Church Music in America 1620-2000

By Owen, Barbara | The American Organist, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Church Music in America 1620-2000

Owen, Barbara, The American Organist

CHURCH MUSIC IN AMERICA 1620-2000, John Ogasapian. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2007. 284 pp. ISBN-10 0-88146-026-1. $40.95. Two admirable books on American church music were published over 40 years ago: Leonard Ellinwood's The History of American Church Music (1953) and Robert Stevenson's Protestant Church Music in America (1966). Even earlier was Archibald Davison's book of the same title, published in 1933 and already out of date by the time the other two appeared; his later publication, Church Music: Illusion and Reality (1952), based on some earlier lectures, updates it only slightly. Many other books (and numerous articles) have dealt with specific aspects of American church music, of course, from singing schools and anthems to individual composers, organists, regions, denominations, choral groups, and churches. But until now, Ellinwood and Stevenson have occupied the bookshelf virtually alone as worthwhile overviews of the topic. Considering how much scholarly water has flowed over the dam since they were written, however, we have been overdue for a broader and more up-to-date resource book on the subject, and the late John Ogasapian-who, sadly, did not live to see its publication-has provided it. Well researched and eminently readable, it is a worthy legacy for his fellow scholars and church musicians.

It is interesting to compare this newest study with the two earlier ones. All three are, predictably, roughly chronological in organization, and deal in their turn with such predictable-indeed, unavoidable-topics as early psalmody, singing schools, and revival music. Where Ogasapian's book differs (besides its millenium-era outlook) is in the breadth and depth with which he treats these and other topics, and the meaty succinctness with which he does it. Stevenson and Davison deal exclusively, as their titles clearly imply, with Protestant music. Ellinwood does include some basic information about Catholic music, but says not a word about Reform Jewish music, and, from the 19th century onward, his major emphasis leans toward the Episcopal church. On the other hand, Stevenson's emphasis is more on native-born composers and folk idioms; he devotes a whole chapter to spirituals, as opposed to two brief references in Ellinwood. Neither goes very deeply into the 20th century, only a little more than half over when they wrote-Ellinwood mostly on urban Protestant churches and their musicians, Stevenson hardly at all.

While Stevenson begins his chapters with converted Native Americans and Ellinwood with New Spain, Ogasapian opens with a Prologue dealing broadly with the European background-Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Calvinist, and Huguenot-before actually setting foot on North American soil with the first chapter on psalmody in English colonies, from Jamestown and Plymouth to the early 18th century. Citations from contemporary sources and a discussion of the psalm books in use, along with the attitudes and practices of the period, set this discussion apart from many others on the same topic, and link the whole story to its religious and political background. Chapter Two continues logically to the growth of choirs and anthems (and opinions pro and con) as the 18th century melded into the early 19th, citing the influence of revivals such as the "Great Awakening" and the leaven of Methodism and the Dutch Reformed church. The tunesmiths and singing-school leaders also get their due-not just Billings but equally influential people such as Law, Read, Holyoke, Holden, and others, with perceptive quotes from some of their writings.

Lutherans, Moravians, Dunkers, and Dutch Calvinists get coverage in Chapter Three, which discusses some of their prominent musicians and also sums up the effects of the increasing introduction of organs by some of these immigrant bodies. Chapter Four brings us to a topic emphasized by Ellinwood, that of urban church music. Beginning at the opening of the 19th century, when organs and choirs were proliferating in urban churches, Ogasapian gives some succinct overviews of activities in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. …

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