Seven years ago (such a very long time ago, it seems now), I had the idea to produce a concert on Good Friday at my then very new place of employment, the Calvary Baptist Church. I was not yet a member. The truth was, very few people in the congregation knew anything about me except that I sang with great gusto in the choir and seemed to be pleasant enough to talk to at the coffee hour. In the previous year, someone of great importance in my musical and spiritual life had died, and I wanted to do a concert in his honor for one of his favorite charities. I thought that nothing could be more fitting than performing a work that he had taught me with another colleague of his who was at the time my new voice teacher. And this community that barely knew me said, YES!
And on each following Good Friday, we have presented yet another concert. We do a concert instead of a service, and yet, what I have learned over the years of making music on Good Friday is that we are in fact doing a concert AS a service, not instead. Through the act of singing on Good Friday, I have begun to understand the act of performing as an act of faith testimony, an act that can be as powerful or as dull as a sermon depending on the musical choices and the intentions of the performers. And so, with that background, I offer my proposal for my research paper with the working title: Music as Testimony: A Case Study of the Power of Music as Theology.
The Research Question:
What does it mean to testify in the context of corporate worship and can musical performance function as testimony in that setting? If the answer to that question is yes, then is there still a place for testimony expressed through non-contemporary musical genres. And, if the answer to that question is also yes, can musical performance function as testimony outside the worship service context?
The Research Claim:
In church communities that worship as non-liturgical, free will traditions, worship formation generally includes four elements: scripture reading, prayer, music and preaching. And, there will be most likely be music – music sung by the congregation and music experienced by the congregation as the performance of an individual soloist or a group such as a choir. No one questions the purpose and function of Scripture reading and prayer, and the sermon is often the center point of the service and the worship element that governs the contents of every other element. And often enough, while the music may be chosen to correspond to the message of the day, the real purpose of the music in the service is never discussed even though congregational time is spent listening to that music. Much has been written about the need for and purpose of congregational singing, but there has been little examination of those musical moments when the congregation listens rather than actively participating in the creation of the music.
Music is capable of expressing a specific theological viewpoint; it is capable of showcasing an individual or a corporate faith experience and communicating that as testimony just as can be done through an spoken narrative or a sermon and yet little attention is often paid to this mode of communication that sometimes fills more than a quarter of the day’s worship experience. In fact, it is possible to worship with music alone and still communicate the message of the day, if that music is chosen and performed with a sense of that message and careful theological choice is involved in the act of performance.
The Research Methodology:
My first step will be the construction of a working definition of testimony as a worship element, using the following works as guides:
Lillian Daniel. Tell it Like It Is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony. Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2006.
Anne Carter Florence. Preaching as Testimony. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.
Thomas G. Long. Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christians. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004.
The next step will be the examination of the role of music in worship, using the following:
Don E. Saliers. Music and Theology. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007.
Philip Ball. The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Julian Johnson. Who Needs Classical Music: Cultural Choice and Musical Values. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Thomas G. Long. Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship. Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2001.
And finally, I will prepare a case study by looking at a specific musical instance: music from the Lutheran tradition with specific reference to Christ’s Passion often used as worship music or in stand-alone concert presentations for Good Friday. For this purpose, I will examine specific works by J. S. Bach and George Phillip Telemann. References to support this examination are:
Jaroslav Pelikan. Bach Among the Theologians. Eugene, OR: WIPF and Stock Publishers, 1986.
Resonant Witness: Conversations Between Music and Theology. Jeremy S. Begbie and Steven R. Guthrie, editors. Cambridge: W.B. Eerdmans, 2011.