music


After being rather unwell at the beginning of 2016, I decided that this summer I would spend as much time on holiday as I could.  This was only made possible by the fact that we have access to a caravan that is currently in Oban, and we have a trailer tent, and it meant that the holidays were going to be in the UK.  A friend asked me if my children were happy with being forced to holiday in caravans and tents.  This got me thinking about what I gained from the holidays that I went on as a child, most of which were caravan holidays in the UK.  I decided that they are partly responsible for my interest in history – along with the folk music that I love, which I have written about before.

Glen Coe

Glen Coe

Glen Coe

I spent a lot of time at National Trust and English Heritage properties.  I spent a lot of time, therefore, in places where the present collides with the past.  I spent a lot of time in places where good stories, maybe even the best stories because they are true, come to life.  Take, for example, Glen Coe.  It’s a landscape that seems to have barely changed in hundreds of years.  You can just imagine the MacDonalds running and scrambling for their lives in February 1692.  This, for me, was always helped by knowing John McDermott’s The Massacre of Glencoe by The Corries. Somehow, it’s always made it easy for me to imagine Macbeth, too.

 

 

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Part of the beauty of Easedale Island is the pools of water left in the abandoned slate quarries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then in Wales, we went to Harlech Castle.  It was easy to see why it was built where it was – the commanding views over the surrounding coast and countryside are hard to beat.  There were piles of cannon balls lying around, and turrets to climb.  You could see the grooves where the portcullises (is that the plural of portcullis???) were lowered and raised.

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My youngest was particularly taken with a trip to Sygun Copper Mine, a Victorian mine which closed in 1903.  We went on an underground tour, which took in some spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, accompanied by atmospheric rumblings in the audio guide.  He was IMG_20160808_142454019especially impressed when he looked across the valley to Dinas Emrys and heard the legend of the sleeping dragons in the lake below the hill.  Vortigern was trying to build a stronghold against the Saxons on the hill of Dinas Emrys, but each night the builders’ work  was mysteriously reduced to piles of rubble.  Vortigern’s magicians recommended that he sacrifice a fatherless boy, but the chosen  boy explained that two dragons lay asleep in a lake under the hill.  Vortigern’s men dug into the hill and revealed two dragons: one red, the other white.  When the two dragons  were released from their slumber, they fought each other.  The eventual winner was the red dragon, symbolic of the Welsh victory over the Saxons.  The boy who knew the dragons lay under the hill? Merlin.
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My eldest, on the other hand, was fascinated by the industrial archaeology above the ground.  We decided to walk the Fisherman’s Path at Beddgelert, and found ourselves climbing Cwm Bychan, which is scattered with the remains of copper mining pylons.

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We passed Frongoch. Almost every day, in fact. It took me several days to place the name – I knew it was something to do with the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising but I couldn’t remember what, exactly, until we pulled up on our last day to have a look at the information board. Michael Collins had been interned there.  My daughter immediately made the link between Frongoch, Michael Collins and Michael by Johnny McEvoy.

(My summer holidays this year have gone by the subtitle a tour of the UK’s highest peaks which you can’t see because they are obscured by cloud, and the answer to my friend’s question was yes, the children seem to enjoy themselves, just like I did.)

Loch Linnhe, below Ben Nevis

Loch Linnhe, below Ben Nevis

Somewhere beneath that cloud is Snowdon

Somewhere beneath that cloud is Snowdon

With apologies for the length of the delay between posts (brought about by a computer faliure), here is the second piece about Elizabeth Parr and William Elderton:

William Elderton’s A proper new balad in praise of my Ladie Marques (London, 1569; STC (2nd ed.) / 7562) is unique among the surviving early ballad epitaphs in that it specifies the tune to which it was to be sung: ‘The Lusty Gallant’. With its implications of joyfulness and chivalry, ‘The Lusty Gallant’ may seem inappropriate for a verse epitaph, yet as you can see the words of A proper new balad fit the tune perfectly and the melody is in a minor mode – the Aeolian.

A proper new Balad in praise of my Ladie Marques whose Death is bewailed to the Tune of New lusty gallant-p1al7bfl541esn1sdtgt1it91qj8

Actually, it’s debateable whether the initial upbeat on the first verse is necessary. Originally, I put it in because it matched the bouncy crotchet-quaver rhythm of the rest of the line. The lyrics work equally well, however, with no upbeat, because it emphasises the first syllable of ‘Ladies’ by placing it on the stronger beat of the bar.  It also matches the three-quaver rhythm of the second line. I’ve played around with both and I’m undecided.

I left Facebook, for a variety of reasons, last autumn and I haven’t really missed it.  But I have just rediscovered my MySpace page.  I had completely forgotten that I’d had it, if I’m honest.  I’ve just spent a while playing with it, but the reason that I wanted to mention it here is that, for some long time, I’ve wanted to be able to share with you some of the ballads that I’ve been learning about and I haven’t been able to because WordPress, in it’s free form at least, doesn’t support that type of content.  MySpace, on the other hand, does.  At the moment, my page still only contains a few of the songs that I recorded at Shamrock Studios in 2000 with my folk band, Triptych, but I hope that in the future I might be able to post some of the home recordings of ballads that I’ve made over the last few years.

 Looking down, and south, from the A685.   © Copyright David Medcalf and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Looking down, and south, from the A685.
© Copyright David Medcalf and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

I seem to have been doing a lot of travelling lately, whizzing up and down the country on the pendolino and tootling across country on local trains.  I am, in the words of Doctor Seuss, a north going zax so frankly the journey through the valley in the Lakes where the west coast mainline and the M6 run alongside each other was infinitely preferable to the more familiar journey south towards London, although passing a trainload of mummified cars wrapped in bandages on a siding outside Oxford was a novelty.  The reason for all this travelling was academic, for once.  Early summer is conference season.  My twitter feed has been full of conference tweets for several weeks, which can be really interesting.  Several twitter hashtags have looked interesting enough to cause me to find out what the conference was that I was missing, and some of them I’ve really wished I could attend.   It’s a while since I gave a paper at an academic conference, so it was good to get back into the swing of things with trips to Reading and Newcastle.

Reading’s Early Modern Studies Conference was great fun. 410px-Codex_Mendoza_folio_2r Last time I went to Reading University I was on a two week accountancy training course and I hated every minute of it.  Reading was nothing like as unpleasant as I remembered it being, which just goes to show how much your experience colours your memories of a place.  The accommodation was lovely, although the lack of full wifi coverage if you couldn’t (like me and several other people) log into Eduroam was a distinct drawback. Because of my graduation, I wasn’t able to attend the whole conference, but on the Monday afternoon I very much enjoyed Maria de Jesus Crespo Candeias Velez Relvas‘s paper on ‘The Perception of the World in the Sixteenth Century’, as it took me back to undergraduate days of studying The First Hundred Years of the Spanish in the Americas and writing my dissertation.  I still find the impact of the Spanish conquest on the mainly oral tradition of the Aztecs and Inca’s fascinating and I recently downloaded the digital Codex Mendoza app!

The parallel sessions on Monday afternoon were all in seminar rooms, so I was somewhat surprised to find myself delivering my paper on Tuesday morning in a large lecture theatre.  My panel consisted of Richard Hoyle talking about ‘The King and the Poor Northern Man’, myself on ‘Ballads and the Public Sphere in Sixteenth Century England’ and Jonathan Arnold on ‘Music, Morality and Meaning: Humanist Critiqus of Musical Performance in Early Modern Europe’.  It seemed to go very well. I had to leave Reading mid-afternoon on the Tuesday in order to get home for my graduation, so unfortunately I missed Jennifer Richards’ plenary that evening.

One of the interesting things about delivering a paper to most conferences and seminar series is that people seem surprised when I sing a verse or two of a ballad. Not so at the Voices and Books conference, where breaking into song mid-paper is normal!  I have really enjoyed all the Voices and Books meetings that I’ve attended, and they helped to cement the idea that I had early on in my ballad studies that we need to think of ballads as songs that were sung and read aloud.  It is a truly interdisciplinary network, with supportive scholars from music, history, drama, literature and language all sharing ther ideas and bringing their expertise to the table.  I can honestly say that I’ve come away from the conference with more ideas than I could possibly carry out in the rest of my working life, so I want to say a big thank you to the ever-smiling network organisers Jennifer Richards and Richard Wistreich for all their hard work and their inspiring example!

Voices and Books his was a really busy conference with parallel sessions and plenaries filling the days, leaving little space for tea and the wonderful food that was provided.  Having started the second day of the conference at 9.30am, I left the conference dinner the moment that I finished my main course through sheer exhaustion (in a good way) at 9.30pm, and, disappointingly, before the chewy strawberry pavlova.  My family would testify to how tired I must have been to walk away from a meringue!  And, by the way, the conference also had far and away the best food of any that I’ve ever been to, what with Thai beef salad; wild rice with currants, chickpeas and herbs; mini Yorkshire puddings with beef and horseradish; lemon posset; and dipped strawberries.

There wasn’t a single session that didn’t include fascinating papers, but the plenaries were particularly excellent. Heidi Brayman Hackel spoke on the relationship between hearing and speaking and the the role of the dumb-show in early modern drama.  Anne Karpf was truly inspiring when she talked about restoring the voice, pointing out that even oral history tends to priviledge the recorded or transcribed voice over the act of speaking itself, making me wonder again how to weave in to my  studies the ballads collected from the oral tradition.  I was struck by her comment that the first voice we hear is the maternal voice which we hear in the womb and can even feel its vibration – it made me wonder if the maternal lullaby works in a similar way to skin-to-skin contact for babies? Perry Mills, talking about performing early modern drama with a company of boys, reminded me of everything I miss about teaching.  And then, of course, there was Christopher Marsh and the Carnival Band demonstrating how to write a hit song in the seventeenth century – the first plenary session any of us had been to with a beer break in the middle!  Apparently the Carnival Band had been given free reign to interpret the songs  as they saw fit, and I noticed that they had chosen to accompany them using major and minor keys rather than modal harmony.  Apologies also for the state of my photographs of them, as my camera didn’t cope well with the limited light!

On Friday I talked about ‘Reinterpreting  the Sixteenth Century English Ballad’, giving a brief airing to my theories about tonality and knowingness, but my main point was that ballads were good for spreading news because they were passed from person to person and used tunes that were easy to pick up and remember.   I decided to demonstrate this by having my very own Gareth Malone moment and getting the conference delegates to sing!  I had been having kittens prior to the conference – as a teacher I used to get children to sing all the time but I’ve never tried it with adults, and if they didn’t go for it and join in I would end up looking rather daft.  Fortunately, they almost all joined in with varying amounts of enthusiasm and learned the first verse of ‘The Hunt is Up’ very  quickly.

At the conference dinner on Friday evening, Jonathan Gibson asked if I might be able to sing a verse of a ballad during his paper the following morning, which I was pleased to do.  So  after retreating from the dinner I went back to my hotel, where I attempted to learn the tune of Wilson’s Wild, while feeling the bass and vocals of ‘I-I-I-I-I’m not your stepping sto-one‘ vibrate through the floor.   On the final day I particularly enjoyed Jonathan’s paper, Naomi Barker on traces of orality in Italian keyboard music and John Gallagher‘s paper on the teaching of foreign languages.  I’m very interested  in the idea of learning a language through singing its songs, so that’s something we’re both going to look out for.

So I’m home, brimming over with ideas, just as my institutional login is about to run out.  Ho hum.

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This afternoon I had my mock viva, which was an interesting experience. It was reassuring, in that I survived and there was only one question that I felt I completely flunked. That said, there were several others that brought home to me the need to be certain of my own position, which of course is only possible if you’re completely in command of your material and of what others have said about it.

So I’ve come home armed with two bag-loads of books and a lot on my mind – which is not to say that it’s all bad. The first job when I got in was to have a brew (this thesis was definitely fuelled by tea and chocolate, in a way that perhaps Huw and Tony Williams would have appreciated), the second to have a chat with my Fiend to take my mind off things and the third, to write my ‘to do’ list. You can see it above. I have another Fiend (yes, I manage to have more than one Fiend despite the fact that I spend a lot of time in the company of dead people and their preoccupation with death) who is the Queen of Lists. She would approve, I’m sure. That was once the wall on which my huge list of 16th century ballads used to hang. Now it holds all the things I need to do in the next ten days. I think I’ve got my work cut out. I have to admit that they aren’t all viva-related – there’s a section on research proposals, on articles and on the lecture I’m preparing for A level students on Henry VIII’s break with Rome, as well as for the Bolton Historical Association work that I need to get on with and for family matters. Happily, the conference proposal for Reading is nearly ready and the one for Voices and Books has gone (thanks, Una!).  But I’ve certainly got plenty to keep me occupied. Which is good.

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