Shout to the Lord
Making Worship Music in Evangelical America
Music is a nearly universal feature of congregational worship in American churches. Congregational singing is so ingrained in the experience of being at church that it is often misunderstood to be synonymous with worship. For those who assume responsibility for making music for congregational use, the relationship between music and worship is both promising and perilous – promise in the power of musical style and collective singing to facilitate worship, peril in the possibility that the experience of the music might eclipse the worship it was written to facilitate. As a result, those committed to making music for worship are constantly reminded of the paradox that they are writing songs for people who wish to express themselves, as directly as possible, to God.
This book shines a new light on how people who make music for worship also make worship from music. Based on interviews with more than 75 songwriters, worship leaders, and music industry executives, Shout to the Lord maps the social dimensions of sacred practice, illuminating how the producers of worship music understand the role of songs as both vehicles for, and practices of, faith and identity. This book accounts for the human qualities of religious experience and the practice of worship, and it makes a compelling case for how – sometimes – faith comes by hearing.
"Songs and music are used in worship to help congregants reach an individual experience of God. But, as Ari Kelman shows, that individual experience only comes about because of the work of songwriters, marketers, and music producers who mediate individual religious experience. Shout to the Lord is a study of that work. Drawing on ethnography, interviews and participation in church services Kelman explores how worship music is produced, performed and experienced in U.S. evangelical churches. In doing so he masterfully draws out a series of fundamental tensions between entertainment and worship, technical skill and spirit, commerce and faith, and the danger troubling Christian musicians that they might ‘sing well but worship poorly’. "
—Brian Larkin, author of Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure & Urban Culture in Nigeria
"This is a fascinating book. Drawing on extensive fieldwork and dozens of interviews with songwriters, worship leaders, and record producers, Kelman reveals the immense cultural work that goes into producing evangelical Christian worship music. He is a sensitive guide, treating his subjects sympathetically while remaining keenly attuned to the tensions that underlie their work. He is at his best in explaining how his subjects understand the essential role that music plays in worship even as they disavow its necessity."
—Isaac Weiner, author of Religion Out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism
"Shout to the Loud is a remarkable book, beautifully written and analytically careful. Music is the heart of evangelical experience, so the book helps to explain that religion. But the book does more. It explains the way music can become prayer, and why it moves us."
—TM Luhrmann, author of When God Talks Back
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