Benjamin Yves Liberatore
Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationColumbia U.
Grant numberGr. 10230
Approve DateOctober 7, 2021
Project TitleLiberatore, Benjamin (Columbia U.) "‘Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang’: Child Choristers, 'White' Voices, and the Embodiment of English National Nostalgia"
This project examines how Anglican cathedral choristers—boys with ‘unbroken’ singing voices—emerge as nostalgic sites of investment in aesthetic, affective, and ideological constructions of ‘Englishness’. Celebrated for uniquely ‘pure’ voices, choirboys have been foremost instruments in the sacred-civic rituals of England and its national Church for centuries. Yet, rhetorics of vulnerability, threat, and loss surround choristers, registering across and connecting three domains: the bodily ‘breaking’ of boys’ voices; the institutional survival of a homosocial ‘English Choral Tradition’; and the belief in a nation whose ‘native’ character and customs are threatened in an increasingly multiracial, multicultural Britain. As ‘Brexit’ leaves the geographic and imaginative boundaries of ‘Englishness’ contested, choristers emblematize a priceless national heritage that, like children themselves, must be defended. Through ethnographic research in English cathedral choirs, I ask: how do child choristers figure in the aesthetics, iconography, and rituals of ‘Englishness’ in C21st Britain? To what gendered, racialised, and classed imaginaries do choirboys’ ‘pure’ voices lend shape? How do children feature in adults’ narratives of cultural threat, and how do children understand or undermine such narratives? What might we learn, attending to choristers as the national Church’s ‘professional children,’ about children and their ‘figuration’ in national projects of collective memory?