Final Reflection: I guess I like Bach, and my ancestors were kinda cool.

Well, we have reached the end of a long and sometimes strenuous semester. Altogether, I think that this course was one of the best courses I’ve taken if I consider the academic progress I have made as a researcher and a writer. I also discovered a new appreciation for Bach; before, I wasn’t into his music as much. But now, I actually have found that I like Bach, especially his Passions, and that I will not cringe anymore when I hear his name. His music was pretty to me before, but now I know that there’s far more to it than meets the eye. Also, from investigating the music of the Anabaptists, I was able to learn more about my family’s ancestors, and that also proved to be a rewarding experience.

This class involved a lot of things I knew how to do. I knew how to read articles, how to come to class with a question or two (though if I actually asked them was a different story), and how to cite things in Chicago style.

However, I didn’t know how to critically engage in discussion and conversation with people about delicate topics. This I learned from our agreement to regard everyone in discussions with respect and understanding. Our discussions made me think, frustrated me at times, and altogether helped me to become a better discussant and become a better listener.

I also had no idea how to even begin to make a podcast. Through learning and submitting assignments in this medium, my technologically challenged self was able to learn a new skill that I hopefully can use with my students when I become a professor (hopefully – a lot of luck will be involved). I’m glad that I was able to learn this new skill and look at my work not only in a classroom perspective but in a real-world perspective as well.

And now that we’ve talked about the skills I’ve learned, I can talk about Bach! I honestly just didn’t really care for him before. I respected him as a musical genius, but his music just wasn’t my cup of tea. But, we were able to listen to a lot of his music, especially music with more dissonance, and I found myself enjoying that music the most, actually. His music just seemed too perfect to me before, but now I see that he also produced music that showed his beliefs and feelings. The Magnificat and the Passions also really pleased me and helped me to discover that Bach isn’t so bad. He’s actually pretty cool. I was hoping to discover a new appreciation for him; that was one of my goals for the semester, so I’m glad I could do that.

Finally, researching the music of the Anabaptists really was a highlight for me this semester. I opted to write the long research paper instead of creating a third podcast because I found the topic so interesting and had so much more to talk about! My family is Baptist, and since they descended from the Anabaptists, it was nice to learn more about the religion 500 years ago that shaped my own religion today. It helped me better understand why my church works the way it does, and it helped me to appreciate the music of my ancestors more. I’m really grateful that I was able to research them and learn more about them. I was especially excited to learn about their respect towards women and their lack of notated music – things I never would have thought to think about! This class helped me critically engage with my family’s religious history.

Altogether, it was a really organized, helpful class that challenged me but taught me much more than I anticipated.

Anabaptists: Everyone hated them I guess

So far, I’ve been researching the Anabaptists and their opinions on women. And, so far, I’ve seen that women were well-respected in their circles (quite literally, during worship) and I’ve concluded that despite the immense drawbacks from joining a persecuted religion, they would have been drawn to Anabaptism. A huge part of this allure was the music of the Anabaptists and their attitudes toward music.

Really, a lot of information on this subject exists, but I don’t have access to all the things I would like to read through. I feel the need to keep reading more and more in order to completely understand the issue backwards and forwards.

But, this comes with a huge drawback: I am not particularly good at explaining things. After I’ve read from fifteen sources on the Anabaptist’s opinions of women worshiping versus the Lutheran’s opinions, I don’t remember which source had which information, which information is not common knowledge, and what I need to outline more specifically in my paper. So, I need to find a better way of documenting every piece of information from every source in order to really keep straight all of the research I’m doing.

That being said, I don’t feel like I’m deep enough into my topic. Yes, it is quite broad, but I hope to expand on it more in an expansion of my original 5 page paper. So far, my research has rendered wonderful results – but they’re almost too perfect. My argument feels very sound, but I don’t feel like my counterarguments are solid enough.

I was given the advice to make the case that Anabaptism was more women – friendly than other religions. While this isn’t really my main point (that being that the music ideology of the Anabaptists would have drawn women in), it is a good way to further solidify my argument. An abundance of information exists comparing the religion with others at the time. However, I wonder if I could add another layer of counterargument to it.

Would the musical ideologies have balanced out the intense persecution they would have faced? I’m not so sure. Quite literally everyone hated the Anabaptists – they were alienated from the start by Luther and by the Catholics, and their opinions on baptism were too extreme for the times. Perhaps the sheer number of women who converted can speak for itself and justify that yes, the benefits outweighed the cost.

I also feel like there could be research out there negating the role of women in Anabaptist churches, and I’d like to look into that. I also would like to talk to at least one member of the Religion faculty here to see if they know anything about it as well. Overall, I think I’d like to take my paper to the next level and make it more believable through in-depth counterarguments.

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.



How do I know what a dead man thinks about a modern tradition? I don’t.

Apparently, people have a problem with Christmas Fest.

I can’t say I’ve ever thought of a problem with Fest. I’ve always loved the hullabaloo, the excitement, and the chance to worship God. Also, the repertoire is fun to sing. Even though it’s long, it’s like when a runner does a marathon. Tiring, but still, glad to have done it.

In Luther’s day, he borrowed from secular traditions like in his chorales and other musical works, and he encouraged worship in vernacular. Fest accomplishes this, but we also include more pieces from foreign traditions (“Chinese” tunes, “Gospel” songs, and songs sung in dialects). The issue of appropriation aside, I can see how these songs may be deemed as a bit too modern or different for us to include in a very Lutheran, lutefisk-filled weekend of Christian worship.

While Luther did condone slowly incorporating new things into the church, I don’t know how he would feel about us singing these more modern-inspired songs. On one hand, I think that they reach people in ways that hymns sometimes do not. Everyone worships differently and feels closer to God through different kinds of music. Personally, I don’t feel anything at all while singing hymns, and even though Fest is more of a pageant/performance, I feel very connected to God when listening to the more contemporary pieces at Fest. Some people may have different experiences and think that the “O come, All Ye Faithful” that we sing basically every year is just the most awe-inspiring thing they’ve ever sung as worship. I think that it’s important that Fest include these varying genres in hopes of having at least one or two things that every member of the audience can love and feel more connected to God. Since Luther encouraged music that brings incredible amounts of joy and happiness because it’s a gift from God, I think that this is very important.

Also, I suppose there is the issue of Fest being more of a performance than a worship service – it’s a strange hybrid of the two, which I think is fine! There’s nothing wrong with this fairly unique spectacle. As to Luther’s opinion, I think he would have approved, especially considering his opinions on vocation – this isn’t nearly as controversial as say, if you were playing covers of screamo music for a living. I have no qualms categorizing this as a Luther-approved way to spend our free time (since, you know, we don’t have to spend all of our time doing good works to get to heaven, according to his doctrine of justification).

However, I am not a Luther scholar, and I cannot possibly know what Luther would have thought. He’s been dead for 470 years. I can have my opinion, but he could surprise me. As I understand it, surprising people was kinda part of what he did (“surprise, here’s 95 theses,” “surprise, I actually don’t support the peasant revolt,” “surprise, I’m kinda racist,” etc).

Schubert’s “Gott ist mein Hirt” – apparently “Hirt” people’s feelings.

Thus far, I’ve done some research on Schubert’s setting of Psalm 23.

Firstly, I will start by saying that this SSAA piece shows off Schubert’s talents well, but does not audibly fascinate me all that much. Maybe, I need to find a better recording than the Kings College Choir of Cambridge on NAXOS, but I doubt I’d find anything better. A lot of reviews of this piece have been written along with a lot of scholarship about the text, so it’s not a difficult piece to research. The ease of accessibility regarding the research materials makes it a good topic to delve into, however, I don’t find myself particularly opinionated about the piece in the first place – do I even like it? Should I argue for the other side instead?

In my paper, I’ve written that I think it is an appropriate setting of the piece, despite previous scholarship that implies it is not – am I only arguing this to play devil’s advocate against people who say it’s an inappropriate setting? I don’t like it when people try to dictate what religious texts can be set to specific kinds of music (a topic heard about in contemporary music, but less scholarship has been done on Christian rock, for example), and so I think I’m just arguing this point in order to fight against people trying to restrict “appropriate” church music to their opinions. Even if I don’t have a strong love of this piece, out of principle, I feel the need to argue for it’s validity as a sacred piece.

The more I look into the piece, the more I see how I can appreciate it and enjoy it – though I may not go out of my way to listen to it because I’m really feeling the need to listen to some small schoolboys sing a little higher than their ranges allow. I can’t say that’s a desire I’ve ever felt. However, I love the text and the message of Schubert’s setting (which I’m only beginning to understand now, after I’ve researched its’ form and the chiastic nature of the text).

In regard to more specific aspects of my research, I’ve been having trouble locating the paper called The Musical Transcript from 1854 – it has a review of the piece I’d like to be able to correctly reference, but at the moment I’m unable to locate it properly. This was a review of someone who really did not like the piece and apparently felt personally victimized by Franz Schubert for this setting of the piece.

My research has not been as difficult in finding sources (except that 150 year old paper), but has been more difficult in regards to my opinions. Am I playing devil’s advocate? Also, how do I make people care about this highly specific topic?

Music: the Universal Tool of Worship

So far, we have read how people (Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras) and religions (Islam, Christianity, Suya, etc.) have regarded music. Since music spans many religions and cultures, it is important to ask ourselves why. Why is music a universal part of worship? What makes it accessible to religions that stem from every culture, race, and ethnicity imaginable? Is it the numerical perfection found in harmony? Is it divine inspiration that gives it life, as though music itself were a living thing moving through all of us?

I honestly don’t think that I have the answer.  I think that the true nature of music’s ability to move us is not something any book or author can describe. Whether I believe it to be divine or not, I believe it to be inexplicable. It is that all-encompassing and such a massive aspect of worship that I nor anyone else can truly determine why it lives deep within us. I do, however, think that it is naturally just a part of us. Perhaps, it is the holy spirit. Maybe, it is because music is tied with spiritual eroticism, as Holsinger notes in his article “The Flesh of Voice.” Perhaps, it is something that lives in us when a witch removes part of our souls, as the Suya believe (Seeger, “The Origin of Songs”). Perhaps, it’s the flying spaghetti monster. I have a hard time believing the last two examples.

Weiss and Taruskin write of Aristotle’s belief of music being cathartic, and in that regard, I agree. However, I disagree with the ideal (mostly addressed by Plato from the readings we’ve done) that “bad” music done by amateurs is deplorable. I don’t think someone can have “bad” music in a worship setting, because I believe that whatever form or genre of music speaks the most to you and connects you most to whatever higher power you believe in, that genre should be the music that you worship with.

I also think that that is one reason why music is a universal part of worship – no matter how often the powers-that-be in the church or any other organized religion try to regulate how worship music should be, people always create new ways of worshiping through different genres of music. Any genre of music can be used as worship – and any genre of music can move someone to action. Therefore, music can be used in Islam, Christianity, and any other religion and not lose its potency just because the style or genre has changed. The many possibilities of music make it so that there are many possibilities to speak to people via that music on a spiritual level.


Bruce Holsinger, “The Flesh of the Voice: Embodiment and the Homoerotics of Devotion in the Music of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).” Signs, Vol. 19, No. 1. (Autumn, 1993), pp. 92-125.

Piero Wiess and Richard Taruskin, Music in the Western World, (Belmont: Shirmer, 1984) 5-10.

Marcello Sorce Keller, “Why Do We Misunderstand Today the Music of All Times and Places and Why Do We Enjoy Doing So?” in Essays on Music and Culture in Honor of Herbert Kellman, ed. Barbara Haggh (Paris: Minerve, 2001), 567-574.

Anthony Seeger, “The Origin of Songs,” in Why Suyá Sing: A musical anthropology of an Amazonian People (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 52-64.