February 2013

I’m about to go and meet a friend for coffee (well, in my case, tea) to discuss trying to put together a pnael for the EMREM symposium on Birth, Sex and Death (http://emremforum.wordpress.com/).  I have no idea if I’ll even be able to get a babysitter to let me get to the conference, but the fact that there are now a few of us early modernists in the department makes me feel like we ought to stick together and that it might make it easier for me to think about going to some of these conferences that I look at occasionally.  Somehow it’s not as scary when there are a few of you!  I could almost get excited about this….

My favourite painting from this afternoon’s quick walk round parts of the National Gallery was Schedoni‘s portrait of the Holy Family, a little painting of the Virgin Mary teaching the infant Jesus to read, with Saint Joseph in the background.  I will pass over my puzzlement over why Mary is attempting to teach a child of that age to read…  I know nothing about it, as I know almost nothing about art generally, but it appealed to me in some way.  It was something about the tenderness, I think.  I can’t find a public domain copy of the National Gallery’s version that I can insert, so you’ll just have to head for the National Gallery website.   The only one I can find on wikimedia commons has an extra child in it and the composition doesn’t appeal to me as much.  Anyway, I thought it was a beautiful little thing, and it caught my eye.

The Staircase Hall (1884–7), designed by Sir J...

The Staircase Hall (1884–7), designed by Sir John Taylor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I write this (a day late – yes, I know), I have just passed through Stafford on the Pendolino, on my way back from London, where I attended the Historical Association’s Branches and Members Committee Meeting.  It’s going dark outside the windows, and in the last quarter of an hour I’ve been watching lights go on all over the dusky countryside. At the meeting I seem to have volunteered to help re-organise the branches and branch officers’ area of the H.A. website, and to be a mentor for H.A. branch officers in the north of England.  I do sometimes think that what with looking after the children and doing my PhD, I’m not giving the H.A. the attention it requires.  Oh well, time for a bit of planning to get everything in, I guess!  The meeting finished early, and I spent an hour in the National Gallery before heading back to Euston to catch my train home to Preston, which was jolly nice.  I like travelling by train, I must admit, and the fact that I can now get to London in just over two hours makes it do-able, in my experience.  I’m not a happy driver, and I’d much rather let the train do the work.

It’s been a somewhat frustrating week, work-wise.  It was the children’s half term, and for once their father was not on holiday the same week, so I’ve not got a lot done.  My parents looked after the children on Tuesday so that I could go into Manchester to take back to the library a book that had been recalled, but what little time I had not looking after my children this week was mainly spent trying to get my new laptop to work (it runs on Windows 8, but what I think of that operating system is best left unsaid – suffice it to say that a lot of swearing took place under my breath) and trying to set up a new wifi router that could cope with the number of machines that now need it in my house.  All very time consuming and irritating.  Which is why I didn’t get my blog written last night – yesterday evening was the first chance I’d had all week to do some research!

I’ve created a huge working document analysing the ballad tunes musicologically.  The next step, which I am desperate to get on with, is looking at the links between the ballads, their backgrounds and their publication history.  I’m itching to get on with it, much as I enjoyed taking my children to the park, the ice-cream cafe and the cheese factory this week!  However, there will be quite a lot to get in my way over the next couple of weeks as, even though the children are back at school, I have a lot of appointments to keep.  I’m looking forward to getting started again, though.

Samuel Alexander building

Samuel Alexander building (Photo credit: nogbad the bad)

I was a bag of nerves on Tuesday evening, ahead of my panel meeting on Wednesday morning, as those who saw me that evening could testify.  I go giggly when I’m nervous, and it makes people who don’t know me think I’m not taking things seriously, which is not the case.  Terror doesn’t quite have the same effect, but nerves….

It all turned out alright though.  I’m happy to say that my panelists all seem to think that the revised chapter plan is an improvement, so since Wednesday morning I’ve been busily concentrating on the ballads.  Actually, I started looking at the ballad tunes on Monday afternoon, after a lovely weekend with friends, family and a lot of laughter.  So I’d done quite a bit of work on them before heading to Manchester for the meeting.

Most of my time has been spent analysing the structure and modes of the ballad tunes, putting the tunes with the known words and tinkering with them to make them fit.  The next job is to look at the background (printers/publication dates/variants) of the ballad lyrics and see how the words of the ballads relate to the tunes.  My collated working document of lyrics and tunes is nearly 100 pages long!

I’ve also been looking into hexachordal theory, although at the moment I’m unclear on why sixteenth century musical theorists felt the need to leave out the seventh of the scale.  I will need to draw this into my ballad analysis at some stage.

So last week’s floundering is over, I have a plan and I’m enjoying work again.

Archbishop Matthew Parker (1504-1575)

Archbishop Matthew Parker (1504-1575) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s always like this at the start of a new piece of work. The floundering.

I’m starting to investigate the music, and I have spent the last day or two looking at modal theory, finding out about hexachords, looking in to the life and times of Archbishop Matthew Parker and playing with ballad tunes.  I’ve done quite a bit of reading, and I’ve tried to do a bit of writing on ballad tune analysis and on Parker’s idea of the effect of modes, but I’m struggling a bit.  I find it a bit hard to get going, until I’ve got an angle to get into.  Or unless, of course, I’ve been told what to do, like last week when I was asked to write my theoretical section.

It’s not comfortable.  I’d like to be able to report progress.  But to be honest, I don’t think I’ve been all that productive in the last couple of days.  I think I need to set myself a specific goal next week (apart from getting through my panel meeting, which is probably the main one).  I need to find a particular area in which to immerse myself, and I need to get hold of a couple of library books too.

Next week I have a research assistant to keep me company.  My husband will be on his half term break, but the children aren’t on holiday until the week after.  This presents something of a problem, because although I get extra help with my musical analysis next week, the following week I’m going to find it almost impossible to do any work at all.  So even if I get stuck into something, I’m going to have to put it to one side at the end of next week to take care of the children.

So next week I have my 3rd panel meeting.  I’ve just finished the work for it and it’s all ready to go to my supervisors in the morning.  Tomorrow it’s on to the music!  I’ll be very glad to get back to some research after all the methology and planning.

Wordle: methodology

Wordle of my 2000 word methodology essay

Wordle of my chapter plan

Wordle: chapter plan

Danny Kaye

Danny Kaye (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With sincere apologies to BBC Radio 2, because that really was a terrible title.  The thing is, I’m running out of novel and interesting ways to describe similar weeks!

I have spent much of this week reading and writing about historical and literary theory – the likes of Jauss,  Bourdieu, Skinner, Thompson and Fish.  This is because I need to place my work on ‘knowingness’ in sixteenth century ballads in a wider theoretical context.  I’m not, however, all that happy swimming about in theory, as I find that major theoretical models seem to read too much into things.  There always seems to be a touch of the Emperor’s New Clothes about them – I always want to point and shout ‘Look at the king, Look at the King, Look at the King, the King, the King!  The King is in the altogether…’.  More apologies – a Danny Kaye moment.  Still, I’ve written 1700 words on the theory, and I’m nearly happy with it, which is good because I have my third panel meeting in ten days or so, and that’s my piece of written work for it.  It would be quite good if it actually came to an end though, rather than just stopping dead!

The other major strand of my work this week has been to continue re-drafting my chapter plan for the panel.  I think it’s getting stronger all  the time, although I dare say that there are still plenty of areas which will cause discussion in the meeting.

On Wednesday the second of my disks of scans from the British Library arrived through the post.  The single most expensive CD I have ever bought in my life, and what’s more, it’s going to take HOURS of work to transccribe the ballads.  But they really were beautiful, and although looking at the scans is not quite the same, it reminded me of the sense of awe I felt sitting in the BL reading rooms looking at the originals.  Little sixteenth century doodles…

Today I read ‘I Could Speak Until Tomorrow’.  It is an anthropological study of the oriki poetry of Nigeria, and although the parallels may not seem obvious, there are some spooky similarities with the way the ballads use obliqueness to cover further levels of meaning.  I found it very interesting.

The other major news of the week is the good-natured argument I have been involved in over the use (or in my case the leaving out) of the Oxford comma.  Personally, I can’t stand the thing.  The best description of it is definitely to be found in Lynne Truss’s ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’.  For those that don’t know, the Oxford  comma is the one to be found before the ‘and’ at the end of a list.  It litters US writing.  My supervisor likes it, but I don’t.  In fact, I’d go so far as to put my grammatical hatred for it as second only to that for a misplaced or missing apostrophe.  He keeps putting it in and I keep taking it out again.  This state of affairs will probably continue until I re-write the work (in this case, the title of my theory piece) so that there can’t possibly be a need for it.  It will probably go to the panel as ‘Methodology’ as an avoidance tactic!

I’ve just been out in the garden listening to not one, but two, owls.  And the male is definitely singing.