Waart, Edo de. 56 Wachmann, Eduard 56

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Wait [wayt, wayte]

(from old Fr. gaite, a watchman).

The various meanings of the English forms refer only to England. (1) In the 13th and 14th centuries, a watchman at the gate of a town or castle. A horn was used to signal the approach of people requiring admittance, but the watchman was not a musician.

(2) A household watchman (vigilis; vigilator after the mid-14th century), perhaps named by analogy with (1). (A ‘household’ in this context was the group of people attending a king or noble.) By the late 13th century, at least in the royal households, the vigilis played a shawm – see (3). The royal vigiles were often minstrels, though not invariably so. Their watchman's duties are recorded in the Black Book of the Exchequer, from Edward IV's reign (1461–83): to pipe the watch each night, to check for fire and other dangers at every chamber door, and to attend new Knights of the Bath during their vigils in the chapel. In Tudor times and later, the vigilatores were apparently not musicians.

(3) An instrument of the shawm family; sometimes called ‘wayte-pipe’, it probably derived its name from the household wait (2) who played it. The seal of Edward III's vigilator John Harding (fig.1) clearly shows crossed shawms, but their size is not ascertainable. The wait is almost certainly the treble shawm, perhaps to be identified with the ‘small pipes’ of the Black Book of the Exchequer.

(4) Any player of the instrument (3), of whom the household vigiles were in the majority. In the 14th century the name is found attached to minstrels who were not vigiles, and also to huntsmen and other household servants; but from the early 15th century ‘wait’ was used only for household vigilatores and civic minstrels – see (5).

(5) A civic minstrel, permanently employed by a town. Town waits were equivalent to the German Stadtpfeifer and the civic pipers of Italy and elsewhere. At first they formed the standard loud band (fig.2) of two or three shawms and a slide trumpet (later, a sackbut); it was probably their use of the shawm that led to the name ‘waits’ being attached to them. They were not watchmen, and had no direct connection with (1) and (2); but at the time of their institution at Beverley (1405) and Norwich (1408) the term ‘wait’ was still applied to any player of the wayte-pipe (3).

By the late 15th century many towns employed waits, and those of the major cities were among the finest minstrels in the country. Their main function was to attend the mayor on ceremonial occasions, but in some towns they were allowed to play in the streets at night – apparently a lucrative occupation. During the 16th century their talents became more diverse: the London waits soon included singers and players of soft instruments such as viols, recorders and cornetti; several other corporations bought such instruments early in the following century.

During the 17th and 18th centuries the waits in some towns adopted particular melodies as their ‘signature’ tunes. By then minstrelsy had otherwise virtually died out, and the waits remained as something of an anachronism. Many were disbanded by their corporations for financial reasons during the Napoleonic wars, and few survived the Municipal Reform Act of 1835. In some places the name of ‘waits’, and even the players themselves, continued in the church bands of recorders, clarinets and bassoons.

(6) Christmas singers: their name is probably derived from (5), who sang and played Christmas songs during their nightly perambulations at that season. Christmas waits may sometimes have been professionals (the church bands), but were more usually amateurs.

See also Band (i), §II, 1; Gallery music; Minstrel; and Stadtpfeifer.


F.W. Galpin: Old English Instruments of Music (London, 1910, rev. 4/1965/R by T. Dart)

L.G. Langwill: ‘The Waits: a Short Historical Study’, HMYB, vii (1952), 170–83

W.L. Woodfill: Musicians in English Society … from Elizabeth to Charles I (Princeton, NJ, 1953/R)

A.R. Myers: The Household of Edward IV (Manchester, 1959) [incl. edn. of Black Book of the Exchequer]

G.R. Rastall: Secular Musicians in Late Medieval England (diss., U. of Manchester, 1968)

Records of Early English Drama (Toronto, 1979–)

R. Rastall: Review of D. George, ed.: Lancashire, Records of Early English Drama (Toronto, 1991), ML, lxxiv (1993), 417–21


Waite, John James

(b Gloucester, 1807; d Hereford, 29 Oct 1868). English teacher of sight-singing. A Congregationalist minister, Waite devoted his life to the improvement of psalmody in churches and chapels, a cause which led him, though totally blind from early manhood, to organize free classes and lectures attended by tens of thousands of working folk throughout the kingdom. His first efforts were made among his own congregation at Ilminster, Somerset; but at the invitation of the Rev. John Burder he instituted several classes in the neighbourhood of Stroud, Gloucestershire, well before John Hullah’s more celebrated Singing School was opened at Exeter Hall, London, in 1841. By 1849 Waite claimed to have taught in 16 counties of England and to have travelled some 20,000 miles for the purpose.

Waite’s system of teaching sight-singing was a development of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s cipher notation in which the degrees of the major scale are represented by the numerals 1 to 7; but, unlike Rousseau and his disciples, Waite always employed numerals in conjunction with ordinary notation, his supplementary figures appearing below the stave only to assist the beginner to calculate melodic intervals. Note values and differences of octave were indicated by the ordinary notation alone, and Waite’s pupils were thus made familiar with standard notes from the outset. There was consequently less risk of their finding themselves incompetent when reading from standard notation at a later stage.

The textbook from which Waite’s later classes were conducted was The Hallelujah, a hymnal with tunes marked in cipher notation, compiled jointly by Waite and H.J. Gauntlett, and published in 1852. (B. Rainbow: The Land without Music: Musical Education in England, 1800–1860, and its Continental Antecedents (London, 1967))


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