NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1066 __ Town crier
Comment : The town crier's job can be traced back as far as 1066, when news of Britain's first invasion by King William of Normandy [William the Conqueror] [and the defeat and death of Harold] [were] passed from town to town by people specifically employed to call out the king's proclamation. A town crier is a person who is employed by a town council to make public announcements in the streets. Town criers could well be described as “historical newscasters”. They carry a hand bell to attract people's attention, as they shout the words "Oyez, Oyez!" before making their announcements. The words "Oyez, Oyez!" mean "hear ye", which is a call for silence and attention. Oyez derives from the Anglo-Norman language for listen. The origin of the word “stentorian” has been attributed to the Greek warrior Stentor, who played a part in the Trojan war and whose voice was said to be as powerful as the voices of 50 other men. In Medieval England, town criers were the chief means of news communication with the people of the town since many people could not read or write. Town criers were protected by law. "Don't shoot the messenger" was a very real command; anything that was done to a town crier was deemed to be done to the King and was therefore a treasonable offence. Usually people of standing in the community were chosen as criers, for they had to be able to write and read the official proclamations. Often they were a husband and wife team with the wife ringing the large hand bell and the husband doing the shouting. The town crier was rewarded for his services with a pair of shoes and a few trifles. The Town crier would read a proclamation, usually at the door of the local inn, then nail it to the doorpost of the inn. The tradition has resulted in the expression "posting a notice" and the naming of newspapers as "The Post". Royal proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, even selling loaves of sugar were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier throughout the centuries. (Roy Goodwiin)Town criers could well be described as “historical newscasters”. It is known that the tradition was started in ancient Greece, when heralds were used to announce the severing of relationships which would lead to an official proclamation of war. The herald would also be used to bear proposals of truce or armistice. The origin of the word “stentorian” has been attributed to the Greek warrior Stentor, who played a part in the Trojan war and whose voice was said to be as powerful as the voices of 50 other men. The first use of criers in the British Isles was said to date back to Norman times, when the cry “oyez, oyez, oyez”, (old French for “hear ye”) was used to draw the attention of the mostly illiterate public to matters of importance. As town criers enjoyed royal protection, the command “don’t shoot the messenger” had very real significance. Criers or bellmen were usually people of some standing in the community, as they had to be able to read and write the proclamations. The crier would read a proclamation, usually at the door of the local inn, then nail it to the door post – which is where the expression “posting a notice” comes from, as well as naming newspapers as the post. Criers were used to issue warnings and acted as conveyors of local news. In Haddington, East Lothian, after a fire which destroyed one side of the High Street in 1598, the “coal and candle” proclamation was introduced. This was an instruction to the burghers to acquaint themselves with every device for fire prevention. The proclamation was announced by the town crier nightly except Sunday from Martinmas to Candlemas. The town crier was rewarded for his services with a pair of shoes and a few trifles. Women were often employed in spreading the news of items which had been lost, the arrival of fresh food at the market or some piece of local intelligence. One such person was Beetty Dick of Dalkeith in Midlothian (1693-1773). Beetty used a large wooden trencher which she hit with a spoon. The din was just about enough to stir the graveyard. The sound would rattle out at different places in the town, causing crowds to assemble to hear the latest announcement, for which Beetty charged the sum of one penny. Every night she was employed to bawl out “tripe, piping hot, ready for supper the nicht at 8 o’clock at Jeanie Mcmillan’s, head of North Wynd. Gang hame, bairns, and tell your folks about it.” Beetty Dick was succeeded by Peggy Haswell and the spoon and trencher gave way to the hand-bell as the means of rousing the townspeople eager for news. After Peggy, the bell went to Jessie Garvald, who was nicknamed “garvald gundy”. This was on account of a delicious sweetmeat known as gundy which she manufactured, and which was popular with children. Jessie was succeeded by Grizzie Brown, better known as “bell greasy”, who was the last to use a hand bell in the capacity as town crier. The magistrates decided after her duties had ceased that a drum would be more dignified, although much more expensive at 18 pence for announcements. In the capital city of Edinburgh, one of the last known town criers was George Pratt – about the year 1784 – who was noted for his pompous delivery in discharging his duties. George had a high opinion of the importance and dignity of his situation as a public officer. Deeply imbued with this sentiment, George gave forth his intimations to the inhabitants – it might be to announce the arrival of a fresh supply of skate – with an air and manner at once imposing and edifying. Unfortunately he failed to impress the boys of the town with the same respect for his person and his office that he entertained himself, the irreverent young rogues took every opportunity of annoying him. They persecuted him with the cry of “quack, quack!” – a monosyllable which was particularly offensive to his ears. This cry was sometimes varied into “swallow’s nest”, a phrase which he also abominated, as it made an allusion to a personal deformity – a large wen that grew beneath his chin. Although we have access to many different, almost instant, types of communication these days there is still a place for “communication with a human face”. Town criers are used to lead parades, open supermarkets, launch ships, attend official functions and act as ambassadors of good will on any occasion when a flamboyantly dressed character can be deployed to draw attention to what is happening. (Puddock Wull, “Town Crier History”)Town criers are also present in Africa; Victor Kofi Agawu wrote a study on music of the Northern Ewe culture area in the Volta Region of Ghana, West Africa. « Town criers continue to play the role of messenger for various people in authority : chiefs, queen mothers, group leaders, caln heads, and elders. Although the incidence in urban contexts of this form of outdoor proclamation has been partly eroded by modern means of communication, the practice is still heard in the more traditional and older sections of big cities as well as in rural areas. A call to manual labor, the onset of war, the announcement of a death, the setting up of a law or prohibition, or the invitation to a meeting : these are the sorts of things that a town crier announces. In Akpafu, for example, the twon crier may be heard in the early evening when most people are back from their farms, and when the sound of his voice is likely to carry. As soon as the town crier’s bell is sounded, everyone is required to give him full attention. The principles behind the organization of an announcement resemble those that constrain the use of drums as speech surrogates. Both modes of communication operate in an aural mode, and both involve the dissemination in coded form of specific verbal messages. But there are differences as well. While drums transmit messages across greater distances (for example, from one village to the next), the town crier can only reach a section of the village at any one time. (No human being has yet been endowed with a voice that has the carrying power of a talking drum). That is why the town crier typically repeats his announcement in three of four different locations whithin the town or village. Moreover, a message on the talking drum is subject to more intricate coding than that of a town crier. Since drums can only reproduce the tonal and rhythmic patterns of speech, they must rely on “phatic” elements (noise killers, abbreviations, attention callers) to convey a message. The town crier, on the other hand, speaks in ordinary language, albeit one that is performed, and hence not so ordinary. So while ot takes some skill to decode a talking-drum message, it takes only an understanding of the language to decode a town crier’s announcement. [Here is a description of] a transcription of an Akpafu town crier’s announcement : Two instruments are used in this performance. The first is, of course, the announcer’s voice; the second is a bell with a loud and piercing sound, the same bell taht functions as the “heartbeat” of Ewe drum ensembles. This particular performance begins with the striking of the bell ten times, the strokes accelerating towards the end. Then, after a brief pause, the bell is struck three more times, followed by another pause. It is then struck twelve times and then.after a pause.three more times. The spoken announcement follows, after which the bell is struck three more times to signal closure. There is nothing sacred about the pattern 10 + 3 + 12 +3. What is important is the rhetorical use of silence to arrest listener’s attention. [...] Here, however, silence is meant to elicit silence, not verbal expression. Performed in seven brief and nearly equal time segments, the spoken part of the announcement acquires a periodicity stricter than that of normal speech. (Victot Kofi Agawu)
French comment : Le crieur public est une personne chargée d'annoncer au public de l'information. Il se promène dans la localité, s'arrête à certains endroits, annonce sa présence par un appel sonore (tambour, clochette, trompette...) et commence à lire son texte. Son existence était importante dans l'Antiquité (notamment en Grèce), au Moyen Âge, et même jusque dans les années 1960 dans les villages suisses. L'Angleterre, le Canada et l'Australie ont encore un énorme contingent de crieurs publics avec un renouveau depuis 1980. En Basse-Bretagne jusqu'à la fin du XIXe siècle , les crieurs se colportaient en criant les informations locales d'une ville, d'un village ou d'un hameau à l'autre, à la manière d'un véritable relais de transmission oral. L'un d'eux, Youenn Daougabel, aurait bénéficié à l'époque d'une certaine notoriété. Au Canada, Peter Cox d'Halifax (35 ans de métier) et Daniel Richer (dit « Laflêche d'Ottawa », 27 ans de métier) exercent encore le métier de crieur à plein temps. On peut les entendre lors d'évènements sociaux, artistiques ou à connotation amoureuse. Dans de nombreuses villes africaines, la fonction de crieur public existe encore, mais l'individu a été remplacé par un véhicule sonorisé. Ainsi, à Douala, ces « véhicules-crieurs publics » ont été affectueusement surnommés les papas-Douala. En Afrique du Sud, on retrouve aussi le crieur de baleine, chargé d'annoncer l'arrivée de baleines dans la baie et à quel endroit on peut les observer. (Compiled from various sources)
Source : Agawu, Victor Kofi (1995), “African Rhythm — A Northern Ewe Perspective”, Cambridge University Press Archive, p.11 and pp.44-50.
Source : Offenstadt, Nicolas (2004), "Les crieurs publics à la fin du Moyen Âge. Enjeux d’une recherche", C. Boudreau, K. Fianu, C. Gauvard et M. Hébert (éd.), Information et société en Occident à la fin du Moyen Âge, Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2004, pp. 203-217.
Source : Gauvard, Claude, Libera, Alain de, Zink, Michel (éd.) (2002), "Cris, crieurs", in Dictionnaire du Moyen Age, Paris, PUF.
Urls : http://www.scottishtowncrier.com/history.html (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byrUnTdQRfU (last visited ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_U4NB64O2pc (last visited )

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