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  • Writer's pictureTim Braithwaite

Thomas Morley on the Embarrassment of being Unable to Sing a Part at Sight (1597)

‘But supper having ended, and music books having been brought to the table, according to the custom: the mistress of the house presented me with a part, earnestly requesting me to sing. But when, after many excuses I protested sincerely that I could not: everyone began to wonder. Some whispered to others, demanding how I was brought up: so that, filled with shame of my ignorance, I now go to seek out my old friend master Gnorimus in order to make myself his student.’

‘But supper being ended, and Musicke bookes, according to the custome being brought to the table: the mistresse of the house presented mee with a part, earnestly requesting mee to sing. But when after manie excuses, I protested vnfainedly that I could not: euerie one began to wonder. Yea, some whispered to others, demaunding how I was brought vp: so that vpon shame of mine ignorance I go nowe to seeke out mine olde frinde master Gnorimus, to make my selfe his scholler.’



Thomas Morley, A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music (London: Peter Short, 1597).

This hypothetical passage provides the springboard for Morley to introduce the fundamentals of singing in the first part of his book such as solmisation, the notes and note-values, ligatures, and proportions.

The painting below is ‘Het Vrolijke Huisgezin’ (‘The Happy Household,’) by Jan Steen, painted in 1668.

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