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15 December 2017

28. The philological wading pool

A month ago I was privileged to be part of a panel titled Rethinking Primary Sources for the Music History Classroom at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society.  It was more of a workshop than a panel, as the four presenters had each brought an assignment we have used with our classes, and the audience then did the assignment.  I picked up a lot of good ideas from the other panelists.  I was there to talk about musical textsspecifically how I try to get my students to be more aware of how a musical text gets to be the way it isand that many (sometimes well-meaning) hands may interfere.

Below I will describe the assignment I presented, but I will digress here to mention its inspiration.  My father was also a college professor.  His degree was in ancient near eastern archaeology, but working at a small college meant that he ended up teaching across the history curriculum, as well as classics and religion.  By the end of his career, most of his time was consumed teaching Hebrew and the Hebraic scriptures in the seminary that shared the campus with the college.  For one of his courses there he designed an assignment that he referred to as the fishand it was one that his former students continue to talk about (whenever I run into them) more than ten years after his death.

The fish referred to Samuel Scudder’s account of his studies under Louis Agassiz at Harvard in the 1850show Scudder had learned to see only by being forced to take the time to look at the fish for days on end.  My father was pursuing a similar end with his assignment, in which the students were to attempt to reconcile the chronologies of the kings of Judah and Israel as transmitted in the different biblical accounts.  On the assignment (reproduced here), he noteswith a characteristic understatementIt is likely you will have difficulty in doing this.  The UNDERLINED BOLD ALL CAPS text for emphasis is also characteristic.  (I dont know for how many years he used this assignment, but the worksheets that go with it were all prepared on a typewriter.  That may well be because that was a method he was much more accustomed to using than trying to do a table in Microsoft Word.)

In fact, my father didnt care what solution a student came up with for the textual difficulties this assignment compelled them to confront.  There was no one right answer.  The point was the confrontation itself.  These were students intending to enter the Christian ministry, and he thought it was crucially important that they be confronted with real textual difficulties in the Bible.  The dates dont line up.  Some students, he told me, would perform all manner of mathematical gymnastics to establish that every syllable of the Holy Writ available to them was inerrant.  At the other extreme, some students reaction was to hell with it.  It did not matter to my father where the students placed themselves on that continuum, but he wanted them to become aware of their attitude toward the text itself.

It seems like a descent from the sublime to the trivial to lay out my own fish assignment, as mine is aimed at nothing more than raising my students consciousness of textual issues at all.  Where my father was throwing his students into the deep end, my assignment was just a chance for mine to get their feet wet in the philological wading pool.  But I hope it sticksthat it makes them view any musical text put before them thereafter with a little skepticism:  Why is it thus?  How did it get that way?

There are many ways one might approach such an assignment.  I commend to your attention Rachel Scotts interesting article treating edition selection as a way of teaching information literacy, and particularly the worksheet she suggests as a pedagogical method.  My own assignment is a practical assignment of a different sort, but also requires an examination of multiple sources of the same musical work.

I decided for this assignment to use a hymn-tune because
  1.  such tunes are short 
  2.  they have often appeared in dozens (and sometimes hundreds and more) editions, each of which is a valid source for the assignment
  3.  via the website hymnary.org, many of those editions are readily available to my students
  4.  the transmission of a hymn-tune from one source to another may be straightforward copying of a full four-part texture, but it may just as likely be that the melody alone is taken overperhaps even from memoryand a new setting is devised; or an editor may make any number of alterations to suit himself (and for much of the history of hymnal production, it is inevitably himself)
  5. if you find a hymn-tune that is generally familiar outside of the church, students may more readily grasp the relevance of otherwise esoteric textual issues to real musical life.
And so I settled on the anonymous tune ANTIOCH, pretty much universally associated with Isaac Wattss Psalm paraphrase Joy to the world! the Lord is come.  The tune is admittedly more widely known in the United States than elsewhere, but as such it fitted my students pretty well.  Its origins are obscure, and it is regularly attributed to either Lowell Mason or G. F. Handel (no doubt because portions of it sound like the beginnings of two different numbers in his Messiah:  Lift up your heads and Comfort ye, my people) or both.  Certainly Mason propagated it, but it seems to be of English origins, with its first appearance in the 1830s.  (Many hymnologists have taken notice of this, but a handy and widely-available summary can be found in The New Oxford Book of Carols, p. 273.)

And so, my assignment:
Because they were transmitted primarily by rote memorization by musically illiterate congregations (unlike texts, which could be read from the page by anyone verbally literate), older hymn-tunes often exist in many variants. The purpose of this assignment is to get you to look for any distinct lines of transmission of the printed sources of a particular hymn-tune, called ANTIOCHand perhaps familiar to you associated with Isaac Watts’s text “Joy to the World!” Go to the page for this tune at Hymnary.org, and select any EIGHT of the page scans at the bottom of the page. Print these off (although BE SURE TO NOTE the source of each, as this is on the webpage but wouldn’t be on the printed copy) and study them, looking for any variants you can find. While I am more interested in melodic textual variants, you should also look at the harmonizations: if you come across two identical harmonizations, they are pretty much guaranteed to be in the same line of transmission. Note also the verbal text: any alterations or omitted verses are significant clues. Don’t just print off the first eight it gives you—look around for some interesting ones. (There are some with some really glaring errors—including a completely misplaced first system.)  Turn in to me:
  1.  A list of your eight sources, numbered 1–8 (in chronological order, as best that can be determined), with the bibliographic details for each from Hymnary.org
  2.  The eight page scans you printed, numbered to match
  3.  A diagram (stemma) to indicate how sources 1–8 are related, if at all
  4.  Notes of the idiosyncracies you spotted that allowed you to construct the diagram (You don’t need to account for every detail, just enough to show me how you sorted it out.)

I thus make clear to my students that they have a very incomplete data set.  From the dozens they might look at, I ask for only eight.  Then, however, they are expected to take those eight and treat them as the sole surviving sources, collating the readings and then trying to connect them in any ways they can.  I call the assignment armchair philology because they are spared the trouble of finding recalcitrant sources, and there are no consequences to ignoring all the evidence beyond their eight selections.

For my presentation at AMS a month ago, I picked eight and distributed them to the audience.  I usually allow a week for my students to do thiseven if they wait until the night beforebut my AMS crowd had about eight minutes to do the best they could.  And even with just a few sources, there is much to be seen.  Consider these three sources, for example:

CS:  Carmina Sacra or Boston Collection of Church Music, ed. Lowell Mason  (2nd Ed., 1841)

SH:  The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, ed. William Walker (“New” Ed., 1854)
SOURCE: resolution of https://www.ccel.org/ccel/walker/harmony2/files/png75/Antioch.png was so poor that this is from IMSLP #168494

Sum:  Songs of Summerland, ed. Thoro Harris  (1943)
While it is clear that The Southern Harmony version is taken from Carmina Sacrait even gives the attributionthere is a substantial change in the musical text:  where Carmina Sacra gives a four-part texture (with the melody on the the staff directly above the bass, as is customary in such sources), The Southern Harmony only gives three parts, deleting the second staff of Carmina Sacra.  There are a few other changes:  SH translates everything into shaped notes; omits the sustained accompanying bass note in the third phrase of CSalso deleting the figured bass (that only show up in the first few bars of CS anyway).  Both of these sources transmit a slight variant in Wattss hymn, beginning the second stanza with "Joy to the world" instead of his original Joy to the earth.  They also preserve an archaic variant ending for the end of stanza 3:  rather than gleeful repetitions of the extent of the taint of original sin (far as the curse is found! far as the curse is found! far as, far as the curse is found!), this version truncates the verse abruptly to get on with the good news.

The version of Songs of Summerland (1943)a Seventh Day Adventist publication far removed in time from either of the nineteenth century sources aboveis also directly connected to this line of transmission, notwithstanding the very different lyric to which it is set.  Like SH, Sum conveys only a three-part texture derived from the reading given in CS, but this time it is the top staff of CS that is omitted; and of course in Sum it is reworked into a melody-at-the-top format.  (The added tenor third in the final chord is surely editorial.)  My students could thus determine that, whether or not CS was the direct source for Sum (as there may be other sources in between, or they may share a common ancestor), Sum could not possibly be derived from SH.  If we had only these three data pointsour stemma would be like the one at right.

Adding a fourth source naturally complicates the stemma, even when it too is clearly connected to the same line of transmission, with the same basic harmonization.

AncSong Anchor: A Choice Collection of Favorites for Sabbath School and Praise Servicesed. J. E. White  (1878) 
Indeed, except for an apparent error (tenor voice, first note of b. 2), this is the same harmonization presented in CS.  Like SH, the sustained bass of the third phrase has been eliminated; like Sum, the format is modernized to put the melody at the top; a tiny variant occurs in the penultimate bar in the tenor, where the introduction of an eighth note allows all voices to change syllables at the same time, but does not affect the harmony.  None of these, save perhaps the first, is substantial enough to require the stemma to posit any number of hypothetical lost sources (even though we know that many such sources have not been consulted for this exercise).  Thus whether one favors the stemma on the right or the one on the left depends on how likely the elimination of the sustained bass tone was arrived at independently.
But then along comes a source to complicate things:

SSSongs for the Sanctuary: or Hymns and Tunes for Christian Worship, ed. Chas. S. Robinson  (1868)
The date of publication puts this clearly before Anc, but it shares the same tenor figure in the penultimate bar and the lack of the sustained bass in the third phrase.  While it is essentially the same harmonization of CS, it has been transposed down to Dand there is a slight but significant modification which essentially exchanges the alto and tenor voices in the first two bars.  Something has also gone wrong with the text setting at the beginning of what ought to be the last phrasealthough that may just be a type-setting error.  Most importantly, this source has a short notea dotted quarterat the end of the second phrase (on King of Let earth receive her King); all the other sources reviewed thus far have a note twice as long at this point.  For all these reasons, SS is clearly not an ancestor of Anc (or, for that matter, Sum), yet it is closer to Anc than any other.  Here the stemma could allow for a hypothetical common ancestor, explaining the similarities while also acknowledging the variants:
The other three sources I gave my AMS audience presented wholly different lines of transmissionthat is to say, different harmonizations (some straightforward, some showy), some with the long-held King note, some with the short.  For these,  at least with the data available, the stemma branches  would only meet at the hypothetical Ur-text [x].  Over the years of using this assignment in class, I note that my students tend too readily to assume that this x marks the only meeting place for any of the sources.  The fact that it is seldom sothat indeed these sources are connected by complicated websis only revealed by a minute study of the details.  As Agassiz instructed, Look at the fish.
SOURCE:   "Haemulon melanurum" from Wikimedia Commons

It is my contention that Agassizs scientific dictum should be the creed of any text critic:  Facts are stupid things until brought into connection with some general law.  A variant reading may be curious, but it is no more than that until it can be explained as part of a larger scheme.  The critics task is not merely the mechanical listing of variants, but rather the creative connection of the dots to propose some pattern.  And anyone can learn to do that, with time and patienceprecious commodities in this day and time.

Although Ive used this assignment with many students, I have had the opportunity to use it only once since starting this blog, and so the work of those most recent students in that very small class certainly led to the examples I used here.  They deserve to be acknowledged:  Taylor Hedger, Sarah Vermazen, and David Bates.  I thank them for taking this assignment so seriously.