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Christian Music: A Global History.

Christian Music: A Global History, By Tim Dowley. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011, 264 pages Hardcover. $35.00.

Obviously geared as an entry-level volume for the amateur, this book with its ambitious global reach manages to pack a lot of information in to 264 pages. Dowley and his cohort of eight specializing contributors serve up nourishment of all kinds on subjects ranging from organum to organs from carillons to conch shells, from Bach to Brubeck. What's to like about this book are its layout (on high-gloss paper) and the abundance of color illustrations. Unexpected treats are a substantive first chapter on the Jewish foundations and the author's commitment to include contributions to Christian music from women, something of a trail-blazing task. But we are treated to a whole chapter on Hildegard of Bingen and introduced to the sacred music of people like Amy Reach (who would have known?). A helpful list of additional reading, a discography, a few Internet sources, and ample notes complete the volume.

A funny thing happened on the way through the book. I had this sense that I had been here before, that is, reading about the history of Christian music in a book this size with the same feel. Voila, there it was, on the top shelf, resting alter a read some eight years ago. Same size same subject (mostly), same kind of paper, and same publisher(s). Andrew Wilson-Dickson's the Story of Christian Music was published in 1992 by Lion Hudson in Oxford, then jointly with Fortress in 1996. Dowley's volume is issued jointly by Lion Hudson and Fortress.

Apart from the curious and puzzling decisions leading to the publication of these two volumes there is an irresistible temptation to compare them. One might argue that Dowley's volume purposely embraces a more global perspective. Yet the uneven, incomplete, in some cases bifurcated contributions on ethnic music pale in comparison, for instance, to Wilson-Dickson's coverage of the Christian music of Africa. Moreover, in the latter book multiple color illustrations are accompanied by a rich collection of musical examples so, for example, one can actually see how chant notation looks, both in the east and the west.

Music historians and historians in general (such as Dowley) can't be expected to know everything. So, some slips here and there are to be expected. But there seem to be more than necessary in Dowley's book, especially when it comes to matters Lutheran. The melody by the name of Allein Gott in der hoh sei Ehr (for the hymn "All Glory be to God on High") was not a new tune but is reworking by Nicolas Decius of an older chant melody for the "Gloria in excelsis." Luther's musical assistant is Johann Walter, not Johann Walther, organist and cousin of. J. S. Bach.

As a book, the Dowley volume is quite attractive. But its dress belies

some major internal difficulties, in some ways shared also by the Wilson-Dickson project. Here we mention two. First, writing about Christian music doesn't need to follow the well-worn path travelled by music historians in general, that is, the presentation of repertoires according to "periods" of music history. Dowley tries to do that but vets into trouble here and there because the material just doesn't fit well. This tired approach needs to be traded in for a methodology that matches the material at hand. For instance, he could have arranged things according to genre, or location, or denomination, the latter providing a perfect bridge to pressing questions about the why of certain repertoires.

Second, a still larger issue has to do with the unrecognized elephant in the hook: What is "Christian music"? Dowley himself asks the question, suggests several answers but never really addresses it head-on, thereby he creates notable imbalances and a certain aimlessness. Pergolesi gets three separate mentions in the book while Distler receives about ten lines, and American composer and church musician. Dudley Buck, is not even mentioned. So what is Christian music? It would have been more helpful had Dowley written a history of assembly music, which is the music emerging from Christians at public worship. Other volumes could follow: a history of Christians using music for their own spirituality; a history of music with Christian themes.

Until these histories are written, pastors, seminarians, interested amateurs, and church musicians are served by the two volumes mentioned above, the better of which, in this reviewer's mind, is the one by Wilson-Dickson.

Mark Bangert

Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
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Author:Bangert, Mark
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2013
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