Slow death, 16th century style ; to be repeated in the 21st century ?
In 1547, all places of education outside the universities (who themselves narrowly escaped confiscation of their lands and therefore income) were closed down and their assets stripped by a failing state, along with hospitals (almshouses) and chantries. In 1548 the whole Latin repertoire of composed English music disappeared in a holocaust of 250,000 MS and printed books. The first Prayer Books of 1549 and 1551 completed the process of removing music from churches. It took less than a hundred years for thousands of organs to disappear from churches. Then it took 300 more years for levels of provision of education to reach those of the 1530s, meanwhile leaving a cowed and illiterate population subject to the whims and fancies of autocratic rulers of all shades.
In the last years of the 20th century, most churches quite deliberately started to give up any educational role in the community – or indeed any community role at all, becoming for the most part enclosed, hermetic congregations. Organs were disused, choirs disbanded and the precious chain of choral-musical education that had been fostered before by the church was broken. Now there are not enough candidates for organ scholarships in university colleges to fill all posts with potentially good players, and the likelihood is that there will soon not be enough choral scholar material either, for the same reasons.
So will the end of this century see the disappearance of serious music from a country (ours) that was once so famous for it ? Or are we going to make a serious attempt to keep the grass roots going in the face of church closures, ecclesiastical indifference hardening into opposition, and a political climate turning to xenophobia, national introversion (Brexit) and religious strife – just as in the later part of the 1500s ?
The conference will attempt to see a way through, using the knowledge of the mistakes of the past – will you be there to help, or don’t you think it’s worth a fight ?
Conference booking (free) via soundsmedieval.org home page, please.