Victorian listening contexts

Parallel session A6 (Chair: Helen Barlow)
25 Oct 2015
15:10 - 16:10
Recital Hall

Victorian listening contexts

Listening to a singing people: accounts of Methodist hymn singing

Dr Martin Clarke, The Open University

This paper explores the benefits of listening to a variety of Methodist voices and their accounts of Methodist hymn singing to develop a deeper understanding of trends and attitudes to hymnody in nineteenth-century Methodism. It is framed by consideration of ‘official’ voices: John Wesley’s various observations on eighteenth-century hymn singing during his travelling ministry, and a published account of the launch of The Methodist Hymn Book at the 1904 Wesleyan Methodist Conference. These indicate a shift from Wesley’s criticism of choir-dominated hymn singing to a situation where choral singing of items from the new hymnal is a warmly regarded feature of the 1904 Conference service. Documentary evidence from published hymnals will be used to illustrate this gradual shift. Meanwhile, other voices from across nineteenth-century Methodism will be placed in counterpoint with this seemingly smooth and gradual shift. More provincial and localised voices from both Primitive and Wesleyan Methodism will be used to present a more complex musical picture, in which tradition and innovation and congregational and choral singing coexisted. Reference to musical publications associated with the centenary of John Wesley’s death (1891) will provide one illustration of this complexity. The paper concludes with a reflection on the importance of listening experiences alongside the evidence of published materials such as hymnals.

A recreation of the greatest ‘curative influence’: music in the Victorian lunatic asylums

Jacqueline Morgan, The University of Birmingham

Music has, throughout time, been noted for its therapeutic effects, especially on the brain, with recent studies emphasising the healing power of music for brain disorders (Thompson & Shlaug, 2015). However, music therapy is not a modern phenomenon; metaphors of the ‘tuning’ of the brain and Platonian theories of the soul and body being bound together like a stringed instruments have appeared frequently in the history of medicine. The invisible forces of music and the mind have commonly been inextricably linked and it is, therefore, unsurprising that music became an integral part of the early psychiatric institutions, especially in the Victorian lunatic asylums, when theories such as Mesmerism were at the height of their popularity. While the history of the musical life of the asylum is limited, asylum reports frequently mention weekly dances, concerts and singing-lessons for the patients. Powick Asylum, in Worcester, was one of the asylums that invested greatly in its musical resources, due to its forward-thinking superintendent, Dr James Sherlock who hired renowned English composer, Edward Elgar, as asylum bandmaster in 1879. Often dismissed as an additional recreational activity, such as sport, music was, in fact, often integral to patients’ treatment, as Dr Sherlock comments in 1857: ‘no other means of recreation have been observed capable of realizing a similarly curative influence.’ This paper will explore the musical life at the Powick asylum and by drawing together the most recent research on music therapy it will take a fresh look at musical healing in the asylum.