April 2021

Back in October last year, I was really pleased to record the two part song for the Lord Mayor’s Show in 1620, for Prof Tracey Hill to use as part of her live-tweeting of the show. As far as we know, it hasn’t been heard in the intervening 400 years…

I’ve recently been putting the final touches to my next book – my publication of my transcription of John Balshaw’s Jig, with the context around it too. The readers suggested somequite radical structural changes which I worked on before Easter, but I think it is much improved for the process.

Given the trouble that I had trying to lay out the transcipt itself and the annotations, it was really lovely to see what an excellent job the printers had made of the first few test pages. The transcript will be on the right hand side of the page, and the annotations will be on the left. This is great, because it means I’ve been able to expand the annotations to include all sorts of things that in previous drafts I’ve had to leave out.

It should be out before the summer, and as I write this, I’ve just got back from recording a paper about the Jig for the Lancaster University Regional Heritage Centre‘s Songs and Ballads in the History of North West England study day in May.

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’.