This event has now finished.
  • Date and time: Wednesday 28 July 2021, 5.30pm to 7pm
  • Location: Online
  • Audience: Open to alumni, staff, students, the public
  • Admission: Free admission, booking required

Event details

Channel your inner bard!

Cædmon’s Hymn is the oldest recorded song or poem in English. It was quite literally dreamed up, sometime between 658 and 680 C.E., by Cædmon, a cow-herder from Whitby. Although he could neither read, nor write, nor sing, Cædmon was suddenly gifted with divine inspiration one night and spontaneously created his famous 'hymn', thereafter composing many other songs that were widely renowned for their beauty. The words of Cædmon's Hymn survived through oral tradition—presumably Whitby monks who heard him sing—before being written down in the 8th century, in copies of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which narrates the strange story of its creation. The time of Cædmon was rich in music and poetry. In the evenings, people gathered around the fire to pass the lyre and trade songs, and wandering bards carried news from community to community, preserving ancestral histories in musical form. In those days, human memories were still quite efficient since there was no Instagram to wear them down! So, music was created and transmitted orally; not a single note of this tradition ever needed to be written down. No songs in Old English are recorded at all, and no music in Latin either, until the mid 9th century. Sadly, then, we will never know the correct melody to fit Cædmon's words. And, the words themselves and story of their creation are similarly shrouded in mystery. As is so often the case with our earliest recorded histories, it’s impossible to disentangle the factual from the mythological. How closely do the surviving words (written down long after he died) resemble what Cædmon actually sang? And did Cædmon even exist at all?

For those of us who love to delve into deep history, these dense knots of unanswerable questions can seem like frustrating obstacles. But in this workshop, composer Stef Conner and medieval music singer Hanna Marti invite you to treat them as exciting opportunities to exercise the imagination! You’ll reconstruct your own Cædmon’s Hymn, as Stef and Hanna guide you through a selection of musical evidence—from late antiquity and early medieval Europe to contemporary folksong—that offers clues as to how the Old English singing tradition might have sounded. In this exploration there are no wrong ideas—only interesting theories and opportunities to create. We’ll be looking at how we collectively imagine the ancient world and asking why; exploring heavy historical scholarship in a light-hearted way; reflecting on how our memories operate as we learn and create new music; absorbing (and embodying) the earliest form of English; and (most importantly) embracing the opportunity to soar on a wild but historically informed flight of fancy! The workshop is completely free and all are welcome (under 18s must have an adult present). There is no requirement for singing experience or music reading ability—the only musical notation you’ll look at is so early that hardly anyone can read it anyway! Nobody will have to sing on their own or be put on the spot... although confident singers will have opportunities to show off their ideas if they want to.

Vocal virtuosi and ‘only in the shower’ singers alike will find something new and intriguing to get their teeth into!

About Zoom Workshops

This event is hosted live on Zoom and involves using webcams and/or microphones. You’ll receive a link to join when your book your place and a reminder on the day. Under-18s must have an adult present. Please remember to warn other members of your household that you are taking part and check you are happy for your background to be visible. We recommend you use first names only, and that you don't include anything that identifies your home address. Remember you can switch off your camera and/or microphone at any time.