Last week, I was really pleased to be able to attend the second day of the Sound Affects II workshop, organised by Rachel Willie and Emilie Murphy for their Soundscapes in the Early Modern World research network.

The first paper was given by Wayne Weaver, a PhD student at Cambridge. His ‘Musical Performance Commentaries and the Creation of “Race”: Hearing and Listening in Early Modern Kingston, Jamaica’ was a fascinating work in progress paper based on his current doctoral research. Much is known about the costs of musical activities in colonial Jamaica from history writing and even from rare musical criticism from 1788.  These can tell us a lot about how musical discourses fed into the understanding of race in the context of governorship.  He noted that not all of the black community were enslaved, and that the use of sound was related to race and social place.

He outlined the musical culture of Jamaica at the end of the eighteenth century. African and biracial African European people were involved in European art music, while there were a lot of imported musical productions and cultural materials.  Yet the commentators from the period tend to talk more about Jamaican musical customs, as outsiders, rather than the European imports.  These commentaries tend to use derogatory language and negative opinions. Bryan Edwards, who writes very derogatively about the Jamaican musical ability, shows himself to be completely out of step with the London music scene.  In London, the Caribbean African and African Europeans were described as passive and submissive, but in fact there were many uprisings. The colonial writers chose to call their monographs ‘History’ – this promoted a national specificity, and they were trying to categorise.  This is the period when the concept of race began to solidify – it is now understood to be a social construct, and at the time it was based around ‘othering’ which was a way of subordinating other peoples to colonial power.  He argued that they were figured as having a subordinate musical culture because they were seen as subordinate. 

The second paper was given by my friend Una McIlvenna on ‘Hearing the News Being Sung in the Early Modern Urban Environment’. Una outlined the way that ballads were sold on the streets – although her argument was that in some places, the ballad singer had an oil painting that they used to illustrate the texts.  She described how hearing the news being sung in the early modern environment was a multi-media, multi-sensory, highly emotional experience.  She sees a link between the German song-sheets with several bespoke woodcuts at the top and the multiple image oil paintings.  By tracing images of ballad sellers backwards, she is hoping to work out when the oil paintings start to appear. The don’t seem to appear in the 16th and 17th centuries, but they are there by the early 18th century.  Because they last into the twentieth century, there are fascinating accounts of the theatrical performances of these songs and the crowds they drew, and these crowds are always shown in the paintings of ballad singers.

After lunch it was time for the second Future of Soundscape Studies Roundtable, made up of 6 lightning talks. The first, entitled ‘”If you desire quietude, you should not wind it up”: Experimenting with the soundscape of the Qing Court’ was given by Josefine Baark (Warwick). She described how Chinese collectors of clockwork disregarded European clocks as markers of time of day, but they saw the spectacular performances they made as musical items as markers of status and wealth. Next came Deyasini Dasgupta (Syracuse) on ‘Sonic Acoustemology: Identifying Alterity in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene’, in which she investigated sounds that are threatening.  In the Faerie Queen, non-verbal sounds are usually associated with “monstrous” bodies while those who cannot hear, speak or understand speech sounds are depicted as monsters because they depict non-conformity – they cannot hear or speak the true faith (whether that be Protestant or Catholic).  But some monstrous bodies use sound to create affect. The third lightning paper was from Elisabeth Lutteman (Uppsala) who spoke on ‘Stage Songs, Action and Interaction’. It was based on her thesis on Singing, Acting and Interacting from the 1590s-1620s, which investigated who sings what, why and to what effect.  She outlined how in one play, singing allows one character to shape their relationship with another person and affect that person’s actions – it allows the character agency to avoid seduction.

I gave the fourth paper, entitled ‘Music for Queen Mary’s Wedding Ballad?’, based on some work I’ve done recently on John Heywood’s ballad for Mary’s wedding to Philip of Spain. There will be more on this in another post, but basically I outlined why I think I’ve stumbled across the right tune for the song. Next was Stephanie Shirilan (Syracuse), giving a paper called ‘Paronomasia, Linguistic Echo and Affective “Surround Sound” in Shakespeare’, describing how she explores the ways that words sound and resound in plays. The final paper in the roundtable was given by Ellie Sutton (Birmingham) on ‘”The Wiving Age”: Sex and Satire in Seventeenth-century English Broadside Ballads’. She focussed on the representation of women in ballads in the context of wider popular literature, rather than the out of the ordinary women such as murderesses.  The maids, wives and widows in Martin Parker’s The Wiving Age are a potential threat to the gender order. Ballads satirised women who inverted the idea of what women should be. They thereby fit in with other prescriptive and proscriptive works which reflected concern over the gender order.

The workshop closed with an excellent paper by Tess Knighton (ICREA-Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) entitled ‘How processions moved: emotional discourses in civic ceremony in early-modern Europe’.

Just before the end of 2020, my article ‘Gender, Authority and the Image of Queenship in English and Scottish Ballads, 1553–1603‘ came out in History. It was based mainly on a paper that I gave a couple of years ago to the EFDSS Broadside Day in Glasgow. Many of you will know that Mary I was England’s first queen regnant – a queen in her own right, because she was heir to the throne rather than because she was married to a king. Right from the start of my PhD research into Mary, I’ve been fascinated by the fact that there are so many ballads from her reign which are really bothered by the fact that she’s a woman. I wrote a chapter about it in the PhD thesis, and then adapted it a bit when it was published as Singing the News (now available, remember, as a slightly more affordable paperback edition!). But my article takes this line of argument a bit further, arguing not only that the balladeers were attempting to normalise a female monarch and set people’s minds at rest, but that they succeeded in doing so. It suggests that Mary’s reign needed ‘selling’ because she was a woman, and the strongest selling point she had was her parentage.

The article also compares and contrasts the Marian accession ballads to those about Elizabeth I and James I, as well as to the various Scottish ballads complaining about Mary Queen of Scots which I wrote a blog post about a few years ago. It’s notable that there are far fewer ballads specifically about Elizabeth’s accession, and several more about James I. Obviously, there are problems with survivals, but the Stationers’ Registers back up the numbers. So I wonder if balladeers felt the need to ‘introduce’ monarchs who were a bit different – such as Mary as the first woman and James as a foreigner – but Elizabeth was less out of the ordinary because Mary had done the hard work of being the first queen regnant for her.

I’m really pleased to say that two weeks ago, I was appointed as the new administrator for the Social History Society. Most of the time, it’s only going to be one day a week, but for the first time in many, many years, I’ve got a small but steady and reliable year-round income (at least for the next 18 months…) 🙂

A lot of it is based round answering emails and checking membership details, so I’m beginning to get into the swing of that. I’m also going to be doing the admin work on the conference, and I’m planning to get stuck in to that next week.

The committee are a lovely crowd to work with, and it’s the first job I’ve had in a long time which I can do with the radio on!

I’ve spent pretty much all week copying and pasting. I’ve been collating the words to hundreds of broadside ballads into a single document, so that I can find them when I need them. It’s the first step towards beginning my new research projects – whichever one I go for first, I needed to expand my ballad collection beyond the 1530-70 remit of my PhD. It’s been a tedious week, in some ways, but at least I know now that I’m ready to start on some research proper.

I’ve not put the many, many ballads from manuscripts into the same file, partly because it would become unmanageably enormous and partly because they are a bit more difficult to deal with – it’s more rare for them to have titles, which means filing them by their first line… Which in turn makes things a bit more complicated.

After a week of copying and pasting, by mid-morning on Friday I had all the words, but I had to check that I hadn’t ended up with lots of random blank pages, and I also wanted to make sure that it was all in the same font, not lots of different ones. Finally, I finished up with a document that was 3245 pages long.

My next step was to copy this document and remove any of the non-topical ballads, because most of the work I want to do over the next few months is, one way or another, based on topical ballads. Anything that stayed in the topical ballad file was also copied into one or more of a variety of smaller files on different subjects – monarchy, crime, rebellion, military news etc. Next week, I’m ready to get going looking for pamphlets on the same topics – something I’ve been waiting to do for more than a year!

And so I begin what might well be my final year of working in the academy. The main focus of my teaching this time will be two seminar groups on Hist100, the first year core course, which are taking place face to face (well, at least to begin with…. we’ll see how long it lasts…!). I gave a couple of online sessions in welcome week, I’m teaching a single session on the MA course and I’ve got a lecture and two seminars (that’s two single seminars, not two seminar groups) on the second year core course. Not a lot.

I might also be mentoring on the MOOC again and I’ve got a few hours left over working on the Lancashire Heritage project that had to be put on hold in March when we went into lockdown, but even with these extras, it won’t pay many bills…

On the plus side, the extra time I’ve got will allow me to do some more of my own research. My plan, first of all, is to put together a funding application for a completely new project on popular conceptions of good health. Then I’m going to get stuck in to some of the things that I’ve been planning to do for several years but simply haven’t had time.

It’s been a strange summer. There have been no holidays with historical aspects to blog about, and only a couple of conferences that I attended to write about. I’ve hardly left the house since March…

I’ve done a lot of home schooling, and this has carried on in September despite my children returning to school – covid outbreaks have meant that one or another or all of us have had to be at home several times since the start of the school term.

I’ve managed to finish the manuscript of John Balshaw’s Jigg, and of course I’ve taught on the EAP for the last few weeks. But my overwhelming feeling is one of being, well, rather overwhelmed.

At the beginning of the summer, I commented on the unexpected bonuses of lockdown – all the events that I’ve never been able to go to that were now online, all the people who set up networking and reading groups to help everyone keep in touch – and I’ve hardly managed to take part in any. I made it to two conferences, a few sessions of the Tudor music coffee break (not that I drink coffee), a couple of sessions of Lancaster’s Digital Humanities Hangout and one meeting of an early modern reading group. There were so many things that I would have liked to have done, but I just didn’t have the time or the energy, especially as summer progressed and I needed to prioritise paid work and my family.

And I’m coming into the autumn knowing that, even though I’m hardly teaching at all this year, I’m not actually going to have any more time!

I’m really pleased that this week, my monograph Singing the News: Ballads in Mid-Tudor England comes out in paperback. I first got an inkling of this a couple of months ago, when I came across the pre-order button on the Routledge website by accident. At the time, I hadn’t been contacted by the publishers so I wasn’t entirely sure how reliable it was….. even though there did appear to be a link on the Amazon website too.

I did eventually get an email from Routledge telling me that they had decided to produce a paperback, and then a week ago I arrived home from a walk to find a parcel containing two copies of the book – it’s real!

So if you’re interested in reading the book, it is now rather more affordable than it was!

It’s been a busy few weeks, and the scheduled blog posts ran out while my attention was elsewhere because I’ve been teaching full time on the English for Academic Purposes course at Lancaster University. The course is for overseas students to introduce them to academic skills such as essay writing, referencing and collaborative presentations, so that when they begin their courses at the university they are in as good a place as possible to succeed.

Normally, the course takes place face to face for 4 weeks with a week’s preparation for the staff, but this year it was converted to wholly online teaching. We had two weeks part-time to prepare ourselves for the course, but inevitably this took more time than was anticipated, so I’ve been working essentially full time for 6 weeks.

The students handed in their assignments on Monday mornings, which we had to mark and return before seeing each student for an individual tutorial, most of which took place on Mondays and Tuesdays. On Thursday, there was a whole class seminar. Along the way, the students had to produce reflective assignments, videos on Flipgrid, group presentations and various exercises.

It was certainly an interesting experience, if a little hard going at times – the early part of each week, in particular, had a heavy workload. Nevertheless, the staff were grouped into teaching teams made up of a combination of new recruits like me and old hands who had taught the course many times before (albeit face to face in the past!). The teams were under the watchful and supportive eye of an academic co-ordinator – in our case, SuperJavi, who was an absolute superstar.

What was really nice, especially after months of working from home, more or less alone, was to be part of that team – it was lovely to be able to log on each weekday to see how everyone was, and to share our successes and our frustrations (not just about the course but life in general).

This is the fourth in a series of posts about the Virtual Medieval and Renaissance Music conference, which should have been held in Edinburgh.  For me, this was one of the unexpected boons of the Covid-19 pandemic – I wouldn’t have been able to attend in person, but I was really glad of the opportunity to take part online.

On Friday morning, I moved on to Thursday’s panel on Hymns, Psalms and Songs with Antonio Chemotti’s ‘From Silesia to Pennsylvania: interdenominational circulation of vernacular hymns’, which looked the use of vernacular hymns in Silesia.  Although its known that motets, for example were used by both Catholic and Protestant communities, vernacular hymns tend to be much more closely associated with one community.  Nevertheless, Chemotti showed that the hymns in Valentin Triller’s hymnbook were used by both Catholic and Protestants of all shades, without concern.  The book attacked some of the beliefs of one of the Schwenkfelders (a radical spiritual movement in Silesia) and was squarely Lutheran in quality, nevertheless it appears to have been used by them.  I was particularly interested by his evidence that some hymns were collected by a Schwenkfelder in America who was only interested in the hymn text, not the 3 part settings, while another removed the dedicatory passage which was particularly anti-Schwenkfelder – fabulous historical detective work.

Next came Timothy Duguid’s ‘“Rangy” Psalm Tunes? Singing Scottish Psalms in the Early Modern Period’, which provided an interesting contrast to Sam Arten’s paper.  He concentrated on the Scottish Psalm Buik of 1554, which was influenced by Genevan psalms as well as the English metrical psalms.  The tunes were simple both melodically and rhythmically, but Duguid argued that untrained singers today would struggle to sing them because of their tessituras.   His starting point was that in larger congregations used the psalter as written, singing the prescribed tune for each song, but that rural congregations may not have done (there is more evidence for what went on in places like St Andrews). He argued that because of issues surrounding literacy and clerical provision, not all congregations would have been able to learn all 104 tunes, however, recent research has shown that 82% of post-reformation Scottish churches had someone with clerical training at university, and this would normally have included musical training.  He pointed out that it was common for someone to be able to learn a tune and song after only hearing it a couple of times.

Using computational analysis of the tunes, he went on to look at whether the melodies’ tessitura affected how ‘sing-able’ they were.  Pitch standards have changed several times, so it is difficult to pick an appropriate pitch for an accurate modern performance.  Nevertheless, the fact that many of the settings would have required men to sing at one pitch and women and children at an octave higher means that untrained women and children would have struggled to reach the top notes.  the jury is still out on whether physiological changes have lowered vocal ranges over the intervening centuries, but there is evidence that somehow they made it work.  There are several practical solutions, such as individuals automatically switching octaves when the music went too low or too high, or that the precentor simply picked a pitch that suited most of the congregational. In practice, that means that the pitches in the psalm book don’t necessarily relate to what was actually sung (to me, this seems like common sense – especially in domestic settings where people might not have had anything on which to play a starting note – but then it’s what I’ve done with all sorts of songs in all sorts of settings for the last 30 years or more).

The final paper in the set was given by Barbara Dietlinger, on ‘Fathoming a New Reality in Song – the Birth of the Dutch Republic’.  Music and poetic texts were among those printed materials which marked the Peace of Műnster, but while official text were simply celebratory, the songs emphasised the contestation around the peace as well as celebrating, as not all the provinces of the new Dutch Republic supported the peace.  She took two songs as her examples.  In her first song, the Wedders Liedt, it was not only the words that were partly critical (the peace would be bad for the economy but good for Christianity), but the tune gave the song an underlying tone of support.  It had been used for songs about one of the biggest victories of the Dutch Revolt at ‘s-Hertogenbosch.  Sadly, the tune itself seems not to survive, despite its popularity. The second was a drinking song was from the play Hollants Vree-tonneel, in which the singer, Morio, points out that there are two sides contesting the treaty.  After the song, he allows the audience to disagree with it.  But of course as a drunkard, Morio himself undermines this view, while the play itself is broadly positive.  What both songs do, then, is show that politics was more contested in the Dutch Republic around 1648 than the official publications would have us believe.

For my last paper before breakfast, I picked out Ellie Chan’s research on ‘“Sweet” and “Spic[y]” Music in Sixteenth Century Britain’, which explored how the words ‘sweet’ and ‘dulcis’ were used.  She revealed a tension between uses which relate to expression and consonance. However, she also pointed out that inbuilt in the concept of sweet was the opposite, bitterness or sourness, and therefore also brought to mind dissonance. Sweet also verges on lascivious at times.

After breakfast and PE with Joe Wickes, I went to Music and Culture in Renaissance Nuermburg II.  The first paper was Sonja Tröster’s ‘Humanism, Music and Lighthearted Drinking Sessions —Wilhelm Breitengraser in Nuremberg’, which examined humanist circles in early sixteenth century Nuremburg.  The next paper was on ‘Buchtrucker(in) –Women and the (Music) Book Trades in 16th-century Nuremberg’, by Susan Jackson. She noted that 5% of the book traders were women, but that this figure doesn’t include the many wives and daughters who would have been less formally involved.  Two of the women produced large numbers of music prints, contributing to the transmission of some of the most important an influential music of the time. It was interesting to hear about how one of the women stuck to her first married name for some years after she married for a second time, presumably indicating that name recognition was important to her reputation. The final paper of the three was Elisabeth Giselbrecht speaking on ‘Music as Pedagogical Tool’.  The first book she mentioned used musical notation to indicate the emphasis on long and short syllables in the pronunciation of Latin.  Others included pitch to assist further in the process of pronunciation.  What is interesting here, as Elisabeth noted, is that it relies on students already being musically literate, at least to the level where they can understand the difference between a breve and a semibreve on the page.

At this point, I had to abandon ship to scan a chunk of my daughter’s homeschool work for her to submit… such is virtual conference attendance.

This is the third in a series of posts about the Virtual Medieval and Renaissance Music conference, which should have been held in Edinburgh.  For me, this was one of the unexpected boons of the Covid-19 pandemic – I wouldn’t have been able to attend in person, but I was really glad of the opportunity to take part online.

It took me until the following afternoon to get back to MedRen, when I picked up the Music for the Dead in the Early Modern Period panel with Sanna Raninen’s ‘“In dust and sand and dark soil” –Funeral Songs in Swedish Prints and Manuscripts at the beginning of the Reformation’. There could be singing at the funerary procession and at the graveside in post-Reformation Sweden, which interests me as I’m still hoping to work on the English epitaph ballads I’ve found and how they might have been performed.  Sanna talked about how some of the Latin responses were sung in pre-Reformation times, but there were also responsories in Swedish which were new to the post-Reformation tradition. She pointed out that singing in procession was often done by schoolboys and their teachers.  Manuals written after the Reformation sometimes refer to appropriate repertory by name, and suggest appropriate points in the funerary services where singing might occur – for example when sprinkling soil on the grave. 

The final paper in the set was Andrea Puentes-Blanco on ‘Music and Liturgical Practices of Funerary Rituals in Counter-Reformation Barcelona’.  She had interesting things to say about the effect of funeral processions on the city soundscape, and indeed on the differences between public and private funerals. Her paper stressed how many people from all levels of society were involved in funeral processions for bishops.  She also talked about the burials of Our Lady, which had particular norms which had to be performed, including the singing of polyphony.  These services were popular across all social spectra throughout Barcelona.  There are still many questions about the contexts and types of litanies which were sung at funerals.  Some of the responses were sung, at least in part, by the entire congregation, with polyphony for the verses and chant for the refrain. 

My next virtual visit was to the panel on Music and Politics.  Tim Shephard’s introduction examined some of the key ways in which music played a part in politics.  He started by describing an image in Andrea Alciato’sEmblemata (1531), in which a lute symbolises the harmony between the various Italian states.  This idea harks back to Plato and Pythagoras, in which the universe is fashioned by demi-urge (or god) and creates a perfect sound or divine harmony through the mathematical principles of the intervals.  By Alciato’s lute, the god’s role is taken over by the terrestrial governor, and it represents the ability of a wise prince to bring harmonious concord to the disorderly multitude of opinions among his subjects, whereas a republic has no way to bring these views into harmony.  He looked at the ways prudence, piety, magnificence and liberality intersected with the prince’s power and his training in music.  The need to show off these virtues to their subjects was a central part of creating display. For example the need to show off piety meant the creation of royal chapels and the polyphony that was performed there, while magnificence and liberality meant large amounts of conspicuous expenditure were morally justified.

The next paper was ‘Imagery and Instrumental Music at the Court of Maximilian I’, given by Helen Coffey. She examined images from the Triumphzug, a literary commission by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian,in which a number show instrumentalists. While we know that he had a number of musicians in his employ, they don’t square with the number shown in the illustrations – there are nearly twice as many on paper than in reality. Her paper concentrated on the images of brass players, looking at how they were portrayed and comparing this to the records of what they actually did at the emperor’s court.  Although the images show more instrumentalists than there really were, there are elements of reality in the situations in which they are playing.

Finally, Vincenzo Borghetti talked about ‘The Arrival of a Queen and the Departure of a Prince: Music for Maria de’ Medici and Heinrich Posthumus Reuss’.  He opened by looking at the image of a Playmobil set, and contemplated why musicians are seen as an integral part of early modern kings, their courts, and their expressions of power.  He examined Peter Paul Rubens’ painting of the arrival of Maria de Medici and Schutz’s music for Heinrich Reuss’ burial.  The Disembarkation at Marseilles is one of a series of paintings tell the queen’s story, emphasising her triumphs and her trials, and they were commissioned by the queen herself.  Because the king did not go to meet her on her arrival, she was free to present the occasion without any reference to him.  Instead, it is full of musico-political imagery and sounds including trumpets on the ship and waves in the sea.  The queen is at the centre of the sounds, so she brings order to them.