Wode show re­veals mu­sic's cen­tral role in so­ci­ety

The Herald - Arts - - HIGHLIGHTS - Keith Bruce

Amid all the en­thu­si­asm for the great re­vival in choral singing, and the par­tic­u­lar ex­am­ple of the bloom­ing National Youth Choir of Scot­land net­work, there is a per­ti­nent ex­hi­bi­tion that war­rants a flood of last-minute at­ten­dance be­fore it closes on Fri­day.

Singing the Ref­or­ma­tion, at Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity Li­brary in the cap­i­tal's Ge­orge Square, is a rev­e­la­tion. It is based around the Part­books of Thomas Wode, a prag­matic cler­gy­man of the 16th cen­tury whose pub­li­ca­tions pre­date the King James Bi­ble, the 400th an­niver­sary of which has been much marked this year.

Wode, who was a Catholic monk be­fore the Protes­tant Ref­or­ma­tion when he swapped codes, cre­ated his har­mon­i­sa­tions of the Psalms to the com­mis­sion of Lord James Ste­wart, half brother of Mary Queen of Scots and Scot­land's Re­gent when James VI was an in­fant. The most com­plete set of his four-part set­tings is in the spe­cial col­lec­tion of the univer­sity, but fas­ci­nat­ing early mu­sic and other pub­li­ca­tions from else­where are in the show, which re­veals how cul­tur­ally so­phis­ti­cated Scot­land was in these tur­bu­lent times.

It was also more tol­er­ant than might be sup­posed, as Wode and his as­so­ci­ates in­cluded “papist” mu­sic with the Psalter, sup­pos­edly the sole per­mit­ted song­book of Knox's Calvin­ist church.

With as­so­ci­ated craft­work and in­stru­ments in the re­mark­able com­pact nar­ra­tive dis­play, this re­mains es­sen­tially a show about mu­sic, and the cen­tral place it has al­ways had in Scot­tish so­ci­ety.

Wode's no­ta­tion may be im­pen­e­tra­ble to most play­ers now, but it is clearly re­lated, and so too was the de­sire to have young peo­ple trained in mu­sic. Only a cou­ple of decades af­ter choir­boys went the way of all Ro­man­ish flour­ishes, James VI passed the Act of Timeous Re­meid (which is in the ex­hi­bi­tion) re-es­tab­lish­ing “songschools” across Scot­land at pub­lic ex­pense. Now there's a his­toric de­ci­sion to em­u­late.

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