Toward a Musical Praxis of Justice: A Survey of Global and Indigenous Canadian Song in the Hymnals of the Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Churches of Canada through Their History

By Donaldson, Hilary Seraph | The Hymn, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Toward a Musical Praxis of Justice: A Survey of Global and Indigenous Canadian Song in the Hymnals of the Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Churches of Canada through Their History


Donaldson, Hilary Seraph, The Hymn


Wy should Canadians sing cross-culturally? A country which has often been ailed a cultural mosaic, Canada is home voices from multiple cultural contexts which often live and work alongside one another. This mosaic encompasses the many cultures of the world which call Canada home, as well as the rich heritage of indigenous Canadians.

Yet, our cultural dialogue is not without tension: for example, indigenous populations still struggle to have their voices heard by the Canadian government in a quest for equal rights. Consider the legacy of the residential school system, a government-run initiative beginning in the nineteenth century whose stated purpose was to force assimilation of indigenous Canadians into a Euro-Canadian lifestyle in an effort to "kill the Indian in the child."1 Aboriginal children were taken from their homes and placed in residential schools where they were forbidden to speak their language or follow their cultural practices, and many were subject to physical and sexual abuse. The three denominations featured in this study all participated in the administration of this system, which Justice Minister Irwin Coder has called "the single most harmful, disgraceful, and racist act in our history."2 As recently as 2008, current Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave a nationally broadcast apology acknowledging the Canadian government's previous policies of assimilation.3

Indeed, despite Canada's longstanding multiculturalism, its congregational song has not always reflected its people's diversity. The isolation of Canada's Aboriginal, First Nations, and Inuit communities as well as the marginalization of immigrant and other nonAnglo-Saxon populations can be seen in a repertoire of hymnody that historically favoured white WesternEuropean strophic hymnody to the exclusion of other forms of congregational song. In recent years, however, the hymnals of the major Protestant denominations in Canada have begun to reflect Canada's diversity and reconciliation. How, then, to sing toward justice in our twenty-first-century Canadian context? How have we reflected this dialogue in our denominational hymnals?

This paper will examine the choices made by the successive hymnal committees of the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC), and the United Church of Canada (UCC), in order to illustrate where we have come from in our understanding of singing into the church universal. A survey of the advent of global hymnody in these denominations' most recent hymnals: Common Praise (1998), The Book of Praise (1997), Voices United (1996) and More Voices (2007), respectively - will show how we have responded to an increased awareness of global and indigenous song, and the justice issues inherent in their inclusion or exclusion from our repertoire. Two major assumptions undergird this work: first, congregational song is deeply formational; it moulds who we are as a people and delineates our communities' borders. Second, the act of inclusion or exclusion of a hymn in a hymnal is inevitably prescriptive; an included song has been deemed "worthy to be sung," whether it be to affirm the prevailing piety of a worshipping body, or with the prophetic goal of pushing at the borders of what is deemed to be a part ofthat body's theology.4 This being the case, singing a stranger's song is an act of justice: we may sing in a spirit of hospitality, or in a spirit of intercession, or in a spirit of solidarity with songs of protest and praise. While the practice of this justice will look different from congregation to congregation, a kind of musical hermeneutics of justice is evinced in the choices made by these latter hymnal committees, as the material offered up for the church to sing begins to more closely reflect oikoumene, the whole inhabited earth.

The Anglican Church of Canada (ACC): Gomwio-n Praise

Background

The ACC has a rich liturgical history rooted in sacramental theology and a highly responsorial liturgy, influenced by the Anglican chant tradition. …

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