I had to run from the panel down the corridor to chair the next session from the Scholaroos – a serendipitous coming together of  scholars from Down Under!  We opened with Michael Noone.  His paper was entitled ‘Vivanco’s Liber Magnificarum (1607) and the relocation of Spanish music printing from Madrid to Salamanca’.  He argued that this -movement heralded a golden age for polyphonic choir books, not least because 6 luxury polyphonic choir books were printed in  Salamanca.  He commented that contracts and purchase agreements tell us where and when things were bought, and who bought them, but much less about where they ultimately ended up.  One copy of the Liber Magnificarum went to South America, while some of the cathedrals who bought theirs in the seventeenth century still have their copies.  

Next I introduced Royston Gustavson: ‘Inside the workshop of Christian Egenolff’.  HE commented that Egenolff’s catalogue raises some interesting questions about their printing. His printed sources were all German, especially prints by Peter Schoeffer the Younger, but his material included a lot of reprints.  Royston also noted that the printing format has implications for what survived – the bigger prints survive better. He also noted, quite wryly, that the print was cheap in the cheap books, which were also printed  on cheap paper.  In some he even printed on good paper at the start, in order to entice the buyer, and moved over to cheap and nasty further in where the customer wouldn’t notice until they had got it home! 

Finally, I introduced Louisa  Hunter- Bradley, who talked about ‘The Officina Plantiniana and the European market for printed music (1575– 1595)’.  She used the book to examine the nature of the market and how far the music travelled?  Again, the speaker noted that although we have records about who bought the books, they often bought by booksellers, so that doesn’t tell us the ultimate buying market.  The choir books sold relatively few copies over 22 years, but the part books were better sellers, often to local areas.  Louisa was able to chart the geographical spread of the sales and the period over which those sales were made.  Most of the music book sales were made immediately after publication but they remained on sale for many years.

After lunch, I was happy to be able to hear Katherine Butler speak about her research on ‘Musical Miscellanies in late 16th century England’.  She pointed out that although Tudor partbooks are the most widely studded, they are really in the minority.  Katherine argued that musical miscellanies give us an insight into scribal labour, collection and organisation, which is similar to the argument that I made in my case study on the ballad collections in Singing the News.

The next paper was given by Sophia Eglin on ‘The Matthew Holmes part books: is the viol book truly the work of Matthew Holmes?’ She suggested that it was perhaps not entirely the work of Holmes as the manuscript contains multiple hands. This different handwriting is visible not just in the text but also in the notation, for example, in note head shape and clef.  Holmes was a copyist and educator at Christ Church, Oxford, before becoming part of the Elizabethan court.  

Andrew Johnstone then gave us a fascinating paper on ‘The fragmentary songs of William Byrd: reconstruction and re-evaluation’.  He pointed out that Byrd’s output of consort songs was huge but much of it was unpublished.  Only 8 of the ones that do survive are extant in their original consort song versions – they were usually rewritten by the composer as part songs.  We owe much of our knowledge to Edward Paston’s collection.  He presented suggested identifications of several of the 10 fragments which survive in Edward Paston’s lutebook and Tenbury McGhie manuscript.


The last paper was by my dinner companion, Eleanor Hedger, talking about her research into ‘Prison soundscapes during the English Reformation’.  She suggested that participation in musical performances in helped religious prisoners to assert their identity, noting that there were social and religious aspects to psalm singing.  She discussed Foucauldian interpretations of early modern prison life, arguing that it was less about Foucault’s disciplinary power which targets the minds not the bodies, but more about sovereign power, which targets the body not the mind.  Eleanor argued that music and sonic production were expressions of non-docility for both sides of the confessional divide.

The final session that I attended on Saturday was a themed session on Renaissance soundscapes in the museum of music: urban spaces.  The first paper was given by Simon Bate and was entitled ‘Music and aural experience in pre-reformation Chester’.  Simon talked about acoustimology  the way sound contributes to a person’s understanding of the world.  He described two cities which made up the soundscape of Chester:

  • the physical space which reflects sound 
  • the civil, or the people, who make the sound.  

There is little evidence from pre reformation Chester – one is a manuscript in the Huntington library.  He argued, though, that the wider auditory scene in Chester would have included music, especially from a civic processional point of view.  Nevertheless, the soundscape of processional days was different to that of a normal day and our documentary evidence is inevitably skewed towards the atypical.   The everyday comes in as the background of sonic meaning that people brought to their understanding of the processional plays.    

Simon was followed by Tess Knighton, who discussed ‘Street music and the blind oracionero in early modern Spain’.  Most blind oracionero were from artisan families, and their apprenticeship as street singers recognised their position as deserving poor – people who were worthy of receiving charity because they were unable to support themselves. They were based at the Confraternity of the Holy Pulpit in Barcelona.  The apprentices received a bowed instrument (usually a vihuela) on completion of study.  There were girls but they had limitations of where they could perform – usually in houses rather than on the street.  

Oracioneros’ repertoire included all sorts of religious works. They supplement meagre incomes by selling prints, the pliegos sueltos which I found out about at EDPOP, at the same time as performing them. Tess also noted the resonance between sacred and secular in contrafacta.


Finally, Alex Fisher described ‘The soundscape of sixteenth-century Munich’.  He argued that soundscape studies have come of age, and that we can use soundscape as a way to investigate how sound helps us to understand space.  Alex questioned how ‘Catholic’ space might have been received as Munich stayed Catholic.  There was an idealised space enacted by praying and moving bodies: for example, the angelus bell made people drop to their knees each day.  He noted that militaristic sounds cut through the restricted sight lines of the city and helped people ‘see’ the unseen.  Architecture has a power over sound but nevertheless serves as the location for it.  He reminded us that evidence for actual performances is thin on the ground although we know that music was bought and sold and copied down in Munich. He considered two key questions:

  • How does the term soundscape apply to a city like Munich? 
  • How do we integrate music into more everyday sounds?  

Alex also raised some methodological issues.  After all, he noted, soundscape is not an objective thing which is perceived in the abstract.  It is an  immersive experience. Sound is not what we hear just as light is not what we see, which implies that the notion of an objective urban soundscape is a chimera.  It also implies both time and motion.  

After dinner that evening, I went for a drink with Katherine Butler.  Following a tip off from my fiend, we went in every pub on the right of the high street (as you look down the street from the university entrance) looking for a single pub with something rather special.  In the end, we gave up and went in the first pub we’d passed, which we’d passed by because we’d been told the pub in question was half way down the main street.  There they were.  Lots of pieces of church woodwork!  Apologies for the state of the photos – it was rather dark in there – but I’m afraid I had to act like a tourist and take lots of snaps.  After all, it’s not often you see a pub with a pulpit.

This is the second in a short series of posts about my trip to the Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference in Maynooth during July 2018.

Friday morning dawned slightly overcast, which was a bit of a relief, as it was very warm!  There were fewer things on the schedule that morning that I wanted to see, so I decided to explore Maynooth a bit. I went for a wander up the main street, and took some time to explore the ruins of the castle.  It was built in the early 13th century by the Fitzmaurices and besieged during the Revolt of Silken Thomas in 1534.  


One paper that I did want to see was on ‘Tune indications in 16th century Dutch songbooks’, by Clara Strijbosch.  This was an absolutely fascinating paper looking at songs in the vernacular.  Clara sketched the rise of the tune indication in 16th century Dutch songs, looking at where the technique came from and why did people did it.  She identified sixteen 16th century booklets containing songs with tune indications.  She suggested that the practice originated in the religious song books, while the first vernacular songs with tune indications are from Devotio Moderna women’s houses, begining c1539.   These were songs to secular tunes.

Sometimes the printed songbooks included the melody, but also a tune indication, then several sets of lyrics to each tune.  They were organised by tune.  These printed books give us a huge amount of tune names, albeit sometimes without the music.   Some of the secular song books were very popular, for example, there is one complete copy and two fragments of the Antwerp songbook. The full copy has two tune indications with more than 200 songs, while one fragment has no tune indications and the other contains two tune indications for all 13 songs in it.  During the period of war with Spain and religious discord, from 1540 to almost 1590, there are almost no songbooks.  Clara argued that this was simply not the right time to publish secular song books.   There was one exception: the Beggars Songbook (1581-90).  This book contained political songs, of which only 6 have no tune indications. 

By 1590, there was a sort of peace, the city of Antwerp had fallen and many of its printers had left for Amsterdam.  This was marked by appearance of a series of secular song books, all with variations on the title of The Amsterdam Amorous Songbook.  The first version has tune indications for 70% of the songs, while by the time of the 3rd edition the figure had risen to 95%.  Clara acknowledged that print had a much larger audience, however, not everyone was there when someone was singing,  so tune indications only work with well known songs.

Alba amicorum, on the other hand, are handwritten poetry books written during the period when nothing was printed.  10% of the books have songs in them and they were all put together by women of the lower and middle nobility.  They contain 500 Dutch song texts and 300 French, without notation, but they often contain tune indications.    Some of these tunes were English, for example, ‘Sweet Robert’ comes from an English jig, while ‘Fortune my Foe’ is one of the most popular.

Clara also mentioned the Dutch song database which contains more than 20,000 Dutch songs though not all are from the Renaissance. I was fascinated by this, and although I’ve only managed a quick glance at it so far, I must allocate a longer stretch to investigate it, especially as there was so much cultural exchange between England and the Netherlands during the sixteenth century.  It was really interesting to hear about Dutch ballads, and, again, I was struck by the similarities between Dutch and English ballads, just as I was when working with Massimo Rospocher on the links between English and Italian ballads.

I took an extended lunch break to explore the college grounds.  Behind Logic House, where the conference was being held, there are some beautiful gardens.

After my lunch break, I made a point of going to one session that I knew very little about – medieval trouvère song.  The first paper was given by Joseph Mason on ‘Invention in Trouvère Song’.  He noted that contemporary sources describe how a singer might make, play, or find a song.  This act of ‘finding a song’ assumes that the song pre-exists the composition, thus challenging the modern notion of composition.  The Latin term inventio is the equivalent of the French trouver – to find.  Inventio was part of rhetorical teaching and had a close relationship with memory in the five pillars of rhetoric, helping the scholar to store information and access the memory.  In trouvère song, the composer was said to have ‘found’ the bits of the song in their memory.  Once the poet had found the things they needed from their memory and gathered them together, they needed to arrange them and add style using various methods of amplification.  Joseph gave examples of songs in which affective embellishments were added to the melody in order to slow the melody down.  This had the effect of amplifying the tune and making it easier to remember.

The next paper, ‘“Per vers o per chanso”: language, gender and performance in the Troubador tornada’, was given by Anne Levitsky.  She showed how Alain de Lille  sought to reinforce the gender binary system, trying to uphold the male as the most perfect example of the human being. Alexandros Maria Hatzikiriakos then talked about ‘Song and voice identity in Vitsentzos Kornaros’ Erotokritos’, suggesting that it was a significant example of the hybrid culture of the Cretan Renaissance.  The story is taken from Paris et Vienne, which circulated Europe in many languages, but it is a more elaborate retelling of the story, not a translation.  Music and song play key role in shaping the identity of the protagonists and tell us about the soundscape of Crete.

As there were only 3 papers on the medieval song panel, I was able to scurry down the corridor to hear Karl Kugle on ‘Sounds of power, powers of sound’.  He talked about the motets in the Chantilly codex.  One motet crossed the whole of Europe through the Royal and court chapels, church councils, monastic settings, papal councils.  He speculated that it perhaps had links to England as it’s in a metre that was more commonly used in England than on the continent and the repeated notes in the tune were a common feature of English motets. He suggested that the motet carved a trajectory through the musical space of the hexachord system in order to exert social control.



After the coffee break, I went to a workshop: ‘Space place sound and memory – immersive experiences of the past’.  James Cook and Kenny McAlpine described how they are using game technology to recreate performances from the past in the spaces where they took place. They wanted us to think about several questions:

  • What can the technology teach us about the past?  Our sources are limited and that on-screen versions of the past create a parallel world. It is tempting to be flippant and suggest that technology can teach us little about the past. But the past we inhabit is subject to constant reinvention and often we know little. The technology can allow us to experience something of presence, but it is based on imaginative leaps, grounded in detailed scholarship.
  • Can it help us to understand or enhance performance practice? The technology has been used in medical and astronaut training so logic suggests yes, as it will allow musicians to try out performances in the best reconstructions of the appropriate space.  It has the potential to give us an unparalleled insight into particular performance contexts – the ‘aura’ of the past. Musicians could have a richer understanding based on experience not just scholarship.
  • Can it bring in new audiences for early music? It’s a bit specialist but should move us beyond the current audience, because people like to try new things. Thankfully there is no smell! The question is whether we can convert new technology users into an audience who will attend concerts longer term. The danger, of course, is that the audio might just be a soundtrack.
  • Can it bring new people in to museums and cultural sites? There has been a resurgent interest in heritage in recent years, so they hope to capitalise on this.  The team can imagine all sorts of uses, for example, demonstrating change over time. Nevertheless, the general public might be unfamiliar with a scholarly interpretation of the music and therefore its appeal could be limited.
  • Where might we go in follow on projects?   The varied audience to their public lectures demonstrates that  there is novelty value which they can build on.  In a more scholarly environment, the technology has a significant value in teaching practice because we can test approaches in a lab-type environment exploring different acoustics, instrumentations, voices etc. It even has the potential to solve some scholarly disputes.
  • How does it fit in to trends in medieval and Renaissance music scholarship? One of the interesting points that the team made was that big drama series set in the medieval and Renaissance periods, for example, have had more freedom to present whatever music they like because most people know so little about it compared to, say, the 1960s, where the television audience would be quick to spot something that they thought was wrong. This has led to the suggestion that there are multiple parallel interpretations rather than accusations of anachronisms.   The current trend is for the intersection of creative and scholarly practice.  


They pointed out that musical instruments are usually displayed as objects, completely divorced from their function, which, in itself, is about sociability.  Reflecting on this later, I wonder how, or even if, wearing a virtual reality headset and interacting with avatars really reflects the sociability of music-making and audience participation, but still… They rightly commented that performance is an experience for the players and the audience.   Even a recording removes the sense of participation.  They gave the example of a mass cycle is envisaged in a particular surrounding with, for instance, acoustic and lighting properties which you simply don’t get from a recording or even a concert hall.  Their project is trying to address this.  Nevertheless, they have faced some problems, because in video games, audio is usually an afterthought – it’s all about the visuals.  Their approach focussed on a virtual auditorium that gives a sensory experience.  


Using Lidar surveys, they have been able to create the chapel at Linlithgow Palace a model of the chapel as it is now and the sound for that space. They then began to reconstruct the chapel as it was, with some excerpts of the Mass Proper using acoustics based on the space as it probably was, with roof, altar, curtains, statues etc. After a description of these technical processes involved in modelling the and its acoustics, Adam Whittaker, the workshop’s respondent, tried the VR headset, with the audience being able to see what he was looking at. After giving us his response to the project, Adam opened the floor for the plenary discussion and invited us to try the VR headset ourselves.

The workshop was the final session of the day, and before the conference dinner we had the pleasure of another concert, this time given by Schola Gregoriana Maynooth with Uilleann piper Michael Vignoles and organist Raymond O’Donnell as their special guests.  It was an absolutely glorious evening.  The ladies of Schola Gregoriana Maynooth sang some of the Hildegard of Bingen chants that I studied as an undegraduate.  I’d never heard them sung live before.  I’m fond of the Uillean pipes, and Vignoles’ performance of Easter Snow was gorgeous.  If you’re interested, there’s a lovely little clip of Liam O’Flynn discussing the pipes and piping tradition on YouTube, and Easter Snow appears at about 3.20.

I skipped the conference dinner.  In fact, if I’m honest, when I booked the conference itself, my flights and my accommodation, I decided that I couldn’t really afford to attend the dinner as well. So after the concert I went into Maynooth and had a lovely meal with a new acquaintance, Eleanor Hedger, sitting outside one of the restaurants on the main street, listening to the duo singing in the square and discussing our research.  It was a beautiful, warm evening.



My daughter has been through a lot this year.  In May, she underwent over 10 hours of spinal surgery at Alder Hey Hospital to correct the curves in her spine caused by severe scoliosis.  She missed weeks of school and with that, her friends. She has spent a lot of her recovery time with her rabbits, Milky and Mocha; watching TED Talks on YouTube; and drawing animals.

Yesterday, she discovered that  2000, there were only 2000 mountain pygmy possums left in the world. In recent years, that number has severely declined – the last count revealed only 30 adults.  These mouse-sized, nocturnal marsupials live in only a few, remote alpine regions of Australia, their habitat having been almost completely destroyed, while feral cats and climate change have also had a significant detrimental impact on their numbers.


She was desperately upset, but she decided to channel her emotions into doing something productive: she did a beautiful drawing of a mountain pygmy possum and set up an Instagram account, think_endangered, to publish her drawings of endangered creatures.  If you have an Instagram account, please consider following her.  She needs our help to raise awareness of these creatures before it is too late.  For more information about mountain pygmy possums and what can be done to help them, visit the Paddy Pallin Foundation.  If anyone knows of any more recent developments or current plans to help this creature, please let me know.

Mountain Pygmy Possum Copyright Anne Hyde 2018

I just wanted to write a quick post to congratulate my home-schooled tutoring pupil on her GCSE results.  I taught her for two of her subjects: she got a B for iGCSE history and a 9 for  iGCSE English Language.

This is the first in a short series of posts about my trip to the Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference in Maynooth during July 2018.

The Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, known as MedRen, was a slightly scary undertaking for me. I’ve only been to one music conference before, where I presented a paper on ballads and the public sphere in Tudor England during the final year of my PhD. I only lasted half a day before I was poached by the Voices and Books Network! So 3 and a half days of wall to wall musicology was a bit intimidating, not least because there was so much on the schedule that I knew almost nothing about.

I left Liverpool early in the morning, and arrived in Maynooth about 11am. The first paper that I caught was given by Ascensión Mazuela-Anguita on ‘Women, oral tradition, and morality: the iconography of the sixteenth-century Spanish dance’. She described how women appear in foreground of pictures by Hoefnagel for an atlas by Georg Braun, even though they don’t appear in other sources.  The musical scenes are concentrated in  Andalucia, and focus on women dancing and playing instruments, especially percussion instruments.  The text, however, does not refer to the musical illustrations.   There has been speculation that they are perhaps playing music in the Muslim fashion, as this was the last Muslim community in Spain.  Morisco music was banned in 1556, and furthermore, music was seen as unladylike by Vives. The women in the images hold the rosary, as if they have to demonstrate their faith.  She noted that dance and music was part of an oral tradition so difficult to establish what it was like in the 16the century, but she suggested that the Spanish dance referred to by travelers might have been done in the Morisco fashion, not least because on some of the copies (which were all hand coloured) the skin of the musicians is darker.  

The next paper was given by Lynsey Callaghan: ‘How was music theory read in fifteenth century England? The evidence of ‘‘þe Proporcions“’.  Lynsey provided evidence from 3 different, mainly mathematical, manuscripts which included the same musical treatise. The treatise was not directly connected to sound, but had implications for it, because the mathematical ratios it included were used to to decide what was a consonant interval.  It includes a passing reference to sonorous music and the voice.  She noted the treatise’s pedagogical tone meant that it assumed a teaching role, especially through it use of Latin to name the ratios.  This was necessary because there was no vernacular equivalent for these Latin terms, but they were thoroughly explained.  Finally, she pointed out that the three manuscripts offer evidence of three different ways in which the text was consumed.

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The final paper in this first session was given by Katie Bank on ‘Voices in Dialogue in Martin Peerson’s Private Musicke (1620)’.  She described dialogue function as cultural predication, an inherent part of early modern thought processes.  Sometimes the dialogue itself is fiction – an ambiguity between fact and drama – but at the time this was seen as part of its effectiveness.   Katie described four different ways in which a song could be dialogic, but she acknowledged that dialogic songs were usually written for two accompanied human voices, in textual and musical conversation.  Peerson, however, was not clear on whether he meant ‘dialogue’  figuratively or the songs for more than one voice.  She also pointed out that even though the singers did not have costume for characterisation like drama, decisions made by performers at the point of performance affected the way the songs were heard.  This was something that I wholeheartedly agree with, as it chimes in with my work on the ballads in circulation during the Pilgrimage of Grace.  Songs are so much more than just the words and music!

After lunch, I attended two paired papers on music in Reformation Germany.  The first paper, ‘Canonisation in Lutheran Repertoire in public and private education: the case of Lüneburg‘, was given by Christine Roth.  She described Lutheran culture as based on a common canon of music. Musical education was designed to bolster this, choosing a canon of important or exemplary music that was considered suitable for teaching.  This canon aimed at acquainting children with the exemplary works whether they were Lutheran works or pre-Reformation.  It was linked to Lutheran notion of history and what should be remembered – the memory of portent events which were divine acts.

Hein Sauer then gave a paper on ’16th Century Music Manuscripts in Neustadt an der Orla’. The Reformation in Neustadt was influenced by Augustinian monks, but the town became Lutheran in 1528.  Neustadt needed a lot of music, as music for every Sunday was obligatory.  This led to the purchase of more than 200 prints and the creation of nine manuscripts.   Having examined two, it appeared that most of the repertoire in them could be found elsewhere.  In many case the prints were available first, but Hein argued that most of the manuscript versions are closer to performance practice in Neustadt.  They give evidence of social practice, for example, a psalm which was altered for the wedding of one of the scribes.  The manuscripts included a good mix of older canonised examples and newer music for festivals.

The next pair of papers, which had no direct relationship to each other, nevertheless both looked at otherness, one from the perspective of Lutheran hymnody, and the other from Catholic dance.  Antonio Chemotti’ s paper was entitled ‘Hymn culture and enemies of the church in sixteenth-century Silesia’.  He suggested that hymns were used to strengthen identity and that we can use the lyrics to identify who the hymns were ‘attacking’ through the beliefs they express.  One of the church’s enemies was the expanding Ottoman Empire, generally referred to in polemic as ‘the Turk’.  Collections of hymns against the Turks were printed in 1566, the year of Sulieman the Magnificent’s campaign against the Habsburg Empire in Hungary.  Antonio gave an example of a psalm paraphrase which asked God for help, being given new meaning as if that help were specifically needed against the Turk.  This occurred because, as I have argued in Singing the News, contrafacta carried the original meaning of the songs with them.  The way Triller choses his melodies carried many meanings, creating links between old secular texts and new sacred meanings.  Triller also wanted the new texts to be used at the same liturgical time as the old one was – thus creating an even stronger link than the Lutherans had.  Antonio also argued that Triller’s was a compromise hymn book, demonstrating that the Catholics and Lutherans got along well against the Salesians. the Silesian hymn book doesn’t attack the pope like Lutheran ones do – attempt not to offend the Catholics as they are trying to disassociate themselves from the religious dissidents.

Moritz Kelber’s paper on ‘(De-)constructing the enemy in early modern music and dance’ looked at music and the war against the Turks.  This war was one of the most important political issues in German speaking lands in the 15th and 16th centuries, even in areas where there was no direct military threat.  This was especially true of the siege of Vienna, an event which shocked public discourse.  German music was part of the construction of an omnipresent anti-Turkish literature, although most 16th century sources use the word Turk for a variety of ethnic groups.  Churches were made to ring their largest bells at noon to remind their people to pray against the Turks.  Similarly, in the 16th century, the black legend against the Spanish began to infect the German-speaking lands, and they used similar polemic to demonise the Catholic Spaniards. There were many pamphlets against the Turks, many containing songs.  Some of these have music so seem to be aimed a musically-literate audience.  Dance used exotic costumes and instruments to assimilate foreign cultures in a very special way.   For example, Maximilian’s court was fascinated with foreign dances and masquerades, where courtiers mixed with professional Morris dancers, both encountering and interacting with the ‘other’.


In the evening after dinner, we were treated to a concert of 5 voice polyphonic motets by the Boston group, Sourcework, who sing not from printed editions, but from original notation. It was very impressive, and I have to say that conferences with inbuilt concerts rather than keynotes might just be the way forward!