The Student Vagabond

The Vagabond has a great sense of what he missed in not being born in the Middle Ages missed-but that is a detail. The Vagabond's heart longs for the sight of glistening helmets and of faire ladyes beneath silken canopies, for the savor of oxen roasted whole in the castle hall, for the hilarious joy of skating with all London on the frozen Thames. But most of all his heart longs for the sight of a Friar Tuck downing his ale in a country tavern.

Of all the degrees of men who have walked the earth the Vagabond is drawn most to those monks and minor canons who hid beneath their flowing robes (or displayed about their flowing bowls) a rare humor, boundless Joie de vivre, and a fine disdain for official authority.

Singing medieval church music was too much for the irrepressible spirit of these jolly clerics. The austerity and the monotony of plainsong they found a bore. They began by introducing words of their own into the mass the tenor of the new text was more entertaining, if not always reverent. They improvised new parts, every man carrying boldly forward regardless of the incredible cacophony which they produced. Each man bawled out his own part in his own time more or less regardless of his neighbors, trusting to Heaven that he might end with the rest. Words of the mass were fitted to folk-tunes and the forbidden modes of secular music were smuggled into the church service. On top of all this the singers are reported to have indulged in violent swaying of the body, in facial contortions, and in the practice of omitting animal cries when the spirit moved. Things went so for that Pope John 22nd issued an edict in 1322 forbidding all singing in parts and all extemporaneous ornamentation of the music. The written scores were made to conform to the rules, but the singers went on singing what they liked.

When the Vagabond goes to the Music. Building this afternoon at four-thirty to sing medieval church music, he will rejoice to imitate the careless abandon with which the uncontrollable monks sang their parts. He will feel deep gratitude to the men whose refusal to obey the binding rules of the church made possible the development of the materials of modern music and prepared the way immediately for Palestinian and Bach. He will be grateful, too, that the discordance of the medieval descants will keep his neighbor from noticing it too easily when the Vagabond sings out of key.