Exploring the contemporary congregational song genre: texts, practice, and industry
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 13:32 by Daniel Thornton
Contemporary congregational songs (elsewhere referred to as ‘praise and worship’ music, or contemporary worship music) began some forty years ago in Western Pentecostal/Charismatic contexts, but their influence is now worldwide and pan-denominational. While professional and popular discourses relating to this genre are widespread, scholarly engagement is still nascent. Where it is available, it is most often the examination of a specific contextualisation of the genre. Moreover, the music of the genre is under-represented in analyses because researchers have preferred sociological, historical, or theological methodologies. Finally, lacking from the contemporary congregational song (CCS) discourse is a research method and meta-language to facilitate a generic understanding of the genre; its texts, producers, and consumers. This thesis provides a broad scholarly platform for CCS; a framework for their creation, analysis, and evaluation upon which future scholarship can build. This thesis identifies, defines, and explores the CCS genre, its texts, its production and producers, and Christians’ engagement with these mediated texts as individuals, and in corporate worship settings. The methodology employed to achieve these aims is a tri-level music semiology (Nattiez, 1990). At the first level, twenty-five of the most popular CCS sung in churches around the world are subject to individual and collective analyses, based on their most-viewed YouTube versions. Key lyrical, musical, and extra-musical characteristics were identified. At the second level, Christians attending CCS-oriented churches were directly surveyed to ascertain their engagement with CCS. Two key questions were explored: What can Christians sing? And, What do Christians want to sing, and why? Supporting data from the 2011 National Church Life Survey (NCLS) was also analysed and cross-tabulated. Finally, key CCS writers/producers/performers were interviewed to ascertain the degree to which they considered diverse and localised congregational engagement. This study sheds new light on the CCS genre, articulating its musical, lyrical, and extra-musical elements in greater detail and depth than has previously been available. It also reveals CCS as primarily a functional genre, facilitating musical worship for individual and gathered Christians. Furthermore, CCS is a contested genre, constantly under a process of negotiation and transformation by various stakeholders. Tensions between the new and the familiar, the individual and communal, the professional and vernacular, all contribute to the formation and evolution of the contemporary congregational song genre.