Christian Congregational Music: Local and Global Perspectives

Roundtables and Workshops

On the first day of the conference, delegates have the option of participating in one morning, and one afternoon event. You will be asked to indicate your preference when you register for the conference.

1A Morning Roundtable

Lift Every Voice and Sing: Congregational Music and the Black Atlantic Discussion moderated by Dr. Birgitta Johnson

Paul Gilroy’s concept of the “the Black Atlantic” has influenced research and scholarship across many disciplines. In engaging modern Africa and African diaspora, the British historian and cultural studies pioneer, suggests moving away from the boundaries of the nation-state and posits the Black Atlantic as “a complex unit, as a space of transnational cultural exchange beyond the bodily, economic, and material toward hybridity.” A key current amidst various forms of transnational cultural exchange within the Black Atlantic is music making, and religious musics across the Black Atlantic have been key sites for the cultural hybridity Gilroy and others raise as important sign posts along the many global routes in and through this complex unit. Congregational music is one of the most pervasive modes of sacred music making across the Black Atlantic, and over the centuries the ways in which Africans on the continent as well as those of the African diaspora have shaped and fashioned church music traditions bear the triumphs, joys, scars, and controversies of a globalized Black experience. This roundtable discussion will be a chance to explore congregational music contextualized within this framework of Black Atlantic consciousness—noting similarities across several traditions as well as highlighting distinctiveness as well. The questions raised will spark conversation as well as provide opportunities for dialogue with audience participants. Moderated by ethnomusicologist Dr. Birgitta Johnson (University of South Carolina), the round table guests will include ethnomusicologist Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones (Indiana University), sociologist/anthropologist Dr. Alison Mc Letchie (Claflin University), and musician and arts management entrepreneur Dr. Pauline Muir (Goldsmiths, University of London). 

Alisha Lola Jones, PhD is an assistant professor in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University (Bloomington). She is a graduate of University of Chicago (PhD ethnomusicology), Yale Divinity School and Yale Institute of Sacred Music (MDiv.), and Oberlin Conservatory (BM-Voice). Dr. Jones serves as a council member of the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) and the American Musicological Society (AMS), and co-chair of the Music and Religion Section of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). Her forthcoming book Flaming?: The Peculiar Theo-Politics of Fire and Desire in Black Male Gospel Performance (Oxford University Press) breaks ground by analyzing the role of gospel music making in constructing and renegotiating gender identity among black men. Dr. Jones' research interests include musical masculinities, global pop music, future studies, ecomusicology, music and theology, the music industry, musics of the African diaspora and emerging research on music and future foodways (gastromusicology). Through her production firm InSight Initiative, her most recent consultant and live event production credits include work with YouTube, Google, and the Shed multi-arts center in NYC in collaboration with film director Steve McQueen, music advisor Quincy Jones, music director Greg Phillinganes, and musicologist Maureen Mahon.

Alison Mc Letchie is an Assistant Professor at Claflin University where she teaches sociology in the Department of Social Sciences. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology, M.A. in Anthropology and Certificate in Museum Management all from the University of South Carolina (USC). Her dissertation, The Parasitic Oligarchy? The Elites of Trinidad and Tobago, examined the political, business and judicial leadership of the islands while her thesis, “Incidents of Douglarization: The Worship of la Divina Pastora in Trinidad,” investigated the veneration of a representation of the Virgin Mary by various devotees of religious faiths at a Catholic church in Siparia, Trinidad. Her primary research interest includes race and ethnicity, economic inequality, music and religion and she is working on a comprehensive ethnography of an African-American Catholic community in Colleton County, SC and an investigation of Caribbean Catholic music.  She has published work on la Divina Pastora, Caribbean miracles, and Trinidad Carnival as religious festival. As an active member and participant of the Caribbean Theology Conference, she has delivered the Cheryl Herrera Memorial Lecture. 

Pauline Muir is a lecturer in Arts Management at Goldsmiths College and was formerly the Course Director on B.A. (Hons) Arts and Festival Management course at London South Bank University. Pauline is also a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA) and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA). She originally trained as a classical double bassist, and went onto to complete a Masters in Arts Management at City University whilst working in the music education sector. Awarded a PhD from Birkbeck College University of London exploring congregational music in Black Majority Churches in London, she is author of “Sounds of Blackness?– Struggles for freedom in 21st Century Congregational Songs in South London” in Religion, Culture and Spirituality in Africa and the African Diaspora edited by Ackah, Dodson, and Smith (Routledge 2018) and “A Virtuous Woman in the Twenty-Frist Century” in Sisters with Power edited by Bishop Joe Aldred (Continuum 2000).

Birgitta J. Johnson is a jointly appointed Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology in the School of Music and African American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina. Her research interests include music in African American churches, musical change and identity in black popular music, and community archiving. She has published articles in the Black Music Research Journal, Ethnomusicology Forum, Liturgy, Oxford Bibliographies in African American Studies, and the Grove Dictionary of American Music. She has forthcoming chapters on gospel archiving in the 21st century, gospel remixes of Beyoncé songs, sacred themes in the music of Outkast, and race-gender bias in pop music from Oxford University, Wesleyan University, University of Georgia, and Routledge presses, respectively. Her current manuscript project is titled Worship Waves, Navigating Identities: Music in the Black Church at the Turn of the 21st Century where she highlights the impact of post-Civil Rights era cultural movements and socio-political changes on the state of music performance, transmission, and worship traditions in Black Protestant churches of today.    

1B Morning Workshop

Sacred Song from the Jewish and Muslim Traditions: A Musical Workshop Lead by Dr Abigal Wood and Dr Sahil Warsi 

How are sacred music and sound made and experienced in Jewish and Muslim communities? What is sacred sound and where can we find it? What roles does music play in religious space and how? Starting from our grounding in Jewish and Muslim traditions, we will explore these questions in this participatory workshop through practices of singing, reciting, and dancing.

We will first consider how music is conceived of and understood in Islam and Judaism, through discussion and practical examples. Exploring the soundscapes of religious spaces and the recitation of sacred texts, we will consider whether the sacred/profane dichotomy is relevant to this context. Following this discussion, In the second part of the workshop, participants will be invited to experience practices of movement, song and chanting drawn from Hasidic Jewish and Sufi Muslim traditions.

2A Afternoon Roundtable

Thinking about Shared and Disparate Practices in Congregational Music: A Discussion Among People of the Book. Discussion moderated by Dr. Mark Porter

As a conference, CCMC is committed to conversation between religious traditions, but in practice, how might we develop productive and meaningful scholarly conversations among researchers and practitioners of musics across religious difference? What insights might studying the music of religious Others offer into the ways that we approach more familiar traditions?

This panel brings together five scholars whose research and practice reflects Western and Eastern Orthodox Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions. Drawing upon theological, musicological, and practical perspectives, we will explore underlying similarities and differences between the ways that members of the Abrahamic faiths might approach, make and think about music, and will reflect upon productive avenues for future scholarly conversation and research.

Over the course of the session we will explore a number of avenues of conversation, including the different ontologies and understandings of music present within different traditions of faith; the paradigms of analysis that might be employed in thinking across traditions; the linkages of practice and thought which can be traced between them; and the potential challenges, benefits and pitfalls of comparative research when considering musical activity across different religious boundaries.

Jonathan Arnold is Dean of Divinity and fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford. He is a Christian theologian and researcher with a background in Western choral music traditions and, before ordination, he was a regular member of St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir and The Sixteen. His latest publication is Music and Faith: Conversations in a Post-Secular Age.

Alexander Lingas is Reader in Music at City University, London. He is director of Vocal ensemble Cappella Romana, a professional vocal ensemble that performs early and contemporary sacred classical music in the Christian traditions of East and West. He sings regularly for Orthodox Christian worship.

Sahil Warsi is an anthropologist working on the intersection of migration, arts, and mental health. He is a trustee of South Asian Arts UK, and convenes the zikr ceremonies for the local Nur Ashki Jerrahi circle. He also holds workshops and mental health retreats on emotions and listening to the Quran.

John Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of worship, theology and congregational and ministry studies at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary. He has published widely on Christian worship, and has served as collaborating editor in the process of compiling several hymnals.

Abigail Wood is senior lecturer in ethnomusicology at the University of Haifa, Israel and a lay leader of an egalitarian Jewish prayer group in her neighbourhood. She has published widely on contemporary Jewish musics; her recent research focuses on the soundscapes of the Old City in Jerusalem.

2B Afternoon Workshop

How We Got Over: Congregational Music from the One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism African American Ecumenical Hymnal Lecture-demonstration led by Dr. James Abbington

Christians from around the world are familiar with African American spirituals and gospel music. While these genres represent significant contributions of African American Christians to Christian congregational singing, Black American church music is much broader. The African American church is far from monolithic, including such diverse streams as Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal/Holiness, independent, and African Methodist Episcopal. Each of these different denominations, and often the individual congregations within them, have unique worship styles and preferred music genres.

In this workshop, Dr. James Abbington will use the newly published African American Ecumenical Hymnal (2018), a landmark ecumenical publication representing 10 African American denominational traditions and over two centuries of Black sacred music from the USA, the Caribbean, and Africa. In the first half, Dr. Abbington will chronicle the history of many of these congregational songs. The second half of the lecture-demonstration will comprise congregational singing of African American congregational songs from a range of traditions in a variety of styles. Attendees will gain a new appreciation of the cultural and historical context of sacred song in the African American church and learn how these pieces relate to the church today within and beyond the USA.