The Corner

A Musician Speaks Truth to Power?


I learned that the Mass setting we’re going to have at church tomorrow is Missa “The Western Wynde” by Christopher Tye. I had never heard of this composer, so I Googled him and discovered that he was a well-known English choirmaster of the 16th century, and music tutor of young King Edward VI. The Wikipedia page discloses the following nugget, from the 17th-century writer Anthony à Wood:

 Dr Tye was a peevish and humoursome man, especially in his latter dayes, and sometimes playing on ye Organ in ye chap. of qu. Elizab. wh. contained much musick, but little of delight to the ear, she would send ye verger to tell him yt he play’d out of Tune: whereupon he sent word yt her ears were out of Tune.


Tye evidently got away with this act of lèse-majesté. To contradict a ruler was, of course, a far riskier act back in the time of the first Elizabeth than it is today: Nobody’s going to be imprisoned for calling the President of the United States a “tyrant” because of the HHS mandate. But there’s nonetheless something sprightly about Tye’s response, that lends itself to use today in today’s controversy. The politics of the HHS mandate are unclear — will the electorate view the mandate as a gravely threatening power grab at the expense of religious freedom? Or will they buy into the rhetoric that any opposition to the mandate is merely a disguised assault on free access to contraception, and on women’s health more generally? As someone who favors contraception (and women’s health, needless to say), I find the fact there’s no evidence of such an assault reassuring: Anybody who wants or needs contraception can have it. The November result may come down to a question of which side has the louder megaphone; but it may yet happen that voters will send word to President Obama yt it is his ears that are out of Tune.

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