Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Church Music in America, 1620-2000

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Church Music in America, 1620-2000

Article excerpt

Church Music in America, 1620-2000. By John Ogasapian. (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2007, Pp. xxviii, 275. $49.95.)

This book provides a welcome historical perspective upon the world of church music at a time when it is going through deep change. A wealth of recent new research makes a new effort on the subject needed. The two classics in the field by Leonard Ellinwood and Robert Stevenson, both published in 1953, will still be used for discussion of the music proper. But, well known for his books on American organs, John Ogasapian offers instead a social history, a depiction of the leading figures, institutions, and disputes at key points in the evolution of church music in North America. Ogasapian offers subtle points of view on the tension between artistry and devotion and on the careers of figures such as Lowell Mason and Leo Sowerby. Readers lacking training in the subject will not find the book a hurdle (even though a few terms such as "anxious bench" did need defining). Those wanting further reading will benefit from the well-chosen bibliography in the footnotes. The Episcopal Church is Ogasapian's main focus, not only because its cathedral music tradition became strong in America, but also because its musicians interacted closely with those in other denominations.

The specificity of Ogasapian's approach is its greatest virtue. The new kind of social history applied widely in the humanities here offers interesting new perspectives on old subjects. From the start Ogasapian focuses on the issue of where singers would sit or stand in churches and what that meant in terms of ecclesiastical disputes in each period. For example, in the late seventeenth century the Puritan minister faced competition to his leadership from the seating of a choir and its teacherleader, and that body often played a central role in the evolution of a church. …

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