Brandenburg Concerto No.5 and Bach’s Understanding of Social Hierarchy

For a long time I was not a fan of Bach. My distorted impression and negative emotion toward Bach came from bad childhood memory when I had to strenuously memorize Bach’s inventions and fugues for piano grade exams. Therefore, it was almost a cultural shock to me when I entered college where almost everyone loves Bach. Perhaps since then my attitude toward Bach began to change, as I had a chance to gain a more comprehensive view of Bach’s music. This semester I studied the Brandenburg Concertos in Tonal Analysis class and it was an absolutely thrilling moment listening to the harpsichord cadenza in the first movement of the fifth concerto. Alongside musical analysis, the class discussions also touched on probable religious interpretations of the piece but didn’t go further. Therefore, I decided to do some research on this topic.

I started off my research by reading chapters from The social and religious designs of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg concertos by Michael Marissen. As Marissen demonstrated in his book, baroque writers frequently took orchestra as a metaphor of social hierarchy, while one significant Lutheran viewpoint was that in the heavenly world the earthly hierarchies would no longer be necessary. Therefore, it is arguable that Bach, a devotional Lutheran, metaphorically demolished the idea of social hierarchy by composing iconoclastic orchestral parts in the Brandenburg Concertos, including the thrilling harpsichord cadenza. At the same time, Marissen reiterated the point that the unconventional orchestral arrangements did not symbolize earthly rebellion toward the social hierarchy which Bach in fact relied on for a living, although had many troubles with. Instead, the Brandenburg Concertos are religiously significant because they musically depict the next world where social hierarchy disappears.

Based upon Marissen’s viewpoint, in my own research paper I am going to provide a specific musical analysis on the Brandenburg Concerto No.5, in terms of its form, orchestration, and other musical details, and connect these musical features with further religious interpretations. Through series of musical evidence on the score, I will try to argue that Brandenburg Concerto No.5 reflected Bach’s understanding of the Lutheran theology that visioned the absence of social hierarchy in the next world.

Research is Hard: And Other Thoughts about the Research Process

I’m going to be honest, I have a potential topic (Christian hip hop and trying to apply some of the lenses I talked about in my first paper), but I have not done sufficient research as of yet to justify it. Life gets very busy on the Hill, and thus time is very limited for the vast amount of things I have to do on a daily basis. I’m barely sleeping as a result, and I’m still behind in virtually everything.

But, I can talk about the process of research and writing because I have done it numerous times and will do it for this paper ASAP. As my title states, research is hard work. You have to find good quality academic sources (something that’s hard with my topic being such a personally felt one, not much academic research has been done on CCM music. I was lucky to find the excellent book I found that is the basis of my interpretation of my second paper), and sift out the good information from the bad. With our class as well, we are asked not to just spit out information and conclusions that other people have already come up with, but to synthesize and evaluate all the information to come up with a new and interesting thesis that no one has ever thought of before. While this is a very exciting prospect, it’s really tough to do. It requires you to pick and choose sometimes what scholars have said to make your own point, forgetting some things they said that actively contradict you (if you’re really doing a great paper, you have to answer those challenges within your argument). You have to spend a ton of time synthesizing very complex and dry articles into a compelling and persuasive paper. On top of all of this, you have to credit your sources and be super paranoid about plagiarism.

It’s a really tough but fun process. I wish that I had had time thus far this semester to really fully invest in this course and give it my all, because this is scholarly work that I actually finally care about. These next two months will be better, and I can’t wait to finish off this course with products that I’m really proud of individually and collectively as a class.

It’s actually Friday and I still don’t really have a thesis.

This week has been overwhelming. I picked a direction for my paper (studying Bach’s Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland) and expected starting research to be so much easier with a more focused, specific topic. WRONG! In the past, I have picked a direction for a paper, begun research, and then changed that direction and formed a thesis based on my findings. This time, however, I am struggling to do successful preliminary research without coming up with a thesis first. There is not a huge amount of scholarship on specific Bach cantatas, and so I have been wondering which elements I should focus on. I could look at the cantata as a genre through Nun Komm, I could focus on Bach and his relationship with this text/motivation for setting it/theological implications through the setting, or I could connect it more to Luther and his adaptation of the Latin Veni redemptor gentium. I have no idea at this point what will be most fruitful, interesting, and relatable to the class. I also wonder if there is some really really really cool lens with which to study the piece that I am just way too tired to think of.

I plan on doing a small amount of research in each of these directions to see what is least overwhelming and most possible/interesting. However, based on my findings about the specific piece, it looks as though most of my argument using Bach’s setting of Nun Komm itself will be my own analysis informed by more contextual and general research.

****EDIT: I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before, but another option is comparing/contrasting Bach’s two settings of Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland and looking at how they evolved differently from Luther’s chorale/the original chant. So I’m going that direction for awhile. Yay.

Hello from the outside…

The first paper was challenging for me in a lot of ways, many of which were (for me) unexpected. I discussed how aspects of feminism, religion, and music come together in the fascinating biography and music of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. a nineteenth century German composer. It was surprisingly hard to find plenty of reliable, relevant sources; and the further I delved into research, the stronger my thesis got…but the more it deviated from the focus of the class. But one thing that did make it easy and enjoyable for me was personal investment in my broader topic (specifically feminism and music). I didn’t think too much about this detail at the time, but I now realize that because I identify as a female, I already had some first-person grasp of the importance of feminism. I subconsciously felt like I had authority: the innate knowledge of which sources were “good” or “bad,” and which perspectives were “informed” or “biased.” Which is a pretty foolish assumption to begin research with as a musicologist, to be honest.

But now, I will be researching elements of the sacred and secular in African-American spirituals. And so there’s one detail about my sequel paper which makes it trickier for me as a musicologist: I am an undisputed outsider. No matter how much musical analysis or historical research I do, and no matter how open-minded or empathetic I am, I know that as a white person, I will never fully understand African-American spirituals from a social or cultural perspective. In an attempt to work with this issue as someone on the “outside,” I’ve been reading sources from black scholars wherever possible, and I found an extremely well-reputed bibliography with hundreds of recommended readings sorted into various aspects of spirituals research and performance (e.g. slave religion and culture; use of spirituals in art music; women’s theological perspectives; etc.).

One pleasant surprise for me was the number of (hopefully) reliable sources on this topic. I am fed up enough with institutionalized patriarchy and racism (including that of musical study) that I assumed there wouldn’t be very much to work with when I first ventured to the search bar – especially not by black authors. However, I’ve already found a few books and articles that I think will work well, and I think my thesis will be well on its way much quicker than last time. And if not…as another singing diva might say, “at least I can say that I’ve tried.”

Giving Meaning to Research: So What?

As I embark on the early stages of this next paper-writing journey I am struggling with bridging my personality to the realm of academic musicological writing. I need to find a purpose to motivate me to want to learn about and do a good job. I started finding this purpose by asking myself: why do I want to explore antisemitism in Bach’s St. John’s Passion? Throughout the research and writing process, I’m starting to find my answer. The Bible was written a long time ago and Bach wrote the passion a long time ago. Everyone involved in the original creation of these primary sources is dead, so there is no chance of changing what has already been written. If there are antisemetic tones we should call them out. Should we stop performing St. John’s Passion? I think not. Is an informed performance necessary? Absolutely.

There are a few points of intervention to consider. First, the point of view from whomever(s) wrote the Gospel of John. Next, the point between the Gospel of John and Bach, and the point between Bach’s composition and the performers executing a performance of the passion itself.

I’m going to make a case for at which of these points we need to intervene as scholars dedicated to lifting up equal human rights and respect without ignoring creations from the past.

I have found a few great sources so far including a compilation of articles titled Pondering the Passion that includes an essay called “The Passion in Music: Bach’s Settings of the Matthew and John Passions.” This will be a good entry point into the discussion as well as other articles in this book which look at the passion narrative from numerous points of view. Another book I checked out from the library is called Who Killed Jesus: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus by John Dominic Crosssan.

There is a lot of literature about this topic and there is no way I’ll be able to read it all. I am nervous to write this paper because I do not have the depth of background knowledge that I would like, but I will need to do my best given the time constraints to say something helpful, original, and accurate.

Pietism and Orthodoxy: Two Flavors in the Same Dish

In our silliness, Lutherans like to think of our tradition as being a singular continuous stream flowing from Luther’s pen to the current age. But as my research into pietism and orthodoxy has shown, this is obviously not the case. Almost immediately after its establishment, different flavors of Lutheranism began to emerge. This fact might be troubling at first, but on a second look it makes lots of sense in a Lutheran lens.

One of the most important significances of the Reformation is that the church is in constant need of reform. It is terribly dangerous to assert that the faith is completely defined and set, that its precepts are perfect and need no revision. Obviously the Augsburg confession continues to be a groundwork for our doctrines, but it does not address many of the concerns of the contemporary church. One of the slogans of the ELCA is “Always being made new.” We believe we need this constant renewal on two levels. We need it on a personal level, for although we are redeemed we remain sinners. We also need it on the institutional level, for the brokenness of our lives leads to brokenness in the church.

However while on the outside pietism and orthodoxy can seem quite opposed initially, within the lens of Lutheranism they can be seen as quite hand in hand. At the core of both movements is the preaching of the Good News. This preaching manifests itself in different ways, in different communities, but this also is good news! We needn’t be carbon copies of each other in order to be living the faith in an authentic way. Just like Pastor Matt explained that we shouldn’t think of translations as faux pretenders, but rather as living expressions of the same word. This is how I’ve come to think about different expressions of Lutheranism in the 17th century.

Carmina Burana: The Reformation in the 11th Century

The full title of the Carmina Burana is Carmina Burana: Cantiones profanæ cantoribus et choris cantandæ comitanibus instrumentis atque imaginibus magicis, which means “Songs of Beuern, Secular songs for singers and choruses to be sung together with instruments and magic images.” By just reading the title, you might not guess that its poetry was written by 11th-century monks and clergymen. The subject matter is almost appalling when you think of the context in which it was written. It ranges from taking the Queen of England to bed, to being a goose in an oven, slowly burning and dying. To write this paper, I’m looking for evidence of two things: That the spirit in which the text was written mirrors that of the Reformation 400 years later (rebellious sentiments against hypocrisy and contradiction in the Catholic church), and that Carl Orff attempts to reconcile its secularity by setting the text to music in a manner that manages to allow the work to be seen in a religious light once again.

The convenient thing about this subject is that most of my “research” will be analysis on my part—of the text and of Orff’s setting. I’ve yet to find a reputable source of scholarly writing on this subject either online or in the music library, and I’m not really sure what kind of information is out there on this subject. I bet I’ll find writing on the different languages used in the work; the poems are in Medieval Latin, Germanic Latin, Middle-High German, Old French, Provençal, and some of the pieces are even “macaronic” (made of macaroni)(jk), meaning they are a jumble of different languages. To me, the use of the vernacular in these poems is a dead-ringer for what happened during the Reformation.

I think that my best course of action with regard to analyzing the music will be to use the infrequent religious references in the text as guide points to focus on. The most well known reference is in the penultimate piece of the work, Blanziflor et Helena. The “chorus” has convinced the female main character (soprano soloist) to fall in love, and this piece is a glorious congratulation. Blanziflor comes from the French Blanchefleur, a word meaning “white flower” and also being a common representation of the Virgin Mary. The chorus compares the soprano’s beauty to Mary and Helen of Troy, hailing her with the explosive first line: Ave formosissima! (Behold the most lovely).

The research has been slow so far, but the more I do, the more I become convinced that my thesis actually has some ground to stand on, which isn’t something I can say for every paper I’ve written.

Beautiful Savior would be much more beautiful if people would write about it

I’m finding myself in this horrible trend where I think of a super cool topic that has very little research to back it up. Right now, I’m synthesizing the sources that I have to see if there’s actually enough to continue with this topic… to be determined.

I’m interested in looking at Beautiful Savior. I had never heard this hymn before coming to St. Olaf, and obviously it’s inescapable here. I have a lot of questions that I could answer: does it align with Luther’s beliefs about congregational singing? How do the militaristic connotations of the text and melody relate to early beliefs about Christ as a warrior, and does that influence the popularity of the hymn? Does it appear in other faith traditions? (And does that have any significance?)

I think my best shot will be the first question, though I can’t stop thinking about the militaristic connotations. I am hoping that by performing my own analysis of the text and the chorale tune, I can compare and relate to what Luther says in his Preface to Symphoniae iucundae, what we read on the Lutheran chorale, and draw from new sources. For instance, there are SO many dissertations out there on the function of music in worship. The challenging thing for me right now is that most scholarship on the tune itself is part of a narrative about St. Olaf, and that feels like too narrow of a topic. I feel that the lack of other sources proves that the hymn is not super prevalent, answering a previous question.

My next step is to try to dig deeper into the tune and text themselves. I have some preliminary background knowledge from and the minimal background information in the “History of the St. Olaf Choir” books that the library has (side note: why have so many people written books about that? At least there are some killer photos of Dr. Armstrong).

I’m going to take a look at the companion commentaries to the ELW next: we looked at those frequently with JBobb in his interim course, and they typically provided a good background bio and often some places to look next. I welcome any other sources about specific hymns that I might not have thought of yet. I’m really hoping that there’s enough this time that I don’t have to change my thesis again, so any direction and feedback is VERY welcome.

Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, but What Context?

I write this knowing that I still do not completely have a topic picked out. I know that I want to research Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, but, due to my lack of knowledge of Orthodoxy and Russian history, I was not sure what I would find. A quick Google search led me to ask more questions that required more research. How religious was Rachmaninoff himself? How were the growing tensions between the church and state reflected in this music? The All-Night Vigil was written in two weeks, and two years later, was banned from its home country, due to its religious nature. However, Rachmaninoff wrote this without specifying whether the vespers were meant to be performed in a sacred setting or a concert hall.

A search in Catalyst proved a bit challenging, only due to the sheer amount of recordings of the All-Night Vigil that exist. Many articles are reviews of recordings or concerts. I found a dissertation by Alice Generalow, which provides context within the Russian Orthodox Church, and within the history of Russia, and also within Rachmaninoff’s own life.

As I continue to hone in on a topic, I will decide what sort of lense through which I want to look at this piece of music. If I place within a much larger context, like the post-World War I state of the USSR, I may be getting too far away from study of the piece itself. If I place it within the context of Rachmaninoff’s life, I may not find enough information to fill a five minute podcast.

The Dance of the Seven (Thousand) Articles

Given that my last paper topic was quite closely tied to Luther and Reformation theology, I wanted to venture further away for this next project.

Unlike most of the other music we’re studying this semester, Richard Strauss’ Salome is not a sacred work. However, many elements within the opera make it a worthy candidate for examination: the biblically-based story line; the layers of religious prophecy; the provocative conflation of the violent and the erotic with the sacred.

Beyond these broad thematic elements, Salome also stands as the product of a particular era in German (or even generally European) intellectual history. The opera, which depicts several Jewish characters from in and around the court of King Herod, arrived on the stage at a time when anti-Semitism was deeply ingrained in European society and was rising in virulence. This socio-religious context adds another layer of complexity to an analysis of religious elements in Salome.

The opera’s 1905 premiere shocked and scandalized audiences, but along with its infamy the opera quickly gained acclaim. It would be easy to cast the opera as a testament to the potential power of music not towards the pure and the religious, but instead towards the carnal and the blasphemous- and indeed many of its audience members reacted as such. Thus despite the fact that Salome is not a religious work, it inspired many of the same debates that theologians had been having about music for centuries.

Although there is certainly plenty of musicological scholarship about Strauss and Salome, there are also articles in disciplines like dance and gender studies that address some of the same questions that I have. It will be interesting to see which of their interpretations are shared by musicologists, and I will have to be careful to keep my thesis narrow in order to avoid getting lost in the subject’s complexity. I’m not yet sure where my argument will focus or which direction it will point towards, and I will have to think carefully about how to incorporate musical evidence and analysis, but it is clear that although Salome is not a religious work, it has inspired many of the same debates about music that theologians have discussed for centuries.

Mathis der Maler

Paul Hindemith’s Opera and Symphony, “Mathis der Maler” is set in the 1520s and focuses on the character of Mathis Grünewald, a Reformation-era painter. In an opera concerning an artist during the Protestant Reformation, the religious background of the plot and meaning of the characters in the work are of great importance. One would think then, that scholarship on this work would take into, at the very least, some consideration of the religious meaning and importance that undergirds the work.

I am learning quickly that this is not necessarily the case. Much scholarship has been done on Hindemith’s work in terms of its placement within Nazi Germany, and the parallels drawn between Mathis’ life and Hindemith’s efforts to exist within the regime of the Third Reich. Less emphasis has consequently been put on directly analyzing the religious aspects of the work. Certainly at the least there is a great dearth of analysis as I have searched on this subject in the English literature on Hindemith’s composition. It is possible, that this is a consideration taken into account in the German scholarship; however, I cannot read German, so the extensive body of literature that one can find on this topic, as outlined in the very helpful and exhaustive annotated list of literature compiled by Luttman. This leaves me with both a daunting and exciting possibility of being able to combine the political analysis of the work with its religious elements. This could be very rewarding, however it leaves a large task for me to take on. The other bigger issue is that it is a basis for what could be a large undertaking and a difficult and vague area for me to develop a thesis. Either way, it is an exciting possibility, and I look forward to (and dread just a little) the upcoming project.

새찬송가전집: A New Hymnal for an Evolving Tradition

When I was in Korea visiting my best friend from high school in June of 2015, I purchased a hymnal from a small kiosk in a street market near the Dongdaemun Gate in Seoul, one of many that sold Christian books (bibles, hymnals, and others). The vendor was an older Korean man who jumped up when we walked in and showed genuine surprise when I (with my friend as translator) inquired about purchasing a hymnal. He produced a small green book with gold letters on the front that read “한영 새찬송가전집 / New Korean-English Hymnal”. I flipped through and actually recognized some of the tunes, albeit with unfamiliar words and somewhat different harmonizations. The vendor cut me a deal for ₩20,000 (about $18) and I left.

Fast forward to last week. When I was brainstorming topics for this paper, the idea of examining Korean church music came up, as Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism combined) represent the largest religious group in Korea (“non-religious” excluded). A quick search on Catalyst ([Korea* AND church music]) led me to an article discussing the newest version of the Korean hymnbook, called the New Korean Hymnal. Unlike hymnals in the US, it is used across many of the protestant denominations in Korea. Its release in 2006 was part of an emerging effort to “Koreanize” the music of the church in Korea, as up to that point, the great majority of the music had been western in origin. From there, I found more articles about how imperialism and colonialism over the last 100 years or so impacted the development of religion in Korea and how, in the last two decades, Korean Christian organizations have made conscious efforts to incorporate traditional music into their worship, adding many hymns based on traditional or newly-composed Korean tunes. After reading this, I discovered that the hymnal I had purchased was indeed a Korean-English bilingual version of this new book. I then decided that I want to explore this return to tradition and how it correlates with reformation ideas of the use of vernacular, traditional and popular/secular tunes, and other forms of adaptation to create more unique and culturally valuable worship.

I am finding that locating print sources that are not too general is difficult, as so far I have only found ones that relate to my topic tangentially. However, I have found several articles and dissertations from which I will likely be able to pull material and find more sources.

From Bach to Bolcom

I originally wanted to talk about the influence of jazz in church music: what aspects does it change, and what stay the same; however, I felt this may be too broad, so my wish is to focus on analysis of one piece specifically: What A Friend We Have in Jesus, a gospel prelude by William Bolcom, and how this piece serves as an equally powerful reflection on its text just as any Bach chorale prelude would. This piece is one that I’ve become more and more familiar with over the past 5 years because the organist that I’d like to work with in graduate school, Dr. David Higgs, has the definitive opinion on this work. He and William Bolcom have worked together closely on the technique and nuance of this piece, with Bolcom revising different aspects of the piece per Higgs’ suggestions. I’ve heard Higgs play it in several concerts, I’ve had a lesson with him where we focused on this work, and I’m playing it in a student recital tomorrow.

My goal in this paper/podcast is to uncover how it serves the texts with a strong analysis. As far as researching goes, because there isn’t any written research available that I could find specifically of the piece, I need to find sources that explain Bolcom’s background as a composer, and what influenced his compositional style to see if his jazz writing is authentic to jazz heritage, or if it is jazz music run through a “classical” filter. I’ve reserved some books about the history of jazz music in the church, and jazz’s impact on religion to see if there is a connection there; if there is, I may want to modify my thesis to include this as an intermediate evolutionary step between Bach and Bolcom.

Early America: Shaker and Sacred Harp Singing

For my second paper, I’m focusing on early American folksong. I began by researching Shaker music, which I enjoyed listening to and which surprised me with its similarities to Sufi music. Ultimately, though, I am not sure if there is enough literature on Shaker music to allow me to make a well-researched argument. My back-up option is the Sacred Harp (shape-note) tradition, which I have also begun to research.

Up until the last two days, my only exposure to the Shaker tradition was “Simple Gifts,” a Shaker song referenced in Copland’s Appalachian Spring. As I began my research, almost every facet of the Shaker lifestyle and religious musical tradition came as a surprise to me. Only one small Shaker community remains today, so my research focused on Shakers in the 1800s. Shakers lived in celibate communities in which all children were adopted (and given the choice to leave at age 21). They believed in the equality of men and women and opposed slavery. In terms of music, they composed hundreds of unison songs, hymns, and anthems that all members of the community sang. Shaker composers notated their work with letter names and marks indicating melodic direction (up or down).

The most distinctive part of the Shaker tradition is the way believers performed music. The word Shaker comes from the name “Shaking Quaker.” In fact, Shakers worshipped with music and ecstatic dance; in many cases, specific motions went along with specific songs.1 This troubled a lot of other Protestant communities, who believed dance had no place in religious practices. The use of dance to reach a state of ecstasy reminded me of the Sufi dances we read about in Shiloah’s “Music and Religion in Islam.” Just as non-Sufi Muslims condemned Sufi dancing, non-Shaker Protestants condemned Shaker dancing.

Although I’m learning a lot about Shaker music from the books available in the library, I haven’t been able to find many scholarly opinions on it. In one sense, the Shaker tradition is very well-documented because its songs were written down.2 On the other hand, I have only found three books and a handful of articles about it.

After spending a long time trying to justify how I could keep researching the Shaker tradition, I decided to look at the Sacred Harp tradition instead. I haven’t gotten very far on this research, but so far I am particularly interested in the ways Sacred Harp singing was made accessible to people not trained in music (for example, singers sometimes used a solfege system to make singing more participatory).3

At this point in my research, I don’t feel like I have enough information to be able to clearly articulate a thesis. I have a general idea of the traditions I’ve read about, but I think I’ll need to do a lot more reading before I’m able to narrow in on a topic.

1 Daniel W. Patterson, The Shaker Spiritual, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), 28.

2 Patterson, 35.

3 Buell E. Cobb, Jr., The Sacred Harp: A Tradition and Its Music, (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1978), 59.

Sacred Madrigals and Secular Masses

Every once in a while we come across a piece of music that is categorized in a way that makes us ask why. I’m talking about secular masses and sacred madrigals. I am looking into writing about pieces which exist in a genre which seems questionable. I have found multiple articles on how church music and madrigals are related which is a start. Epstein suggested that I focus on one piece that is in a genre that it wouldn’t normally be in and look into why. I haven’t decided on the exact piece, but I have found some ideas when researching.

One of the hardest things about working with this topic is that I haven’t found a specific piece yet because I needed to find works that are in this category. Searching for those pieces was difficult because of the language used; like how do I put “music categorized in a genre that we wouldn’t expect” into a couple words. I found that a common term used for some pieces is spiritual madrigal. So I was searching for madrigal AND church or madrigal and relig* and there was virtually nothing. Once I figured out the language that writers use, it was easier to navigate the databassi.

I’m thinking I’ll use a madrigal that has to do with the happier parts of a church holiday (I found one about rejoicing in the joys of Lent) so that I can focus on the intent of the composer. There is no way that a madrigal of this kind would be sung in a church, however a secular mass could definitely be sung is a church depending on the text. So I want to look at the intersections (not sucking up) of sacred/secular and come back to our question about if the categorization is really necessary.

Research is Hard

Unfortunately, as I begin to research a new topic, I am still having some of the same issues as I did with my last topic. Much of what I’ve had trouble with is simply not knowing what to search to read about what I want to learn. When I was writing about Hildegard, this was unfortunate but not surprising; I basically had to make my own connections because the connection between Hildegard’s music and music of the Black church hasn’t been made before. I assumed that this new topic–gender and theology in gospel music–would be a road better traveled. However, because I haven’t extensively studied theology, theologies of music, or gospel music/singers, I’m having a lot of trouble just figuring out what searches will bring up relevant sources. So far, I’ve tried combinations of gender/wom*/fem*/gospel/religi*/names of gospel singers. I’ve found a lot of articles that look interesting, but I’m not quite sure how I’ll make an argument out of them.

Based on what I’ve read so far, here are some concepts I’d like to try to connect or find out more about:

Black women as “musical missionaries” (Jerma A. Jackson)–looking at Rosetta Tharpe as an example

Judith Butler’s thoughts on sound/music–more about popular music, but could apply the concepts

Article titled “On Exoticism, Western Art Music, and the Words We Use” by Ralph P. Locke–haven’t read the whole thing yet, but has a lot of important perspectives that I’d like to incorporate, esp. because I don’t want this paper to turn into a study of the “exotic other.”

Useful article by Tammy L. Kernodle that gives an overview of African-American women’s contributions to gospel’s evolution–I will use this to find more search terms/research specific people

Idea that African American men in gospel quartets served as role models for the community–so were women singing gospel also role models or is that transgressive?

Another article by Kernodle exploring Black women’s relationships with each other in musical groups–disproving the myth that they can’t work together because they’re too competitive/focused on men–and how they can validate each other and work together (female friendships are the happiest side of women’s and gender studies so hopefully this fits somehow so I get to talk about this!!)

Possibly how freedom songs/activism grew out of the gospel movement–music as a catalyst for change–this might be pushing it too far out of the topic.

Identity and sound and embodiment of music/theology in a certain type of body

So, these ideas are a little scattered right now but I see promising prospects. I hope to find some kind of common thread that will help me focus the topic, but also find enough to talk about.

Anabaptists: not just what I learned in Sunday School

For our second paper/podcast, I decided to go back to my roots. I was raised Baptist, and before I was baptized, I had to take a short, three-day course that taught me the history of my denomination, going all the way back to the Anabaptists. This led me to wonder about the music of the Anabaptists during the Reformation – they were present during that tumultuous time, yet, I haven’t heard much about them in class or delved into their musical and theological beliefs on my own.

So far, I’ve found some information about what the Anabaptists thought of music in online articles, but I’d like to find more information in book sources here on campus. Originally, I thought I might be able to find information about it in the music library, but it looks like I’ll have to broaden my search and see if there are books about the Anabaptists in the religion sections of Rolvaag that mention their views on music. This seems likely. I also am struggling because a lot of information online through the databases has been about the musical theologies of modern Anabaptists, Mennonites, and the Amish. Even though the Mennonites and Amish were branches off of the Anabaptist tree, I’m more interested in the music of the 16th century Anabaptists than modern ones. Although, it does make me wonder if I should change my topic to compare how their theology of music has changed over time.

I’ve also found a couple “witness” hymns from the Anabaptists about being persecuted, and I think I’ll try to incorporate those into the paper. I’m just not sure if I should focus on one of the hymns and analyze it, or if I should try to have a broader main point and use the hymns as evidence to help prove that point. I think that the former may be a better approach to this paper, though. I’m actually surprised about how much information is available on the musical theologies of the Anabaptists. It seems like there are some books that aren’t available to me via our library system, or books I wouldn’t be able to request through inter-library loan soon enough for them to arrive in time for me to use them in my paper.

I thought that I would compare the Anabaptist view of music with Luther’s, and for that, having some hymns as evidence would work well. However, I have realized that it might be best to narrow my topic to the undercurrents of survival in the music of the persecuted Anabaptists. Articles that I’ve found are titled “Music of the Martyrs,” “Anabaptist Martyr Ballad,” and “We want to tell with singing.” So, I think it will be difficult to separate their music from their pride in survival – not that I think that I should separate them at all. Luther never said much about them, other than that they fundamentally disagreed on baptism, so any primary resources connecting Luther’s faith with the Anabaptists may prove hard to come by. Once I am able to look at more books in Rolvaag, I think that I’ll be able to fully realize my exact topic and how I will use my examples as evidence.



Master of Dank Memes and False Spirituality: Eric Whitacre

He’s the poster boy of modern choral music. He’s the master of music and social media. He appears in choir programs all over the world. He’s the lusciously long-haired creator of the Virtual Choir. He’s Eric Whitacre.

The man is everywhere, and I want to explore why this is the case. I argue that Eric Whitacre owes a majority of his success to the culture of the 21st century, the consistent rise in modern humanism. The disinterest in institutionalized religion combined with the desire for spirituality is resulting in a market for unabashedly beautiful music like Whitacre’s, but at what cost? I then argue that this a theologically unstable (from a Christian perspective) market to rely on, and therefore, regardless of fame and recognition, this music may not stand the test of time as, say, Bach’s music has.

I’m interested to see what scholarship I can find on the disinterest in institutionalized religion; I can make fair assumptions that a lot of these sentiments stem from centuries of oppression, and that should not be ignored. However, I need still need to find theological debates that back my argument saying shallow spirituality isn’t the key to solving this problem.

As far as challenges go, I’m arguing something so recent that there aren’t many publications on the subject. Eric Whitacre is so new that “fresh off the press” doesn’t even begin to describe how current the writings on him and his phenomenon are. My best bet would be doing more research on evolving dogmas in recent years and tying it to the arts.

My thinking has changed slightly in that I want to focus more on how music doesn’t have to be “beautiful” in order for it to be “spiritual.” Bach wrote plenty of pieces that captured the essence of the Lutheran theology, that may not be considered aesthetically beautiful, but that still remain relevant today. Eric Whitacre puzzles me because I feel that he is more than a social media wizard with long hair; there’s something about his music that may be more problematic than we know.

Struggle in the Early Phases of Research

At this point in my research, I have found several materials and skimmed most of them, but I have not thoroughly read any of them.  Finding sources has been challenging, however, as I am struggling to find scholarship specifically related to my topic.  I am studying Bach’s “Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern” cantata and while there is an enormous amount of work on Bach and his cantatas, few people have written on this specific cantata.  Most of books and articles I have found give a brief summary of the cantata, it’s text and performance forces, but few of my sources interpret the piece.  I have accumulated several books with general information about Bach’s cantatas or his theology, but I am apprehensive about justly applying concepts from one cantata or account of Bach’s theology to the cantata I am studying.

As I think about developing an argument, I worry that I will not have more than a few scholar’s arguments to work with, or that I will have several iterations of the same brief history.  While I realize there is certainly enough scholarship available to write a brief paper on a Bach cantata, I fear that I will need to rely more on my own interpretive judgement than I did in my last paper.  I feel confident I can make a claim about this cantata, but I would hate to misconstrue Bach out of my ignorance.  The antidote to my fears is to read, however, I suspect that in my research process I will spend less time evaluating scholars positions, and more time analyzing the piece itself.

divinae Musices horto

You could say that the Butt has peaked my interest. In fact I will say it, because its funny, and the explosion of German Lutheran compositions during the baroque period is not something I initially considered to be theologically motivated. Coupled with the social interplay between many famous North and Central German baroque composers that I’ve found, I think that I have a very skewed conception of their compositional motivations.
This brings me to Johann Adam Reincken’s Hortus musicus, at the beginning of which he penned a Latin forward and extensive cover page describing the “sacred garden of music” that he is tries to create in his suite. He uses this garden as an allegory throughout the suite, and Ulf Grapenthin links the well constructed fugues within the sonatas of the work to monumental buildings crowned with “Soli Deo Gloria.” To me, this proclaims an intrinsic link between music (even secular/instrumental) and the divine. I hope to look more into Reincken’s Hortus musicus to reveal more musical “proof” of these compositional theologies, and compare them to the composers of the time like J.S. Bach, and Buxtehude, who were all comparing works and communicating.

In my initial research I have run into the monumental problem of the Germans. It seems that they speak German. Which I cannot read. It is apparent that finding English books and articles on my in-depth subject within the baroque period will take some digging, both on the musicology side, and the theological side. Luckily, I already have the Butt reading to get a start on the theological interpretation of Reincken’s instrumental works, and if nothing else I can try to justify my argument through the interpretation of instrumental works, which obviously aren’t in need of translation.

Messiaen, Bach, and Wordless Theology

My initial research goal has been to find affinities between Messiaen and Bach in their instrumental music. Both advance theological messages in purely instrumental music, but I’m finding it more difficult to connect the two than I’d like. In part, because I don’t have the sort of Bach scholarship I’m looking for (detailed theological analysis of his instrumental works. I know there’s theological symbolism in a lot of it, I just need some scholarly sources to lean on). I intend to continue looking, but if I don’t find anything soon I may scale back and just make an argument about Messiaen’s theology.

Messiaen’s compositional techniques are absolutely fascinating. I plan to draw on Messiaen’s Interpretations of Holiness and Trinity by Siglind Bruhn. She explains that in Méditations sur le Mystère de la Sainte Trinité Messiaen develops a system for expressing written language musically. He assigns letters to pitches and grammatical cases to certain melodic figures, and uses this system to quote Thomas Aquinas in several of the Méditations. God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all have their own musical figures as well. Messiaen manipulates these figures to advance theological ideas about the trinity. Bruhn refers to the Méditations as a “palindrome”, but I think it might be more appropriate to say they have a chiastic structure. That is to say, it follows a sort of ABCDED1C1B1A1 structure. The 1st meditation and the last are similar in form, structure and message, as for the 2nd and 8th, 3rd and 7th, and 4th and 6th, with the middle Meditation being the longest and most elaborate. Interestingly, chiastic structures are incredibly common in Biblical writings. They are rhetorically powerful. Messiaen’s use of this structure serves to more strongly link his Méditations to the written/spoken word.

I’ve also continued to find scholars who really irk me. For instance, Wilfrid Mellers writes a chapter in the Messiaen Companion titled “Mysticism and Theology”. He makes some rather odd suggestions about Messiaen’s work.  For instance, he suggests that the numerous add 6 chords in the last movement of Quatour pour la fin du temps “may hint at how eroticism may, at several levels, be a gateway to paradise!” because of their resemblance to “cocktail jazz”. What? In his discussion of the Turangalila-symphonie he refers to influences of the “primitivism of jazz”. Perhaps I’m too sensitive to the word “primitivism”, but this strikes me as revealing an unwillingness to recognize all of Messiaen’s non-western influences as legitimate. Mellers goes on to accuse Messiaen of pantheism which is a lazy mischaracterization. “Panentheism is likely the term he’s looking for. “Pantheism” is the rough category of beliefs that God and the universe are the same. “Panentheism” merely emphasizes God’s presence in the world, while maintaining the possibility of immaterial aspects of God and non-divine aspects of nature. Messiaen clearly makes these distinctions.

I am still delineating an argument from the material I’ve picked up so far. I’m becoming tempted to argue that Messiaen’s language communicable (his way of transcribing words musically) is a surprisingly protestant idea, though this feels obvious.

My plan for the moment is to pick up more Bach scholarship and see if I can draw some parallels between the Trinitarian theology of the two composers. If at all possible, I’d like to keep my argument centered on the music itself, so I can actually provide examples from the score.

Mendelssohn or Psalms?

I will admit, I haven’t gotten very far in my research yet. I’m currently stuck between two topics that I find equally as interesting: why the Bay Psalm Book was a failure despite its heavy use, or why Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony demonstrates the ultimate sign of Lutheranism despite Mendelssohn’s Jewish ancestry.

Initially, I was set on writing about Mendelssohn, but after reading about the Bay Psalm Book, I found it somewhat comical enough to steal my heart. Most of the sources I’ve been reading from hype the book as if it’s the best thing that has happened to humanity, then immediately acknowledge it’s failure and describe how badly it was written. The fact that this poorly written psalm book was fought over so badly makes me wonder what would’ve happened if a well-written book had taken its place. Would it have died out as rapidly as it did? The only issue with this topic is, I’m unsure what stance I would take or what argument I could make about it. Much like my previous paper on Ein feste Burg, most of the information is a bit too straight-forward to twist into an opinion of my own.

My other topic, Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony, falls a bit into the same boat. I feel it would be inaccurate to argue that Mendelssohn underwent a musical revolution by converting to Lutheranism especially since it was his family, not him, that decided to make the switch. I also don’t believe this was done under very happy terms, and my research has indicated he and his siblings weren’t necessarily pleased with it. I think there are a lot of great details in the Reformation Symphony I could reference in a paper, but I don’t have a firm grasp on a broader thesis.

I’ve found that, when I’m researching, I get too caught up in the facts and theories to remember what I’m actually trying to say. While both of these topics interest me, I know I’ll need to make them more substantial and focused before committing.