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date: 14 April 2021

Parish clerklocked

  • Nicholas Temperley


A subordinate official who for many centuries played an important role in the music of an English parish church, in addition to other duties. A similar role was played in German churches by the Küster (Lat. custos). In the Middle Ages parish clerks usually belonged to minor priestly orders, and assisted the parish priest in various functions. Their musical importance was greatest in the century before the Reformation, when in the richer churches they were often at the head of a staff of full-time musicians (‘clerks’ or ‘conducts’) and sometimes were also expected to train the choristers. Something of this organization survived in some churches until about 1570, but from then on the parish clerk was left to lead the congregation alone. He was no longer in orders, he was ill-paid and his standing rapidly sank to that of a menial. The Canons of 1603 still required incumbents to appoint as parish clerk a man who had ‘competent skill in singing (if it may be)’, but this was seldom observed, and John Playford in ...

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Journal of the American Musicological Society