Interview: Yale Instiute for Sacred Music Martin Jean and Yale Fellow speak on Christian musicposted by Peter Menkin, FullFriday, April 27th 2012 @ 11:43 PM (not yet rated)
by Peter Menkin
Mean Tone Organ
In an effort to discover in what singular way this Religion Writer could uncover the work of Yale Institute of Sacred Music, to discover what the Institute does, and even take a look at how the Institute of Sacred Music explores Christianity, these two interviews were developed. The first is with Martin Jean, Director of the Institute. He speaks directly with the reader about the Institute. The second interview is with new Fellow of the Institute for Sacred Music, David Stowe. He exemplifies one aspect of exploring Christianity and looking at Sacred Music.
INTERVIEW WITH MARTIN JEAN
Martin Jean, Director, Yale Institute of Sacred Music
- 1. Peter Menkin: For some time music in Church and Sacred Music in the Christian tradition has engaged me in so many ways. You are in the unique position, Doctor Martin Jean, of getting a special perspective as Director of Yale Institute of Sacred Music of music played in worship–and that same music played in the larger world. Talk to us of the Sacred Music program at Yale. In fact, an introduction to the Institute seems appropriate at this time as we enter into this interview.
We were founded here at Yale in 1973, a direct descendant of the Union School for Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary. At that time the Irwin Sweeney Miller Foundation gave a grant to Yale to begin the Institute. Their faculty moved here from New York and started our Institute of Sacred Music.
We’ve very much carried forward the tradition of sacred music, and related arts. Our musicians go on to become pastors, church musicians, lay leaders—but they leave here with an understanding of the role in religious life [of music and their own role]. We’ve had Bruce Neswick who is now Professor of Organ at Indiana University and former choir director at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. He is an improviser. [Among many others.]
Our students graduate and some will become Church musicians and some will become performers. We graduated a very fine performer who is going to sing at New York Philharmonic, and one who is a Soprano who will sing with St. Louis Bach Society. Those two singers I just mentioned are up and coming oratorio singers; when Dan is singing he is singing the Evangelist role which is commonly heard on the concert stage – in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
I’m awfully proud of our faculty, and music especially our primary goal–to find a music teachers who will help you the most. We have a great
World class tenor Taylor
organ teacher, and music teacher. In the liturgical tradition are some of the great scholars in the world: Thomas Murray is my senior colleague in organ, and he is the college organist. He is very well known. Our Tenor is named James R. Taylor; he is not the pop singer. He’s a world class tenor. You can say that with impunity.
- 2. Peter Menkin: Being chosen as a Fellow at Yale Institute of Sacred Music is a prize, and a competition. You were among those instrumental in making that choice for this year’s Fellows. I note you are also a Judge for music prizes elsewhere: In July, Martin Jean served on the jury for the 2011 Competitions of the St. Albans International Organ Festival. The annual 10-day festival draws young organists from around the world who compete in various categories. (August 2011). Is there a difference in choosing a Prize Winner and making decisions on who may be a Fellow in a given year? Tell us a little of the Institute’s need for Fellows, and how they contribute to the Yale Institute of Sacred Music of which you are Director?
I’m involved with the selections, but I sit in more ex officio in the process and let the rest of the selection committee make the decision. We are looking for someone more in line with our mission; if someone is writing on sacred music, we want them to write about not only the music but the religious context. It’s that we are looking at the current work they are doing, but we are really testing their track record. If someone is writing on hymns used in worship, tell us something about that. I was just reviewing David Stowe, and what might helpful is the project he is making on Psalm 137.
[First two paragraphs from David Stowe’s proposal. He is a Fellow, 2013, Institute of Sacred Music. David W. Stowe has written widely on music and religion in American culture, including No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism (2011); How Sweet the Sound: Music in the Spiritual Lives of Americans (2004), which won a Deems Taylor award from ASCAP; and Swing Changes: Big Band Jazz in New Deal America (1994), which was published in Japanese in 1999. He is professor of English and Religious Studies at Michigan State University, where he served as director of the Program in American Studies. Stowe taught for three years at the Graduate School of American Studies at Doshisha University in Kyoto, where he also served as associate dean. He is a founding member of the Institute for the Study of Christianity and Culture, a research institute based in Lansing, Michigan. At Yale, Stowe will research and complete the manuscript for his next book entitled Babylon Revisited: How Psalm 137 Helped Americans Make a Nation, charting the subtle changes in emphasis and interpretation of a thirteen-line Hebrew poem to help make new sense of religious, musical, and political change in North America.
From the Proposal to Yale Institute for Sacred Music as Fellow:
I hope to spend my fellowship year at the Institute of Sacred Music researching and completing a book manuscript, Babylon Revisited: How Psalm 137 Helped Americans Make a Nation. My premise is that charting the subtle changes in emphasis and interpretation of a thirteen-line Hebrew poem helps make new sense of religious, musical, and political change in North America. Babylon Revisited will build on my expertise in U.S. cultural history, religious studies, and ethnomusicology, and allow me to expand a forthcoming article into a book.
No song text has exerted a more sustained pull on the political imagination
of Americans than Psalm 137. The text figured in the worship of the English
Puritans who settled New England, appearing in the first English-language book published in America. It inspired the unique genius of composer William Billings and the oratory of Frederick Douglass. More than a century later it reappeared in a completely new musical guise, reggae. Since then, Psalm 137 has been covered numerous times in a wide variety musical styles: gospel, disco, country rock, alternative, hip-hop.]
This program we began three years ago and we saw it as a way to reach out beyond our own disciplinary borders. There is also an opportunity to create a community of scholars around sacred music and the arts. They will be part of a weekly program of sharing works, critiquing each other’s works, teaching students and being a voice at the table. A way to deepen and expand our own commitment to these areas of inquiry.
The class we just announced is the third set of scholars and we think it’s going terrifically. We’re learning of their work by their application and the quality of their work contributes enormously to bring new ideas to the table.
I think what our students are getting from it is respect for the enormous diversity of sacred music in the world. We are learning about more cultures and different community groups of people. By bringing people here, students are becoming more diversely grounded. That is a need of churches today. They don’t look like they did in the fifties. They are reaching out beyond race divides, class divides, gender divides.
- 3. Peter Menkin: By the research done on the Institute of Sacred Music’s website it is apparent you are active in the Lutheran Church. In fact, you serve on the Lutheran Music Program Board, who says of you: firstname.lastname@example.org Dr. Jean is Professor of Organ at the Yale School of Music and Director of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. Prior to assuming his position at Yale, he served as Associate Professor of Music and University Organist at Valparaiso University in Indiana and as Associate Professor of Music at Concordia College in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He holds the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Michigan and has commercial recordings on the Raven and Gothic labels. Congregation: Bethesda Lutheran Church, New Haven, CT Why LSM? LSM has been a life-changing experience for thousands of young people. They learn to perform at the highest level with peers that quickly become their friends, and they have the opportunity to offer these gifts in worship every day. Lutheran Music Program transforms lives and connects people through faith and music. The three values which we embrace are musical excellence, Lutheran faith and a nurturing community. Our vision is to see churches and communities renewed through music for the sake of the world. Tell us how sacred music brings faith, and nurtures the community as it connects with people’s lives in the world. Is this the whole reason to be of the Institute of Sacred Music, too?
The purpose of the institute is to train not only scholars, but people who will work with people’s lives. Worship that they lead and create has music as an important component. I’m always reminded of what people in pastoral care tell me. Awful as people who are in their death beds may be, the things that mean the most to them are the hymns that they learned–grew up learning. As they fade in memory, it is the hymns they learned they recall. I suppose the ways we pray, the works of we engage in in worship, whether musical or textual, they play a role in creating community identity. Repeated patterns of worship give community life and shape and worship. They give people an identity because of these patterns of worship. People who studied 50 years ago thought of what their creeds were, now it is how do they pray, what does the room look like….
- 4. Peter Menkin: In specific, this Religion Writer wants to focus on new Fellow David Stowe, Will you tell us a little about Professor Stowe, the book he is working on, and how it contributes to the Institute of Sacred Music, either in general or specific. I am most interested in the contemporary nature of American sacred music in this section of our series of questions. David Stowe fits this bill. Do other Fellows?
You’ll learn about the book he’s working on by their project proposal. He’s working on a book on how one particular Psalm has been treated in American music, Psalm 137. You can also get his biography off the Michigan State website. David Stowe has a PhD in history from Michigan State in the 90s, and he’s written on sacred music in America. His focus is the history in America. We don’t have anybody who has interest in music right now. He is planning to teach a course on Sacred Music. From my perspective, the thing that is pertinent, as religious traditions moved from Europe to the United States, they changed. A German Lutheran musician tends to be the same, but when a German Lutheran musician moves to the United States, he finds himself living next to people of a different denomination. He gets to see change, and being new he tends to change, for example there aren’t that many Presbyterians in Germany. He is looking at how different traditions come to the State and migrate in the States, I think.
It’s impossible to make one or two general statements that are true for everybody. It is still a melting pot. One way is how Christians have co-opted the contemporary Christian music, CCM. Religious people have always been using the sounds around them, using songs around them in the street and change the words in church—Luther did that. The contemporary religious music has grown because it is linked to a for profit industry.
There are things that I like, personally. Most people would define it as something that is supported by electric guitar, electric bass. It is a diverse genre and has blurry edges. It is influenced by the global pop phenomenon.
- 5. Peter Menkin: You play the organ. It is written of you: As a concert artist, Jean has performed widely throughout the United States and Europe and is known for his broad repertorial interests. He has won two of the most prestigious music prizes in the world: He was awarded first place at both the International Grand Prix de Chartres in 1986 and at the 1992 National Young Artists’ Competition in Organ Performance. Is there time in your schedule to do much in the way of playing organ at Yale, or in other locales outside the University? Most importantly, tell us about the program of offering musical works by Fellows and others at the University. And of course, a highlight on this year’s program with the reasons for the choice of performer and the work performed?
As far as myself, I play plenty…thanks for asking. Being an administrator limits my time for performing. One of the big things at the end of the year…Misako will perform … a Haydn Heath creation. Just coming this week there is a group from Ireland who will perform sacred music from Ireland. Another choir will sing Partrt , Arvo…it’s his passion, a choral work. The public can come, all our events are free. We get great crowds. We’re an educational institute; we’re here to teach not only our students about sacred music, and to teach the public. One way to teach students is to have them teach in public. People learn in both an intellectual and personal level, controlled by the intrusive interests of the art. Yale.edu.im…Look for details on up and coming programs.
NOTES ON MARTIN JEAN
Newberry Memorial Organ
The Newberry Memorial Organ in Woolsey Hall at Yale University is one of the most important pipe organs in the United States. Originally constructed by the Hutchings-Votey Company in 1902, entirely rebuilt and enlarged by J.W. Streere & Son Organ Company in 1915, and finally rebuilt and enlarged by the Skinner Organ Company in 1928, the instrument has remained virtually unchanged since that time. Martin Jean is the Director of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music (ISM) and is Professor of Organ at ISM and the School of Music. As a concert artist, Jean has performed widely throughout the United States and Europe and is known for his broad repertorial interests. He has won two of the most prestigious music prizes in the world: He was awarded first place at both the International Grand Prix de Chartres in 1986 and at the 1992 National Young Artists’ Competition in Organ Performance. This video was filmed on a Saturday morning some time ago by Joe Vitacco and edited together by Vic Ferrer. A full stop-list of this organ is available by going to http://www.thompson-allen.com/woolsey.html A double CD of Professor Thomas Murray — the University Organist at Yale – playing this organ with an audio narrated tour and a 72-page booklet on the organ is available going to http://www.pipeorgancds.com/thommurplayw1.html.
Copyright © 2003. Yale Institute of Sacred Music 409 Prospect Street, New Haven, Connecticut 06511 Telephone: 203 432 5180 Fax: 203 432 5296
Martin Jean email@example.com
Professor of organ, professor in the practice of sacred music, and director of the Institute of Sacred Music.
Martin Jean has performed widely throughout the United States and Europe and is known for his broad repertorial interests. He was awarded first place at the international Grand Prix de Chartres in 1986, and in 1992 at the National Young Artists’ Competition in Organ Performance. A student of Robert Glasgow, in the fall of 1999 he spent a sabbatical with Harald Vogel in North Germany. He has performed on four continents and in nearly all fifty states. In 2001 he presented a cycle of the complete organ works of Bach at Yale, and his compact discs of The Seven Last Words of Christ by Charles Tournemire and the complete Six Symphonies of Louis Vierne, both recorded in Woolsey Hall, have been released by Loft Recordings. Recordings of the organ symphonies and Stations of the Cross of Marcel Dupré are forthcoming on the Delos label. He is on the faculty of Yale School of Music and the Institute of Sacred Music, which he directs, and serves on the board of directors of the Lutheran Music Program(www.lutheransummermusic.org). A.Mus.D., University of Michigan.
INTERVIEW WITH NEW FELLOW DAVID STOWE
Peter Menkin: You’ve stated that your study of Sacred Music and its relationship to modern Christian music will influence your work as an Institute of Sacred Music Fellowat Yale for this year ending 2013. Your work has been ongoing for some
years, and this quote describing a radio interview tells of your modern Christian music theme, touching on the profound interest you express in Psalm 137 and aspects of American sacred music history: The so-called “Jesus Movement” of the late 1960s and ’70s ushered an unprecedented amount of modern music into Christian churches. Guest host Jacqueline Cincotta explores the roots of contemporary Christian music with David Stowe, author of the new book “No Sympathy for the Devil.”… That interview on radio is here. Talk to us about your plans for your new book that you will work on while an ISM Fellows in Sacred Music, Worship, and the Arts. But first a quotation from your Project Proposal:
The psalm’s opening lines are among the better known from the Hebrew
By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat down, yea, we wept,
when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying,
sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?
The remaining five verses pledge faithfulness to Jerusalem and vow vengeance
against the enemies of Israel, whose “little ones” will ultimately be dashed “against
This new project that brings things up to the contemporary period stretches back a few hundred years to the Pilgrim Fathers. I am looking at a long stretch, a 13 line poem that you include in the question. That’s been given many interpretations.
[This short excerpt from David Stowe’s proposal for Fellowship at Yale’s Institute for Sacred Music comes at the end of his proposal:
Psalm 137 was eminently adaptable to the dominant political cause of the
nineteenth century: the abolition of slavery. We don’t know if its lines were
adopted by African Americans in their covert worship, though the Exodus story
inspired a number of spirituals. Frederick Douglass made Psalm 137 central to his
famous 1852 address, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” Drawing his own
analogy between the fallen Israel and the slavery-corrupted United States, Douglass
cites v the opening verses of Psalm 137, “the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe smitten
people.” The practice of coercing slaves to perform “merry songs” to
disguise the appearance of sorrow gave the psalm particular poignancy.
These social and political accents shaped musical adaptations of Psalm 137
over the next century. The great Detroit preacher Rev. C. L. Franklin, whose New
Bethel Baptist Church hosted many leading gospel stars mid-century, based a
famous sermon on the psalm. He argued that the Hebrews were wrong not to sing;
African Americans should voice their sacred songs in the face of oppression. In
1969 a Jamaican group recorded a hit version that substituted Rastafarian language
(“How can we sing King Alpha’s song in a strange land?”) and the exhortation to
“Shout the song of freedom now.”…)]
In that last book [of mine\ I really focused on one particular decade, the 1070s, and so this new project stretches back around four hundred years and looks at some unexpected uses of that psalm in American history. I’m trying a different approach in this book. All my other books have been in standard historical sources, magazines, news sources, and letters. I’m planning to do a series of interviews with living authorities on living actors for the book. I plan to go visit actual places that were significant in this Psalm and in the lives of famous American who have drawn on this Psalm 137.
For instances Frederick Douglas gave a speech up in Rochester, or I may go to the main Frederick Douglas archives. I want to approach this book as a kind of reporter, not just delving into a lot of historical sources. I will interview whoever is in charge of the archives or a biographer who is familiar with his religious ideas. John Stauffer is a Harvard Professor familiar with his religious thoughts. He doesn’t know about this yet.
Frederick Douglas drew on the language of the Bible, the familiar stories of the Bible, the Exodus story and the Babylonian Captivity. Like a lot of enslaved African Americans he held conflicted opinions because so many slave holders professed Christianity and used slavery to justify slavery. In the case of Frederick Douglas, he was the first of well-known Americans to draw attention to slave spirituals and emphasize their significance.
Go Down Moses, Steal Away, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, There’s a Balm in Gilead (that one has a good Biblical basis.) The Fisk University Jubilee Singers from Nashville, they’ve been singing those old slave spirituals for 150 years. You can probably find some samples on YouTube. If you look on YouTube there will be an example on there.
Fisk University was a school that was established after the Civil War during reconstruction by the Freedman’s Bureau. It was a fundraising effort by the University. So they assembled this choir and sent them out to give concerts, and they struck a responsive nerve and attracted the attention of some famous ministers in the North, Henry Ward Beecher, who was deeply moved by their spiritual song. This was in the 1870s. This is ten years after the civil war.
I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray-Fisk University Jubilee Quartet
From Nashville TN. USA comes the famous Fisk University Jubilee Quartet. Since 1871 they have traveled the world spreading spiritual singing. Their newest CD release is "Bright Mansions". "I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray" was released in 1909.
Go Down Moses - Sullivan's Travels (1941)
Uploaded by jorgecurioso on Apr 16, 2008
Jess Lee Brooks performing the classic spiritual. From the 1941 Preston Sturges movie "Sullivan's Travels", starring Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake.
They were spiritual songs, they were songs that slaves created for their own private worship, often covert worship out of range of the masters, and they were songs based on Biblical themes. They were worship songs that helped them persevere; struggle and they were as much sacred songs as they were in the mainline churches. Go Down Moses is based on the Exodus service; it is drenched in Biblical language and purpose and they were set in worship settings.
I don’t think anyone questions the old spirituals as being sacred songs. Everyone recognizes that the enslaved Africans were performing a form of Christianity. They were just as significant as the songs of Charles Wesley for the white Protestants. Their being picked up had a lot to do with the Fisk Jubilees singers, who were singing for the royalty of Europe--for Victoria and Kaiser Wilhelm. They were picked up by other choirs, primarily black colleges forming their own choirs. A lot of white people liked them as well. They were beautiful, moving songs. They spread at the top through prominent people in the 19th Century and Royalty--and spread through the grassroots.
You can ask that question about any hymn or any Mass, presumably there is some divine inspiration whether it be Bach or field hand in Mississippi that leads them to create those words and that melody. I just assume that if the song deals with Christian themes and helps people survive as religion often does…religion is a great means of survival. If it uses Biblical language and is used for worship, I do not think anyone can say how God directs them. If they are used in worship today, they create that sense of transcendence for contemporary worshippers. In that way they are sacred. That is really a test of whether these songs are significantly sacred: whether they continue to be performed and keep people in touch with their deepest human yearnings—spiritual yearnings. If they make people feel closer to God, then they are sacred songs.
Peter Menkin: Speak about 137 and both why and how you find it inspiring and historic? Will you also tell us something about your plans for working in an interdisciplinary fashion with other Fellows, and how you’ll find this work inspiring and helpful for your book? I recall in our initial telephone conversation of March 2012 that you said art, too, would be an inspiration for your writing and research work on this history project in Sacred Music.
If you look at the interests and backgrounds of the other Fellows at Yale, you’ll see that their coming from different disciplines; they use difference approaches to music and history and I will get a lot of new approaches to my work. I am very interested in connecting my work to the visual arts – in other artists who have depicted 137 over history. I don’t know who those artists are yet. It can up in an interview I had with one of the faculty I had, and she said there have been a number of famous depictions I can use for my book.
There’s just the stimulation of being around people I’ve not met before who are working on projects I’ve not selected. They are pretty good, and I’ll get a lot of ideas. Someone might say did you ever think of this, or are you familiar with this stained glass. That’s the fun part of scholarly work. That’s where you’re learning from other people. Scholarly work is a very solitary profession, mostly. I hope to get down to Jamaica to get down seeing some of the musicians who made Rivers of Babylon.
I want to go back to the Church in Detroit where Aretha Franklin’s father was, where he preached about Psalm 137. So he preached a famous sermon about it. It would be nice to talk to the present minister and find out what that Psalm means for 2012 and how it affects the Christian outlook in that Church today.
I would like to interview Stephen Schwartz who created Godspell. He wrote the music to Godspell, and they did a version of 137 right there in Godspell. I’d like to know why he did that, Godspell is basically out of the book of Matthew. These are some of the interviews I’d like to get and feature some of those interviews in the book, rather than bury the conversations somewhere.
It’s not that I chose Psalm 137 that I am a huge fan of that Psalm, I am just struck by the fact that it seems to resonate for so long. In my research I hope to come up with a convincing explanation. I hope to come up with why this Psalm has inspired so many uses, music, speeches and sermons. I think it is also an interesting Psalm because it is really short.
It is a poem in three sections: the first part is the collective WE about Us and We as exiled Jews; the second part is really kind of – how do we say it – kind of a self-warning to retain the speaker’s culture (Remember Jerusalem and ask God for punishment if the speaker forgets his cultural roots). The third section is the very violent, grisly, call for vengeance against the Babylonian cultures. The final line about smashing their babies against the rocks. That is a jarring version. It’s been dropped from the musical part. It is not a sentiment that fits well in the modern religious sensibility. I think that is still an impulse we find in American society. I think there is still a feeling for vengeance that American’s have not really overcome. It is an intriguing Psalm.
This Psalm is the only Psalm that has a particular geographic setting, as in the rivers of Babylon where we sat down. It is the only Psalm set in a specific location, and significantly historic locations.
Peter Menkin: Some readers are going to wonder how rock n’ roll music, in specific the two samples included in this interview from their YouTube performance, can command so august a label, let alone definition as Sacred Music? Is not Sacred Music something sung in Church, especially during Worship?
In my experience and research the boundary between secular music and sacred music is very fluid. So that music is constantly shifting back and forth. Sacred music may cross over and share with those who are not religious. Music that is not religious can serve as the ground for religious experience.
I think for lots of Christians from the Baby Boom and afterwards, they don’t see any contradiction between popular music styles and sacred music. They’ve gotten the idea that rock n roll can be sacrilized. So they refuse to put up with old fashioned. I’ve written a whole book about the ways in which American evangelical Christians warmed up to and essentially claimed popular music for their Churches during the 1970s. The book is titled, “No Sympathy for the Devil,” and is available through University of North Carolina Press. It is also available on Amazon.com, of course. There is a Facebook page for the book that has a lot of things I’ve added, reviews, and interviews. The link to the Facebook page is here.
I argue that, in the book, that Christian pop music played an unexpected role in American politics by keeping Baby Boom Christians in evangelical Churches where they were often imprinted with conservative political ideas. That’s one spinoff of the argument. I think the Christian pop music is here to stay. But the particular styles of popular music are going to evolve. What’s popular now among young Christians, won’t be popular in a decade.
A current star of Christian Pop music is: Amy Grant of, “Jars of Clay.” [One set of lyrics as from their song, “Be Thou Our Vision,”
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art Thou my best thought by day or by night Waking or sleeping Thy presence my light Be thou my wisdom and Thou my true word I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord Thou my great Father, I , Thy true son Thou in me dwelling and I with Thee one Riches I heed not nor man's empty praise Thou mine inheritance now and always Thou and thou only first in my heart High King of heaven my treasure Thou are High King of heaven my victory won May I reach heaven's joys, O bright heaven's Sun Heart of my own heart whatever befall Still be my vision O Ruler of all
The lyrics for, “I need thee Every Hour,” are here.]
Peter Menkin: As a teacher of Sacred Music as a history subject at Michigan State University, you are making Sacred Music and history a broad subject for your students. judging by this quote from the page about you at MSU: I look forward to teaching Religious Studies classes focusing on music as lived religion both in North America and globally, and the politics of religion.
During the past spring and summer I created and taught two new courses for Religious Studies. The first was a new version of Myth, Self, and Religion; to check out a wide-ranging website on myth and religion created collaboratively by students in the class, go to http://rel205.wikispaces.com. The second was a brand new course, The Sound of World Religions, in which we explored the interplay between music, chant, and spirituality in Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and indigenous religions.
Please offer us a taste of this area of teaching about Religious Studies and how the reader who is a fan of popular Christian music will find some grounding and understanding of where the music springs, and how it feeds into the popular religious culture of Christians?
One device I use is a major writing assignment as self-reflective essay where they write about and talk about their experience in a religious community or a music community. This gets a student to connect ordinary experiences they may have grown up with as course themes. I start with something they know very well, and push them to connect to the course work.
I frequently have students who have grown up in Churches and then drifted away for various reasons and then reconnected with a religion, sometimes the same one, sometimes a different religion when they became young adults. I’ve had students who have been musicians in praise bands in Churches. Sometimes African American Churches, sometimes predominately white. Some of my students are not raised in a religion but are very devoted to musical groups; they’re organizations for whom music serves as an equivalent to Church.
I’ve got a woman in my class who is passionate about horses, and horse shows and competitions. She wrote a paper about the equestrian community at Michigan State. How it serves as a quasi-religious community, and how certain songs are significant part of this very close knit community.
What I do in the classroom, I make the students listen to many examples of religious music and I ask them to write about what they are hearing as clearly and descriptively as they can. So they begin to develop better skills for analyzing sacred sound.
Peter Menkin: As we come to the end of our conversation, I want to thank you for your time and the opportunity to make your acquaintance. At this time, tell us if there is something you would like to add or mention that may have been missed in the interview questions.
I don’t have a publisher, but I am excited about what I am going to discover in writing the new book. I am hoping to be surprised by Psalm 137. It is only in the process of writing a book that I am able to figure out what it is that is so compelling about that particular text. I hope to get something written by next summer.
To me it’s interesting to me how I got interested in sacred music in the first place. I was teaching in Japan about 15 years ago and was asked to create a course about American culture—for Japanese students. Between understanding American religion and American music I thought they would get an idea of what makes Americans tick. I taught courses on the subject and then realized I had a good book there.
Roland Hayes sings “Go Down, Moses.” 1922
Uploaded by EdmundStAustell on Mar 15, 2010
Roland Hayes (1887-1977) was born in Curryville, Georgia, the son of former slaves. He studied singing at Fisk University in Nashville and began performing publicly in 1911. He studied further in Boston and then London. His early career was in Europe, and when he returned to the United States, in 1923, he was able to come under professional management, and undertook an extensive concert tour that gained him both fame and significant income. Here is the stirring “Go Down, Moses,” recorded in 1922.
For a final look: one area of Yale Institute of Sacred Music study