Singing is Believing: Rewilding Through Pilgrimage Song and Chant

While on pilgrimage, objects and landscapes can act as sites of communitas where, through viewing and touching, the beholder often perceives a connection to those who have seen (or touched) the object, person, or image before – and those who will do the same in the future. Through a close look at the work of the British Pilgrimage Trust (BPT), this paper establishes the idea that music can have the same effect. Founded in 2015, the aim of the Trust is to revive ancient pilgrimage song and chant through the use of musical entrainment and lyrics. The inaugural journey organized by the BPT was inspired by Blake’s poem ‘And did those feet in ancient time’ (now known as Jerusalem – set to music by Sir Hubert Parry in the twentieth century). The poet, musician, and Guardian journalist Alan Franks, who was part of this pilgrim group, recalled that they ‘were marching to Jerusalem for Heaven’s sake, albeit the song rather than the place’, and BPT founders Will Parsons and Guy Hayward called the pilgrimage ‘an act of rewilding, of releasing the song into its indigenous environment, the deep English interior’. This paper will draw on art historical and anthropological methods, and especially a trans-temporal approach to Victor and Edith Turner’s idea of communitas-through-culture in order to explore the role of music in translating the pilgrimages of the past into the present.

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