Conference Papers

Past papers are available upon request.

“Unruly Protestant Bodies: Practicing Anglicanism with The Whole Booke of Psalmes,” Renaissance Society of America, Toronto, March 17-19, 2019.

By the end of the sixteenth century, The Whole Booke of Psalmes (1562, with yearly reprints) had become a symbol of English Protestantism, and its monophonic metrical psalms a hallmark of English Protestant music. Yet the psalter’s success, illustrated by its rapid and enthusiastic adoption by the English people for both public worship and private devotion, was due in part to its audiences failing to use it as directed. This paper examines tensions between publisher intention as illustrated by the printed text and the WBP’s embodied reception, shown by the idiosyncratic and often unruly use of the psalter by congregations and individuals. Responding to problems of poor general literacy (and an even greater lack of musical literacy), memorization demanded by page turns, conflicting tune references, and music typesetting errors, the English laity seem to have eagerly performed the scriptural texts of the WBP but substituted different tunes when they sang.

“The Pedagogical Failure of The Whole Booke of Psalmes,” Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, Maynooth University, Ireland, July 5–8, 2018.

Among sixteenth-century England’s most popular printed books was The Whole Booke of Psalmes, a hymnal that sought to teach its readers how to read music. Yet the seventeenth-century practice of lining out and the early Jacobean Praise of musick manuscript (BL Royal MS.18.B.XIX) suggest that the average churchgoer remained musically illiterate. I argue that this failure of music education was due to the prevalence of music typesetting errors in sixteenth-century printed psalters. Despite the musical didacticism of the music preface and printed solmization syllables found in many psalter editions, the usefulness of the WBP in promoting musical literacy was severely hampered by seemingly musically-illiterate compositors and a lack of editorial oversight—some resulting musical scores so error-laden that they were virtually unsingable.

“Meaning in the Margins of The Whole Booke of Psalmes: Annotations, Musical Performance, and Devotional Use,” Lasting Impressions: Music and Material Cultures of Print in Early Modern Europe, University of Salzburg, June 28-30, 2018.

The Whole Booke of Psalmes, the English Reformation’s most prominent hymnal and indeed, one of sixteenth-century England’s most popular printed books, held parallel identities as a devotional text, a musical songbook, and an introductory music theory treatise. Having viewed hundreds of book-copies of Elizabethan editions (from the first edition in 1562 through 1603), I have observed a wide variety of manuscript annotations. Such markings can be categorized as those that do not engage with the psalter’s content, such as scribbles, doodles, ownership marks, and birth and death announcements, and those that do, including glosses and corrections. In this talk, I consider what these annotations reveal about musical performance and devotional use of the psalter. Comparison with annotations found in other printed music books from Elizabethan England proves instructive. Evidently, the WBP was primarily thought of as an aid to prayer rather than a music book; readers annotated the WBP differently than other printed music collections, and failed to engage with its musical notation in the same way they did the psalter’s printed texts.

“Protestant Advocacy for Musical Literacy: The Whole Booke of Psalmes as Music Textbook and Theory Treatise,” American Musicological Society, Rochester, NY, November 9-12, 2017.

It has often been noted that Protestant ideology led to an increase in general literacy rates in the sixteenth century. It is less often said, however, that Protestants helped advance musical literacy. Based on the evidence of The Whole Booke of Psalmes, by far the most popular and frequently printed book of music in sixteenth-century England, I argue that English Protestantism did exactly that. The epistle to the reader found in the first edition of 1562 and several subsequent editions served as an introductory music theory treatise intended to aid readers in learning to sing the Psalms and also any other “playne and easy Songes as these are.” Later editions included a music typeface that contained solmization syllables along with a new preface explaining their use.

In this paper, I explore the WBP’s identity as a music textbook that advocated for musical literacy and a music theory treatise that advanced theoretical ideas concerning pitch in sixteenth-century England. First, I will show that both the music preface and the solmization psalters were far more prevalent than scholarship currently acknowledges, and examine how the two musical prefaces found in the WBP helped to advance the cause of popular music. I will take a close look at its solmization system, demonstrating that early modern England’s fixed-scale solmization system, discussed by Timothy Johnson and Jessie Ann Owens, was actually initiated in The Whole Booke of Psalmes in 1569, a full generation prior to Bathe’s c. 1596 Briefe Introduction to the Skill of Song and Morley’s 1597 Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke. Finally, I will explain how these didactic aids served the Protestant musical ideology found in this psalter. In this way, I offer a new interpretation of sixteenth-century English Protestantism’s relationship to musical literacy.

“‘Faithfully perused and alowed’: John Day’s Claims of Authority and Authorization for The Whole Booke of Psalmes,” Gloriana Society, London, UK, November 18-20, 2016.

John Day’s publication of metrical psalters in 1560-1562, culminating in the 1562 Whole Booke of Psalmes, introduced an entirely new genre to England: metrical psalmody as congregational song. Along with English Bibles, Books of Common Prayer, and official Books of Homilies mandated for use in parish churches, the WBP was enthusiastically adopted as a symbol of English Protestantism.

In this paper, I will argue that Day made a multifaceted effort to establish the WBP as an authoritative Protestant text through appeals to Scripture, scholarship, the ancient church, and the state. I analyze the psalter’s claim to translational accuracy and the seeming legitimation created by the inclusion of a prefatory essay by St. Athanasius. Informed by historical theologian Kenneth Parker’s work on Reformation Protestants’ supercessionist metanarrative of the Christian past (an emerging Protestant way of using history in anti-Catholic polemics), I show that the WBP not only portrayed itself as valid translation, but an essential corrective to other (read: Roman Catholic) corruptions to the ancient tradition.

Furthermore, without any official monarchical or ecclesiastical authorization of metrical psalmody to be used in church, Day positioned the 1562 WBP as authorized through reference to Elizabeth’s 1559 Injunctions and by advertising Day’s psalter patent, granted by the Queen herself. In doing so, he aligned the book firmly with the English crown and the Church of England. Ecclesiastical records from the early 1560s make it clear that Day’s musical psalters were employed in a church setting, variously with or without the support of religious officials. These sources demonstrate Day’s success in his attempt to construct a legitimate genre of congregational song for England.

“Transitioning from Hexachords to Fixed-Scale Solmization in The Whole Booke of Psalmes,” South Central Graduate Music Consortium, Duke University, Durham, NC, September 30-October 1, 2016.

Jessie Ann Owens has argued that English music theorists in the late sixteenth century consistently employed a static scalar assignment of solmization syllables rather than the medieval hexachordal system. Her argument draws on theory treatises produced around the turn of the seventeenth century, especially William Bathe’s c. 1596 Briefe Introduction to the Skill of Song and Thomas Morley’s 1597 Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke. In fact, the English shift from traditional hexachords to fixed scales was initiated a full generation earlier in The Whole Booke of Psalmes. First printed in 1562, many editions of this psalter beginning in 1569 used a music typeface that contained solmization syllables and included a new preface explaining their use. My study of these psalters has revealed that the system found in The Whole Booke of Psalmes is transitional, a link between continental and later English styles of solmization. In this paper, I will discuss the way in which The Whole Booke of Psalmes systematizes and explains the assignment of solmization syllables to absolute pitches, and compare this system with continental hexachord theory, Bathe’s and Morley’s treatises, and four earlier works from Geneva dated 1550-1562 which similarly printed solmization syllables.