chapter  2
27 Pages

Music, attachment, ethics and community

In order to understand the negotiation and regulation of musical style and experience at St Aldates it is first necessary to discuss musical meaning. What and how does music mean? What kinds of significance is it capable of embodying? Where, in the interaction of sound, text and individual and corporate expression are significance and value to be located? Much recent work in musicology (Small 1998; Chua 1999; Cook 2001; Kramer 2003, 2004; Cross and Tolbert 2008) and ethnomusicology (DeNora 2000, 2003; Clayton 2001; Rice 2001; Nooshin 2011) has sought to conceptualize in a variety of ways the different kinds of meaning that are present within and around music and the activity of music-making. In particular, the ways in which musical meaning can be socially constructed and ascribed have replaced earlier conceptualisations of ‘absolute music’ which push many forms of musical meaning to the margins in favour of granting music a more autonomous existence.1 Such an understanding is not, however, one that is immediately at home within the discourses of Contemporary Worship Music; as Monique Ingalls highlights, part of the founding ideology of the movement is that music is a profoundly neutral medium (2008, p248), an understanding that has clear and important historical roots in the worship wars surrounding the introduction of Contemporary Worship Music. Beginning in 1960s America, the (re-)introduction of popular forms of music into the worshipping life of churches initially caused moral outrage, with many arguing that a music associated with so much debased conduct outside of the church was one which had inherently evil qualities which should prevent its use within Christian worship.2 The response of the supporters of Worship Music was to argue that no music was inherently evil, music simply wasn’t that kind of thing – instead music was a neutral medium which was dependent on the messages carried with it to obtain meaning (Ingalls 2008, p110; Nekola 2009, p261). While such debates are, in many places, something which occupy historical rather than contemporary significance within the church, the legacy of musical neutrality is one that has continued to inform and shape discourse within the Contemporary Worship scene.