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.

In a conscious effort to take a bit more advantage of the opportunities opened up by so many conferences this year taking place online, I’m trying to attend a few more. Some are things that I wouldn’t otherwise attend, because I wouldn’t have time or money to go to, but others, like the Sound Affects workshop and The International John Bunyan Society’s GLORIOUS SOUNDS: EXPLORING THE SOUNDSCAPES OF BRITISH NONCONFORMITY: 1550-1800 are much closer to my current research on soundscapes and songs. It took place over two afternoons in April, and this post is about the first of those sessions.

The first plenary was given by one of my former supervisors, Rosamund Oates, of Manchester Metropolitan University on ‘“Speaking in Hands”: Preaching, Deafness and Sign Language in Early Modern Europe’.  She considered the questions of how attitudes to hearing loss and deafness developed from the belief that it was the curse of the devil.  If based on the teaching of Romans 10:17, faith comes by hearing, what about the deaf?  She pointed out that the situation in practice was more complicated – both Protestant and Catholics had more nuanced attitudes than just relegating all deaf people to hell.  Deafness and hearing loss were endemic in early modern England, especially among the elderly, while illness and accident could cause temporary or permanent hearing loss.  Sometimes there were accidental or deliberate attempts to disrupt sermons.

The efficacy of the sermon was not in the sound but in what it stirred up in you. So Ros explained how preachers began to think about how they could infuse the spirit of all their parishioners. They used rhetorical texts which were designed to affect the spiritually deaf, but also the physically deaf.  Texts were written that described the use of gestures, pronunciation and tone.  Specific gestures meant specific things, and these were standardised in the 16th and 17th centuries. Preachers used them to learn how to use their bodies to get their message across. Gestures could articulate a layer of meaning that language couldn’t manage. In England, these texts seemed to be about reminding preachers for the importance of gravity in the pulpit, and were intended to control the preacher’s body. Gestures were believed to be more powerful than speech, and preachers were encouraged to feel emotions themselves before stirring them in other people.

This is also a reason why preachers were concerned about the limitations of printed sermons – readers missed sharing the voice gesture and purpose of the man who gave it.  Preachers and their audiences appreciated the contribution of gesture and tone.

Although the gestures might not have been developed to help those who were deaf or hard of hearing, preachers began to realise that they could use them as a valid alternative to the voice.  This challenged the prevailing tradition that pre-lingually deaf people were to be treated legally as infants, because they were believed to be unable to understand because of their deafness.  The acceptance of a form of sign language meant that deaf people could communicate acceptance, understanding and consent.  She then considered the implications of accepting signing in the marriage service on our understanding of personhood, consent and legality.

We then moved on to a panel made up of three papers. The first was given by Robert W. Daniel (University of Warwick) on ‘Piety, but Quietly: The Devotional Soundscape of Dissenting Households’. He described how the various parts of a prosperous yeoman’s home were used for devotional activities.

Closets were meant to be acoustic barriers to the outside world. They were supposed to be above the noise and closer to heaven, but also to keep the noise of prayer within the closet to.  But there were limits to the privacy of the closet, and it therefore represents something of a liminal space.  Servants and family members could eavesdrop on the prayers taking place within the closet, while other people’s prayers were so loud they could be heard in the street.

Bedchambers were not private spaces, and from day to day were used for meditating, psalm singing and other devotional exercises.  They were also a place for spiritual activities when people were on their deathbeds. Studies were the scholarly dens of gentlemen, especially ministers. But the thin walls between them and the parlour, which was often next door, meant that it could be difficult to concentrate. The parlour was far enough away from the street to be considered acceptable places for prayers, but they were often disrupted by sounds from within the house instead.

It was lovely to hear Eleanor Hedger (University of Birmingham) again, as I haven’t heard her since we were at Maynooth for MedRen several years ago. She spoke on ‘Acoustic Territorialisation and Sonic Conflict in the Early Modern English Prison’. Ellie described how prisoners complained about the avarice of prison officials, and many had a difficult relationship with their keepers. Many prisoners turned to writing and other cultural activities to make their prison experience more bearable.  She described how singing, especially psalm singing, was used as a means to preserve their mental and physical health.  She noted that this was especially true of the Protestant prisoners under Mary I, and that this was one of the reasons that psalm-singing became part of the English Protestant identity.  After the Elizabethan reformation, prisons became filled instead with Catholic altars and the sound of Catholic services. These were not just the celebration of Mass, but also baptisms, dirges, and weddings. These confessional noises sometimes provoked sonic conflicts, while noisy expressions of religious belief were also challenged by the cacophony of drunkenness, cursing, rattling chains or other disorderly noises

The final paper of the three was given by Mary Fairclough (University of York) on ‘Anna Laetitia Barbauld and the Dissenting Art of Reading’. She described how Barbauld developed the practice of reading aloud not just as a pedagogical practise but as a devotional one.  It is a hybrid engagement with the art of reading.  She explained why Thomas Sheridan complained about the poor elocution of English public speakers.  He, like many other elocutionists, was a former actor, but there was another tradition of elocution which came from the dissenters.  They advocate an affective method of speaking. Mary described a gendered response to reading aloud.  Women engaged with the domestic culture of reading, and Barbauld was strongly associated with dissenting educational and teaching activities. Her educational writings focus on young children, writing prose hymns which can be used in lessons. The teacher doesn’t speak to the child, but instead, it brings child and teacher together in reading aloud.

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’.