Contemporary Christian Worship Music – New Academic Research

…as popular Christian worship music gains a larger audience, Ari Kelman, associate professor of education at Stanford, has uncovered a surprising paradox. The very musicians, songwriters and music producers who create the music are increasingly sensitive to the “precarious relationship between rock music and worship,” Kelman said. (From Stanford News, article by Ashley Walters)

Kelman’s new upcoming publication Shout to the Lord: Music and Worship in Evangelical America, looks to be asking some important questions about the role of music in contemporary evangelical churches.  His research is revealing the secularisation of this music, where musicians are focused less on their role as leaders of liturgy and more as musicians trying to produce a good sound:

Kelman underscored the powerful role musicians and music producers assume in faith practices. “If people sing their faith, then those who write, perform and produce this music” become central to worship performance and practice.

Worship songs, Kelman noted, seek to model a “heavenly version of prayer” derived from Christian scripture. They attempt to deliver

Martin Smith

theology while leading the audience through a performance by listening and singing along to a scriptural message.

Not all professional worship leaders and musicians attempt to address these issues. When Kelman was doing fieldwork at a school for worship leaders, he joined a class in which participants learned how to work with a worship band.

The rehearsal classes focused on instrumentation and arrangements, leaving “almost no room for questions about the religious purpose of their playing together.”

I’m looking forward to reading this musicological study.

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