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The Theory and Practice of the Music in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Papua New Guinea.

The Theory and Practice of the Music in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Papua New Guinea. By Jennifer J. Jones. Boroko: Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, Apwitihire: Studies in Papua New Guinea Musics, 8, Pacific Adventist University Monograph Series, 1, 2004. xxvii + 258Pp. Price: K 30

In stark contrast with almost daily negative news reports from Papua New Guinea is the official 2000 statistic that almost 96% of the population identified themselves as Christians. This survey of Adventist music in PNG is a welcome addition to the small but growing list of publications of the musics of this intensively diverse nation.

Editor of the Apwitihire series, Don Niles, has contributed a substantial introduction drawing on his own extensive knowledge of PNG church music. In providing a long list of individuals whose assistance enabled this publication, Niles obliquely draws attention to the meagre resources and grossly inadequate funds available to the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies. Hopefully, the quality and general appeal of this series will go some way to finally improving that scandalous situation.

Jennifer Jones' research originated from her Master's thesis, and draws its data from her own participation in the church, extensive correspondence with past and present Adventist musicians and mission staff in PNG, and a rigorous literature search.

Chapter One is an historical survey of Adventist theology and policy. Although biblically based as a general principle, some church activities, including styles of music performance, continue to be influenced by the manual written by the 19th century American leader Ellen White. White's writings on Adventist policy are still considered by the church as the fruits of a prophetic gift and therefore globally and continually applicable, as Jones periodically reminds readers. The principles of SDA musical practice in PNG are still administered from the church's home in America.

Chapter Two provides the first summary of the church's activities in PNG. After a very brief historical review, the author turns to a chronology of hymnody, with scans of covers of pages from a very large number of published hymnals in five major languages as well as in Tok Pisin. For each hymnal, Jones supplies a concise chronology of events leading to publication, followed by a detailed description of the book itself, identifying hymn tune sources in American Adventist publications, noting changes in format among editions of the same works, and offering careful comments on orthography, format and the occasional error. Although readers may find this chapter more useful as a reference tool than a book section intended for reading right through, it represents nonetheless a thorough piece of documentation.

Chapter 3 pieces together responses from five Adventists interviewed about the language and instruments for church singing, choirs and the influence of Western music. Five people cannot adequately represent either the wide variety of forms of musical expression within the SDA nor the range of views on those forms, and this section of the book is somewhat disappointing.

In order to survey national views on attitudes to church music in PNG, Jones distributed a ten-part questionnaire to urban churches, missions, students and staff of Pacific Adventist University on such topics as types of music enjoyed, song books and instruments used, language of singing and desire for traditional instruments, and the results are of interest even in their raw form. The desire for Western music training and greater use of Western instruments in worship services dominate the responses. Of more value might have been a correlation of geographical and other data sets with a view to plotting the distribution of preferences and practices on a national basis; perhaps Jones will provide this information in due course.

Chapter 4 summarises the indigenisation of Adventist church music in PNG. Tok pies lyrics espousing Adventist theology are considered acceptable to the Church and apparently growing in popularity, but the choice of musical styles remains more individualistic. Jones points out (p. 204) that the 1985 General Conference Hymnal Committee determination that music itself does not make a hymn sacred allowed for the use of Christian lyrics to be set to secular melodies. Within PNG, this determination essentially permitted individual congregations and composers to appropriate indigenous styles and compositions for worship purposes. Elements of indigenous heritage may have suffered 'misplaced condemnation' (p.226) in the past at the hands of over-zealous SDA missionaries, but Jones advocates ongoing musical experimentation at a congregational level, replacing conservative Western hymn-singing with indigenous styles which acknowledge and celebrate the individuality of cultures for which PNG is justly renowned.

Jones' book is a valuable summary of past principles and present musical practice of one of PNG's major Christian denominations, and will be a useful reference source both within PNG and abroad for anyone interested in the Adventist church's musical philosophies and practice.

Richard Moyle

University of Auckland
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Author:Moyle, Richard
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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