Moving Between Musical Worlds: Worship Music, Significance and Ethics in the Lives of Contemporary Worshippers
The latter decades of the twentieth century saw the increasing adoption of forms of popular music in congregational worship (known collectively as ‘contemporary worship music’ or simply ‘worship music’), initially within the American and British church, but increasingly on a broader international scale. Within the discourses of contemporary worship music1 it is often assumed that music is, in many senses, a fundamentally neutral medium.2 Differences in musical taste are on the one hand frequently set aside as matters of personal preference of little relevance to the spiritual task at hand during congregational worship. On the other hand, they are engaged in a purely pragmatic manner in order to connect with particular demographics that are assumed to be attached to a certain style.3 Whilst these discourses have served an important function in the growth of the contemporary worship music scene, providing a defence for the admission of certain styles of music into worship and teaching worshippers to set aside selfcentred concerns when gathering together, they have also served to hold back the discussion of important aspects of musical practice, meaning and experience, relegating them to the realm of private feeling or simple preference and restraining
their contestation and entry into discourse – a move which raises important ethical as well as political questions.