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Review: Exploring Christian Song

The expansive, global influence of Christian song is carefully probed in Exploring Christian Song (Lexington Books, 2017), a collection of essays that fills the growing body of literature on the spirituality of music-making across the world. Edited by respected church music scholars M. Jennifer Bloxam and Andrew Shenton, these essays arose out of the meeting of the nascent Society for Christian Scholarship in Music. The essays are both ecumenical and global, trekking Christian thought across a panoply of theological and cultural traditions. The end goal of mining the riches of Christian musical practices is to "reflect the worldwide diversity of Christian traditions" (xii).

Respected liturgical historian Karen Westerfield Tucker begins by examining the Phos Hilaron, the oldest extant Christian hymn outside of Scripture. Westerfield Tucker explores how songs create unity among groups in particular contexts. The historical survey begins ca. 1500 with Catholic compositional and devotional practices explained by Bloxam and Melody Schade. Then, Stephen Crist, Markus Rathey, Timothy Steele, and Andrew Shenton discuss eighteenth- and twentieth- century European song. Finally, Braxton Shelley and Joshua Busman turn their attention toward contemporary worship music in America, showing how sermonic messages are communicated through song. J.H. Kwabena Nketia closes this book by encouraging continual, contextual ways of expressing faith through song.

This collection dares to blaze new paths in Christian song across the world. Bringing together respected scholars in church music and worship studies, each essay is relatively short and interesting. The ten contributors present new perspectives on the historical use of music as a means of expressing faith in a unique context, bringing to light new research on famous figures such as Bach and Telemann. Rather than limiting its scope to the West, however, this book's most unique contribution is that authors from all parts of the world offer their voices to advance the emerging field of ethnomusicology and ethnodoxology. Serious scholars of church music and worship history will benefit from the array of insights from Exploring Christian Song. It is sure to become a frequently referenced source for this important field of study.

(A complimentary review copy was given in exchange for an honest review.)


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