Recent Talks

“‘Very fals printed’: Typesetting Errors in The Whole Booke of Psalmes and the Failure of Popular Music Education in Sixteenth-Century England,” Conversions: Medieval and Modern Working Group, Duke University, November 15, 2017.

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 we know that the general populace in the early seventeenth century was still musically illiterate. Why did the attempted mass conversion to musical literacy fail? This talk explores the mechanics of early modern music printing as a possible answer. I examine the typesetting errors that plagued the WBP and trace specific problems that severely hindered the book’s music-educational goal. (Featuring photographs from my archival study of 133 editions, and their odd and even humorous typesetting mistakes.)

“Music education for ‘all sortes of people’: Sixteenth-century Protestantism’s push for musical literacy,” Conversions: Medieval and Modern Working Group, Duke University, March 22, 2017.

Among the many theological and liturgical commitments of the various Protestant denominations born in the sixteenth-century Reformations was the belief that all of the laity, rather than just priests and professional choir, should sing in religious services. Congregational singing was enabled and encouraged by printed music books endorsed by Protestant religious authorities, including Lutheran hymnals, the Geneva Psalter, and England’s Whole Booke of Psalmes. However, it was not enough merely to make congregational music available to the common people; in order to use these books, the people had to be taught how to read music.

In this talk, Samantha Arten will argue that confessional conversion was matched by an educational conversion: Protestants advocated for musical literacy (in addition to their more widely discussed contribution to general literacy). She will discuss Luther’s push for music education in schools before turning to the music-theoretical prefaces and solmization syllables (solfège: re, mi, fa, and so on) printed in the Geneva Psalter and The Whole Booke of Psalmes. She will also seek our help in grappling with the problem of female voices, which stems from an apparent contradiction in Protestant thought: a priesthood of all believers means that everyone should have a religious voice, but Paul forbade women to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). Did the Protestant push for musical literacy for the common people include women?

“How to Sing Like a Protestant: Musical Prefaces in Sixteenth-Century Books of Congregational Song,” Conversions: Medieval and Modern Working Group, Duke University, January 26, 2016.

In the Protestant Reformation, both the Lutherans and the Calvinists became defined in part by their particular style of congregational singing. Their hymnals and psalters allowed the distribution of denominationally distinctive musical and textual content. The letters to the reader found in these printed books also offered the opportunity for the reformers themselves to share their understanding of the role of music in worship and advocate for their own theologically informed ideology of music. Reformation England too was marked by a specific printed book of congregational song: first published in 1562, The Whole Booke of Psalmes was reissued at least once every year, with perhaps a million copies produced by 1640. Rapidly and enthusiastically adopted by the English people for both public worship and private devotion, these English metrical psalms proved to be a critical means of teaching and enabling Protestant (Church of England) practice and belief. However, unlike continental Protestants’ printed books of congregational song, the WBP contains no letter to the reader from a prominent English reformer; it contains prefatory material of a very different sort. How do the prefaces of these three hymnals and psalters reflect and guide confessional identity and musical reform? According to these three books, what does it mean to sing like a Protestant?