Recent and Upcoming Conference Papers

Past papers are available upon request.

“Anti-Ballad Sentiment in Tudor Collections of Metrical Scriptural Paraphrase,” Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, Lisbon/virtual, July 5-9, 2021.

Criticism of ballads was a feature of hymnals and other collections of metrical scriptural paraphrase in sixteenth-century England, which often promoted their sacred songs as a wholesome alternative. In this paper, I analyze the moralizing sentiment directed at secular songs, and often at ballads explicitly, found prominently in these books’ title pages and prefatory material. My work reveals a trend in this moralizing content: although anti-ballad polemic was a hallmark of the first flourishing of printed collections of metrical scriptural paraphrase (c. 1535-1567), the second wave (1578-1599) did not feature similar anti-ballad sentiments. Surprisingly, this general trend appears at odds with Protestant tactics regarding the adaptation or rejection of secular art forms (cf. Patrick Collinson’s analysis of this shift, “dated quite precisely to 1580”) as well as quantitative trends in the printing of godly ballads (cf. Tessa Watt).

“The ‘Ballad Controversy’ Revisited: Anti-Ballad Sentiment and Praises of Music in the Tudor Period,” Renaissance Society of America Conference, virtual, April 13-15 and 20-22.

In the early 1560s, following the coronation of Elizabeth I, a current of cultural anxiety surrounded ballads, producing attacks on music in general as immoral. Hyder Rollins wrote in 1919 of  a “ballad controversy” made up of a single antagonist (Thomas Brice) and four “praise of music” writings (three of them literally called “commendations of music”) by Henry Spooner, Thomas Churchyard, Nicholas Whight, and Richard Edwards, which were published in response to Brice’s anti-ballad sentiment. These works continue to be discussed as a group in the scholarly literature. In this paper, I will problematize the straightforward narrative of a 1561-1563 “ballad controversy”  and show that controversy over ballads was located not in the laus musicae topos but instead in the first wave of printed collections of metrical scriptural paraphrase, and that this controversy originated not in the 1560s but dates back to c. 1535.

“‘Who do you say that I am?’ Signifying ‘Jesusness’ in James MacMillan’s Passions,” Society for Christian Scholarship in Music Conference, virtual, February 25-27, 2021. Co-authored with theologian Isaac Arten.

The question “Who do you say that I am?” posed by Jesus to his disciples in the three synoptic Gospels is key to their narrative and interpretation. This question challenges communities gathered around Jesus—in the ancient world and today—to articulate their understanding of his identity and significance. Depictions of Jesus in artistic forms make theological claims about the nature and character of God and humanity, the relationship between the two, and the ethical stance towards each other demanded by this relationship. This project, a collaboration between a musicologist and a theologian, is centrally concerned with the compositional choices made in setting a Passion narrative to music. Of particular interest are the theological implications of Jesus’ voice: who does the composer say that Christ is, and how does the musical work direct the audience’s gaze to locate Jesus?

James MacMillan’s St John Passion (premiered 2007) and the St Luke Passion (premiered 2014), form the first half of his lifetime project of setting all four Gospels’ Passion narratives. More recently, MacMillan composed a new resurrection chorus for Streetwise Opera’s 2016 production, with The Sixteen, of an abridged version of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St Matthew Passion. This paper will explore how these three works present distinct musical arguments about the identity of Christ—in the words of Penny Woolcock, director of the Streetwise Passion, how these works “signify ‘Jesusness.’” In MacMillan’s St John Passion, Jesus is sung by an “angry” baritone soloist; in the St Luke Passion, by a three-part children’s choir; and in the Streetwise Passion, by a succession of eight amateur singers who have experienced homelessness. The images of Jesus shown in MacMillan’s three Passions move from the abstract to the concrete, from the singular divine Jesus in St John, to the trinitarian Jesus in St Luke, to the most challenging depiction of a liberative Christology in the Streetwise Opera’s St Matthew. Drawing on liberation theologians Jon Sobrino and Ada María Isasi-Díaz, we will analyze how the trajectory of MacMillan’s Passions increasingly locates Jesus not only in the “everyman, everywoman” (Woolcock) but reveals the “Jesusness” of the vulnerable, those Sobrino identifies as the world’s “crucified people.”

“Singing The Whole Booke of Psalmes”, paper delivered at two conferences:
Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, Edinburgh, July 1-4, 2020. Conference held online due to COVID-19.
North American British Music Studies Association Conference, Illinois State University, Normal, IL, July 23-26, 2020. Conference held online due to COVID-19.

The success of The Whole Booke of Psalmes (1562), the primary hymnal of the early Church of England, seems to have been due to unruly musical performance that resisted the performance instructions in the psalter. Based on my close study of manuscript annotations in 222 book-copies, I examine tensions between publisher intention, the printed text, and embodied reception, contrasting the musical practice transmitted by the WBP with the messy use of the psalter by congregations and individuals. Responding to a myriad of problems related to its printing, including 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 near-absence of musical corrections and the frequent appearance of marginalia and other reader annotations engaging with the psalter’s textual content points toward an audience largely unable to read music, and supports the prevailing scholarly consensus, led especially by Nicholas Temperley and Christopher Marsh, that the English people were not using the printed “proper” tunes when singing their metrical psalms. Instead, they seem to have used “common” tunes like those printed in Thomas East’s The Whole Booke of Psalmes: With Their Wonted Tunes (1592 and 1594 editions), or alternately, any of the many popular ballad tunes found in the same meter. In this we can see popular resistance to Calvinist musical practice as well as to the anti-ballad sentiment that was a hallmark of the genre of metrical scriptural paraphrase, and a performative practice that represents forms of musical literacy beyond the ability to read musical notation.

“God is pleasde, with such lyke armony”: Protestant Praise of Music in Elizabethan and Early Jacobean England,” Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, Basel, July 2-6, 2019.

Responding to arguments of music’s inherent immorality and critiques of church music, praises of music in Elizabethan and early Jacobean England usually employed theological reasoning alongside classical and mythological explanations. This paper examines Protestant elements in the genre, discussing the use of Scripture and the writings of the church fathers, examining how these ideas are used to defend music and musical practice, and accounting for the authors’ choices of particular biblical passages and patristic authors. Alongside reference to several shorter works in the praise of music genre, I closely analyze two under-examined longer texts: the extended praise of music in Thomas Whythorne’s autobiography (1576) and the “Praise of Musick” manuscript (BL Royal MS. 18. B. XIX).

“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.