On the second day of the Glorious Sounds conference, the plenary was a fascinating paper given by John Craig (Simon Fraser University) on ‘Sounding Godly: from Bilney to Bunyan’. He starting by raising a number of questions including how godly sounds affected the way people related to one another.  He went on to acknowledge the difference between urban and rural parishes, and describe his attempts to investigate lost sounds in the Elizabethan church.  He first discussed the popular demand for metrical psalters and how this allowed female voices to sing alongside male in the congregations. But he suggested that the singing of psalms in metre wasn’t wholly accepted by the church – metrical psalters were never required as purchases for clergy by the bishops. Sternhold and Hopkins’ metrical psalms were rarely bought by parishes – they might have prose psalters, but not ones intended for singing. Instead, parish clerks led singing, but in rural parishes it might well only have been the priest who spoke during the service because they had no clerk to lead congregations in participation. This might explain why they tried to encourage participation through lining out, however unpopular it might have been.  His second point was about the ways in which prayers were accompanied by sighs and groans, and he also considered how people listened to sermons. He suggested that when we study sounds, we should also think about how different groups listened to these sounds.

The afternoon’s panel began with Matthew Stanton of Queen’s University, Belfast talking about ‘Charisma and Controversy: Benjamin Keach (1640-1704) and the Debate About Congregational Song’. He described how Keach’s introduction of hymns into the service was unique and displaced the congregation singing psalms.  Keach was involved in a controversy over whether hymn-singing should be encouraged. Stanton demonstrated the spread of hymn singing in London Baptist congregations, showing that congregational hymn singing was enthusiastically supported by this branch of non-conformity.

Next was Rosamund Paice (Northumbria University) giving a paper on ‘Sound Theology: Serious Punning in Paradise Lost’. She highlighted the anxieties about puns in high culture, although they were in fact very popular and even expected. For Milton, puns were really important and since they were part of the way God speaks through Scripture, they were sanctioned by Him.

Finally, we heard from Vera J. Camden of Kent State University, Ohio on ‘The Sounds of Sermons and Hymns in Hannah Burton’s London Diary (1782)’. She described the sermon gadding of the Hannah Burton, the daughter of an ejected non-conformist preacher. Hannah used a family heirloom notebook to describe the sermons that she heard, comparing them to commentaries and making notes of her own thoughts on the subject, and it is clear from her writings that she plans to come back to them because she leaves blank pages after her notes. She quotes portions of hymns too, which fit with what she is thinking about at the time.

It was a really interesting couple of days.