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Introduction: The quest to understand diverse musical experiences

The motivation for this book begins with my own experience. I came up to Oxford in 2002 as an undergraduate student. My principal musical background was in Western art, or ‘classical’, music, and prior to coming up to study I had spent most of my Sundays acting as an itinerant parish organist for a range of churches at home on the Isle of Wight. Upon coming up to Oxford I quickly became involved with St Aldates church, a city centre Anglican parish in the charismatic evangelical tradition.1 This provided a continuous engagement with a musical environment which I had previously only encountered on a much more sporadic basis. Contemporary Worship Music and the popular musical styles which formed the basis of St Aldates’ music were far from my home territory. Nevertheless, I found the music of the church exciting and compelling and, over time, became used to, and skilled at, participating within it. I learned to play from chordsheets and found, too, that I enjoyed listening to recordings of the music – buying an album which featured electric guitars was initially a somewhat strange activity for me, but I quickly got used to the experience. Over time my relationship with St Aldates’ music slowly evolved and I became

increasingly aware of its ambiguous nature. I began to find myself unwilling to own up to any affiliation with the music around people not immersed in that environment and found that there was therefore some kind of split in my musical life and identity. I became aware of the features which I found frustrating or would look down on, while realizing that there were, nevertheless, also a great number of elements that I valued highly. Once or twice I found myself engaged in a conversation with another student in the church in which I would justify my love of classical music over and above pop and rock. In 2009 I was appointed director of music at St George the Martyr Church

in Holborn, London. My initial appointment at the church was on the basis of an advertisement put together largely by members of the PCC (Parochial Church Council). The element of the advertisement which most captured my interest was the diversity of musical backgrounds present within the worship

team2 and the seeming desire on the part of the church to build something fruitful and creative with this diversity. I felt that perhaps here was a place where some of the disjunctures and tensions I had become aware of between the musical environments I inhabited could be addressed, and seemingly disparate musical worlds could be brought together into an integrated whole. I relished the possibility of diversifying St George’s musical life away from a relatively uniform soft-rock worship style and, by doing so, of doing better justice not only to the skills, but to the experiences and perspectives of those involved with the musical worship within the church and to the different qualities which I believed different musics were capable of expressing. Within St George’s one of my first priorities was to begin to discover the

different skills and backgrounds of the musicians on the team and to begin to think about how these might shape the possibilities present within the church’s musical life. I found that the church had, within the congregation, a jazz musician, a film composer, a choral scholar, a session musician, someone who had led gospel choirs, and a classical oboist, amongst others. I found many of the musicians were very welcoming of the opportunity to branch out in different directions – some found the predominant style frustrating or hard to make sense of, others found that within a uniform musical setup there had been little possibility of them contributing their gifts and abilities to the community and worship of the church. I found too that there was a diversity of views within the congregation about musical priorities that the church had adopted. In particular, there were some members who struggled to relate to the focus on expression of divine intimacy which much of the repertoire highlighted – a struggle that I was both often aware of and sometimes sought to challenge. A focus on trying to value the different contributions that could be made by those within the worship team led to a number of people within the congregation feeling they could become part of a musical setup which they had previously not been able to see a place for themselves within. I found different opportunities to push creative boundaries to be exciting – jazz services, classical solos, gospel singing, incorporation of the pipe organ alongside the band, songs in different languages, composition projects and musical experimentation around the communion liturgy. I found too that it was exciting to be able to nurture individual musicians, particularly when they were less confident themselves, and to find ways in which they could contribute their individual gifts to the musical life of the church. Despite this excitement, over time I found that musical departures from the norm weren’t ones that were always welcomed. While they were appreciated strongly by many of the musicians and by many of those close to me within the congregation, they were sometimes felt by others to detract from the core musical identity and priorities of the church and thus opportunities to branch out from the norm slowly closed down.3