Members of the American Church Music History Consultation (ACMHC) explored new directions in church music history together with church history experts from the North American Academy of Liturgy (NAAL). The two groups met during the NAAL's conference at Savannah GA this past 4 January. Liturgical expert and church musician Don Saliers (Emory University) served as spokesman for the ACMHC in a session chaired by NAAL member Kent Burreson (Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis).
Recognizing that American church music history has suffered from neglect for more than half a century, the ACMHC scholars are exploring new approaches that will take into account the enormously complex worship and music traditions in American religious life. They expect their work to encourage new research and eventual publication of a survey of the subject. It is no longer adequate, in the view of these scholars, to begin church music history at the landing of the Pilgrims and then simply chronicle major developments in mainline churches down to the present time. Too many traditions are ignored and too many misunderstandings are generated by that traditional approach.
The deliberations at Savannah were based on several papers provided by members of the ACMHC. Of special interest were submissions from Paul Westermeyer (Luther Seminary), Steven Marini (Wellesley College), Robin Leaver (Westminster Choir School), together with recent publications by Mark Noll (Notre Dame University) and Elizabeth Blumhofer (Wheaton College). Don Saliers summarized these papers and developed an agenda of considerations for further study.
It was proposed, for example, that more cross-cultural studies are needed to understand what is "American" in church music history, while recognizing that individual church traditions often are not confined to an American context. Church music scholars are urged to assimilate important insights from ethnomusicology, social history, theology, economics, and demographic studies. "High art, " "pop art," and "folk art" need redefinition. Further, the development of new databases was encouraged along with increased attention to the "stories" of worshipers within denominations and various ethnic traditions.
Saliers remarked that "writing the history of church music is probably a more complex undertaking than any single author can envision but we can and should encourage more particular histories of specific communities of song."
The ACMHC was organized in 2006 as a joint project of the major church music professional organizations, including the Association of Anglican Musicians, Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, National Association of Pastoral Musicians, Presbyterian Association of Musicians, and United Church of Christ Worship & Education Team. Its first conference that same year was hosted by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and its director John Witvliet. Consisting of a group of select scholars, the ACMHC is dedicated to serving both the academic community and the churches of North America in exploring the rich history of church music, thus overcoming a long history of neglect. It has placed a priority on development of a new survey history of North American church music, coordination and development of database resources in various churches, and formulation of newer principles for studying church music. …