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Music, Memory, and Alternative Performance Spaces in Seventeenth Century England
Sarah Williams, University of South Carolina

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“Sung by a Little Boy”: Bad Singing and the Rise and Fall of a Child Star in Seventeenth-Century English Theater (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: “Sung by a Little Boy”: Bad Singing and the Rise and Fall of a Child Star in Seventeenth-Century English Theater
Author: Sarah F Williams
Abstract: Jemmy (James) LaRoche made his London theatrical debut at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in late December 1695 in George Granville’s The She-Gallants. Specializing in the theatrical music of John Eccles, LaRoche appeared in several entertainments, singing intricate lute ayres and duets. In late 1697, LaRoche was cast as an itinerant Savoyard in Peter Motteux and Eccles’s Europe’s revels for the Peace of Ryswick, in which he sings a simple and repetitive ballad-style tune whilst exhibiting a portable cabinet of moving figurines and curiosities. LaRoche’s tune, “Raree Show,” is quite different from the previous songs assigned to him. Simplistic and limited in range, it approximates a street performance by an untrained musician—in other words, LaRoche was meant to sing badly. After Europe’s revels, evidence of LaRoche’s performing career with Betterton disappears. While musicologists Katherine Lowerre and Amanda Eubanks Winkler have examined the contextual history of Europe’s revels and Restoration theatrical music, little research exists on juvenile performers from this period and the circulation of their music. Using performance studies as a theoretical frame, I examine the extant music written for LaRoche and the afterlife of his “Raree Show” tune. While musicology often privileges an ideal text or a perfectly rehearsed performance, it is vital to remember that failure was a hallmark of the seventeenth century soundscape and theatrical experience. By attending to evidence of “bad singing” and marginalized performers in early modern England, we can reconceive the networks of musical circulation, performance practices, and “illegitimate” theatrical spaces of seventeenth century London.
Date: 09/14/2019
Conference Name: American Musicological Society-Southeast Chapter