Breaking into song with Victorian Quakers | News | Music

Lecturer in music Jo Hicks recently took part in a study day hosted by the Nineteenth-Century Song Club and the University of Notre Dame in London

The Nineteenth-Century Song Club ( is a project that attempts to open up an extended conversation between musicologists, historians, folklorists, and literary scholars about the role of song in the nineteenth century. Our latest meeting took place in London in October and centred on the poetics and politics of breaking into song.

Contributions addressed a range of topics and case studies, including: famous Georgian and Victorian actors who sang in parts of their solo shows; Napoleonic-era vaudeville and the conundrum of one character replying in song to another character who only ever speaks; Chartist meetings where attempts to protest in song never quite got off the ground; historical theories of music cognition based on the desire to complete musical phrases; and much more besides.

Jo’s talk, ‘How Can I Keep from Singing? Notes on a Quaker Dilemma’, explored the occasional emergence of singing in nineteenth-century Friends’ Meetings. This was despite longstanding resistance, on the part of Quakers, to congregational hymns and any other forms of pre-ordained service structures. Given that the emphasis was so squarely on spontaneity, and the idea of being moved to utterance only by the Holy Spirit, there was much debate about whether it was ever appropriate to break into song–or join in with singing–as part of religious meetings.

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