Tony Cummings looks at the recently republished Christian Music: A Global History, then reviews 11 other helpful books
There are plenty of gospel and Christian music buffs who want to go deeper than simply buying or streaming the new Bethel Music album. Reading about music and musicians is, in part, what the Cross Rhythms website is all about but even our strenuous efforts can't cover everything and everybody, and we have long been reviewing key biographies and music books. But for those wanting to get a more comprehensive understanding of the way in which the Christian faith fuels just about every form of music there is nothing to beat encyclopaedias, general reference works and discographies. And with the recent publication of Tim Dowley's Christian Music: A Global History, now seemed like a good time to review that book and also to look at some of the other volumes on the Cross Rhythms bookshelves. There'll be another part being published in due course. Many of the older books reviewed here will now be out-of-print but a regular search of the internet will eventually bring used copies of most of these to light.
Christian Music: A Global
History, published 2018
Tim Dowley, SPCK
This was originally published by Lion Hudson in 2011, and this new edition has been substantially extended and updated. Considering its size (292 pages, plus Notes, Further Reading and Index), this is an impressively concise volume of such a wide ranging subject. To give an idea of the sweep of topics covered, here's a list of the 25 chapters which are packed in here: Before The Church: The Jewish Musical Tradition; Psalms And Hymns And Spiritual Songs: Music And The Early Church; The Church Goes Public: Christian Music After Constantine; Christian Chant: The Core Of Medieval Worship; Music Of The Orthodox Church; Medieval Polyphony: The Church Discovers Harmony; The Music Of The Renaissance: The Peaks Of Polyphony; 'A Safe Stronghold': The Music Of The Lutheran Reformation; 'In Quires And Places Where They Sing': The Making Of The Anglican Tradition; Psalms, Canticles And Hymns: The Genesis Of Christian Hymns; Gloria In Excelsis Deo: The Making Of Catholic Baroque; Christian Music In Latin America; Bach And Handel: Two Great Protestant Baroque Composers; The Viennese Tradition: Liturgical And Non-Liturgical Sacred Music; Heights Of Intensity: Sacred Music In The Age Of Romanticism; Hymns Ancient And Modern: The Nineteenth-Century Hymn Industry; Camp Meetings And Revivals: The Making Of The US Gospel Tradition; 'I Got A Home In Dat Rock': Spirituals And The Blues; 'God Bless Africa': Christian Music In Africa; Christian Music In Asia And Australasia; Apocalypse Now!: Sacred Music And The Concert Hall; 'Surely Goodness And Mercy Shall Follow Me': Popular Church Music; 'Give Me That Old Time Religion': Gospel Music; 'I Wish We'd All Been Ready': The Contemporary Christian Music Industry; And 'Ain't Nobody Nowhere Nothin' Without God': Christians Do Country, Folk And Jazz.
Doctor Tim Dowley is a historian and prolific author who has written books on such diverse figures as JS Bach, Robert Schumann and Bob Dylan. His writing is colourful, well researched and often fascinating (for instance, his account of the increasingly virulent clerical attacks on the use of musical instruments in worship which went on back in the fourth century), while his breadth of knowledge and historical grasp is very impressive. Dr Dowley has wisely brought in a few outside writers/researchers to pen the chapters on Orthodox Church Music, Christian Music In Latin America, African Music and Christian Music In Asia And Australasia. It's the latter chapter where the first serious problems occur. Historians will admit to you that it's difficult to document a period of time and its cultural outworking until a significant amount of time has passed - say, a hundred years. The closer one gets to today, the more difficult it is to differentiate the facts and figures that are truly important from those which are transitory blips in the passing of time. The Australasia chapter gives a mere 140 words or so to Hillsong. Clearly, this is inadequate and the Sydney-based church probably warrants a chapter in its own right. Similarly, Dowley's own writing on gospel music and the contemporary Christian music industry are skeletal in the extreme. Overall, Christian Music: A Global History has a great deal to recommend it and will reward any reader wanting to get a focus on how God is continuing to inspire music makers of every style and tradition. But in truth, it loses its way after the early 1970s.
Archivist - 4th Edition: Vintage Vinyl Jesus Music 1965-1980,
Ken Scott, Ken Scott
When the American Church finally, around 1965, embraced pop and rock music as appropriate vehicles through which to sing to or about God, there sprang up an extraordinary cottage industry where, over the next 15 years, thousands of bands and soloists, most without any kind of professional experience, got to record and release music. By the early '70s, record labels like Maranatha! Music sprang up to distribute and market some of these recordings which, through the impact of America's Jesus Movement youth revival, were being noticed by the whole US Church. Traditional Christian music labels like Word were, in time, dipping a toe into the marketplace, Christian radio stations began dropping their hymns and sermons formats, and the whole contemporary Christian music industry began. But before CCM really entered into the big time in the '80s, there were those thousands of tiny budget, tiny sales releases. Ken Scott, whoever this gentleman is, has become Jesus Music's extraordinary historian. He must have spent vast amounts of time and effort zig-zagging across the USA, visiting thousands of car boot sales and hundreds of record collectors to assemble this discography-with-reviews book so that alongside the listings and comments on Love Song, 2nd Chapter Of Acts, Honeytree, Barry McGuire, et al there is a staggering amount of information published here on obscure young would-be musical evangelists.
The Story Of Christian
Music, published 2003
Andrew Wilson-Dickson, Lion Publishing
The previous edition of this book published in 1992 is, in the manner of many volumes published by Lion in that era, full of colour illustrations and is, in many ways, a hugely impressive work taking in as it does centuries of changing music forms from the Psalms in temple worship, the Antiphons in the Monastic tradition, the change from Gregorian chant to Polyphony, the development of hymnody brought through the reformation, the flowering of sacred classical music, the establishment of Eastern Orthodoxy styles of worship and the creation of American hymns and gospel songs. Its chapters on all this are concisely written, with excellent picture research as clear a history of Christian music as you're likely to get. Unfortunately, the book begins to unravel when dealing with the 20th century. Its coverage of African gospel music is incomplete (not surprising, considering the vastness of the topic), while the same could be said of its American gospel chapter, and the strange error in calling Thomas E Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey (surely Mr Wilson-Dickson couldn't have confused The Father Of Gospel with the white dance band leader) hadn't been corrected from the 1992 edition. Most disappointing of all is the brief The Popular Stream chapter, which endeavours in three pages to summarise everything from John Rutter to Graham Kendrick but is clearly written by someone who has little or no time for popular music. Still, this is a very useful reference book for those wanting to get a focus on the first 19 centuries of Christian music.
Encyclopaedia Of Contemporary Christian Music, published 2002
Mark Allan Powell, Hendrickson Publishers
When one considers that this book was published in 2002, and that there's been no similar work since then, it shows that an updated work is much needed. Mark Allan Powell was a professor at a seminary in Columbus, Ohio, who with a great deal of help from some of his students assembled this tome (1,088 pages), giving 1,500 artist entries. Opening the book at random, one finds an entry for early Christian grunge band Grammatrain. Starting with the band's personnel, followed by a discography (album title, label, year of release), it then gets into biographic information (yep, they were based in Seattle) and a paragraph or so about each release. On the opposite page to the Grammatrain listing is, not surprisingly, a much longer listing on CCM icon Amy Grant. Its 4,500-odd word entry is informative enough, contains quotes from such sources as CCM Magazine and The Rolling Stone Album Guide, but also contains quite a bit of subjective opinion from Mr Powell himself about Amy and her music. It is Mr Powell's opinions, and more worryingly, his theological and musical prejudices, which rather spoil much of the professor's writing. Also, he was clearly inclined to give far more coverage to alternative rock artists than other music forms, with just about every label artist who in the past made it to the pages of HM Magazine getting a listing, while little space is afforded to R&B gospel, Jesus music, hip-hop and other forms, and nothing to speak of about traditional gospel, African gospel, pioneering British artists, etc. Having said all this, anyone deeply interested in CCM and hard music circa 1976 to 2002 will find this a useful work.
The Virgin Encyclopedia Of
Popular Music, published 2002
Colin Larkin, Virgin Books
Not all followers of Christian music or gospel extend their interest to artists working wholly or partially in the mainstream scene, but for those who are, this massive book (1,430 pages - and that's the "concise" version; there's a multi-volume version which is even longer) gives you useful biographies on a handful of Christian artists who experience success in the mainstream. Apparently for this 2002 edition, editor Colin Larkin discarded some artists mysteriously described as those "whose work has failed to stand the test of time." As the whole idea of "popular music" is to let Joe Public dictate success (ie, hits) rather than, for the majority of soloists and groups, obscurity (ie, no hits), one has to admit to being a little bemused as to who is or who isn't included in this popular music tome. To test out my theory that this supposedly comprehensive reference work was very biased towards post rock 'n' roll popular music, I tried looking up the Ted Weems Orchestra. Now, I happen to know that this particular ensemble had a million-selling 78 in the 1930s. Surely, this reference work should have given them at least a paragraph, but it wasn't mentioned. The 2002 edition of this tome does give reasonable biographic and discographic information on a handful of the Christians who, at some point in the past, broke through into the mainstream. But it's a pretty arbitrary list as to who gets in there, for instance Cliff Richard but no After The Fire, U2 but no Joystrings, Ricky Skaggs but no Martyn Joseph.
Gospel Records 1943-1969: A Black Music Discography (two
volumes), published 1992
Cedric J Hayes, Robert Laughton, Record Information Services
When Cross Rhythms reviewed these two volumes in 1992, we wrote, "The Church is profoundly ignorant about the riches within its culture or at least its more contemporary manifestations. The study of black gospel music has been left almost entirely in the hands of enthusiasts of blues and jazz. These white record collectors and academics, though having only the haziest perception of the spiritual dynamic which fuels the African American Church, have demonstrated a deep reverence for the aesthetic quality of gospel, both in its earliest manifestations and in the first two decades after the war, the "golden age" of gospel. This reverence has resulted in a flood of gospel album re-issues, a book or two, and now, most spectacularly of all, a huge tome of original research, this discography meticulously annotating every gospel record recorded between 1943 and 1969. It is a work of epic proportions." Many thousands of records, singles and eventually albums, were recorded in the post-war years, and these books endeavour to list every one that they could trace. No doubt since this amazing work of Mr Hayes and Mr Laughton, hundreds of more obscure 78s and 45s by African-American gospel artists have been discovered and other similar volumes are now needed to update this research as well as bring in all the gospel music of the album era. In the meantime, this pioneering work of discography will be treasured by the gospel music cognoscente.
Chambers Dictionary Of Beliefs And Religions, published 1992
Rosemary Goring, W & R Chambers
It could be said that much writing about Christian and gospel music is let down by the authors' lack of Bible knowledge and even their failure to understand at least the basic tenets and practises of religion. From the days of Palaeolithic cave art to the "new age musings of disillusioned capitalists" (this book's wording), people have striven to understand the purpose behind life and to make music about it. This painstakingly researched volume is a very helpful dictionary. Opening a spread at random, I find myself gazing at concise but informative explanations of miqveh; Mira Bai; miracles; Christian; Miriam; Mishnah; Missal; and mission. Occasionally the cultural or theological blind spots of the editors reveal themselves. The biggest error I've so far discovered was the first sentence in the Demonology, biblical entry, which begins "In Old Testament thought, God the creator and sustainer of all is seen as a source of both good and evil."
The Penguin Dictionary Of
Music (5th Edition), published 1991
Arthur Jacobs, Penguin Books
Ever since its first edition in 1958, this has been an invaluable reference work, particularly if, like many journalists, you want to bluff your way through a knowledge of classical music while in fact knowing very little. It is a wonderfully concise work which covers orchestral, opera, ballet, solo, choral and chamber music. Those listed under B alone include the six Bachs; Sir Harrison Birtwhistle; The Barber Of Saville and The Breasts Of Tiresias; bayan and bongo; baroque and boogie-woogie; and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. Now of course if you wanted more than the briefest of explanations on boogie-woogie, you would need a jazz/blues encyclopaedia. But in truth, the vast majority of the entries here relate to what classical devotees used to call "serious music", and it's a very useful paperback if you need to know that Johann Mattheson was a German organist, harpsichordist, singer and composer of operas and church cantatas, or that common metre in hymn-singing indicates a four-line stanza having eight, six, eight and six syllables per line.
Dictionary Of Music, published 1991
Alan Issacs and Elizabeth Martin, Chancellor Press
First published in 1982, this helpful work was, to some extent, superseded by the Bloomsbury Dictionary Of Music, published in 1992. Selecting a page which has an entry on influential French composer of sacred music, Oliver Messiaen, the dictionary also gives us entries on Messiah (Handel's oratorio); mesto (meaning sad); meta (meaning half); Metamorphoses (the work by Richard Strauss); metamorphosis; metre; metronome; and Metropolitan Opera House. The entries are succinct and no-one could argue that the Messiaen entry's assertion that "Catholic mysticism has always been a strong element in Messiaen's work and is an expression of his religious beliefs."
Bloomsbury Dictionary Of Music, published 1992
Philip D Morehead, Bloomsbury Publishing
Choosing a page which, like the Issacs and Martin Dictionary Of Music, kicks off with Oliver Messiaen, there is a longer entry on Messiaen although this one, like the other work, notes the great composer's passion for birdsong but strangely omits any reference to Messiaen's religious convictions. There are also intriguing differences in the subjects listed, though others are the same (Messiah, mesto, metamorphosis, and metre - the latter even with a notation illustration showing frequently used metres). Entries not in Issacs/Martin work are Jorge Mester (the Mexican-born conductor); mesure (a French tempo marking); metallophone (a percussion instrument); Pietro Metastasio (Italian poet and librettist); and Pat Metheny (the American jazz guitarist). The inclusion of the Metheny listing in this volume shows that the author was keen to follow through on the book's sub-head: From Dvorak To Dylan, Machaut To Motown. So consequently there are many very brief entries on the giants of black gospel.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (four volumes),
Geoffrey W Bromley, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company
These four volumes were originally published in 1915 and this revised edition represents the work of hundreds of contributors from many specialised fields of biblical research. It includes articles on every name of a person or place mentioned in the Bible, as well as all the terms that have theological or ethical meaning. From a Christian music perspective, the most important entry is the 11 or so pages given to Psalms, and even the non-academic reader will find much of interest. Unfortunately, though, arcane matters like The Values And Benefits Of The Ugaritic Texts reads a little like a squabble between two dusty Bible scholars. The entry under Music is even more comprehensive. From ancient music from Mesopotamia and Egypt through to the music played in the temple and celebrations mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments is covered, followed by a breakdown of instruments - horn and trumpet, lyres and harps, woodwinds and percussion instruments, etc. There are plenty of fascinating facts in the 1,000 word odd essay as well, and though all these mysterious musical terms like miktam and shiggaion found in the Psalms, which probably once referred to tunings or pitch, continue to hide their exact meaning, the encyclopaedia's Music essay is still an impressive piece of historic research, and the non-specialist reader with no knowledge of the Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic language will find the transliteration comprehensible.
The Dictionary Of Composers,
Charles Osborne, Book Club Associates
If the brief entries in The Penguin Dictionary Of Music are a little too brief but you're not prepared to reach for whole volumes chronicling the life and works of Diderik Buxtehude or William Byrd, this is the book for you. 1,000 word essays on these giants of choral music give you plenty of info and the Byrd entry even comes with a small reproduction of an engraving of the great man. One thing about this particular volume is that there are plenty of illustrations, though they're all in black and white.