Brief Book Review: The Reason Why We Sing

The Reason Why We Sing
By Heather Josselyn-Cranson

Who should read this? Liturgical musicians who serve singing congregations, of course, are the book’s natural audience. However, those who serve the church’s worship in other ways—clergy, worship committees, those in the area of seminary/formation—will find much perspective and information here.

What difference might this book make? Discussions concerning liturgical music and/or congregational song are often driven by individual or group stylistic preferences/presumptions, and this series of essays takes a more genuinely appreciative and critical look at various aspects of congregational singing. It could be seen as a model for how to think about, reflect on, and discuss liturgical music.

Why is this book useful? After some introductory material, the book studies six “traditions” in depth:

  1. Formal-Liturgical
  2. Hymn
  3. Gospel
  4. Contemporary Worship Music (CWM)
  5. Taizé and Charismatic
  6. African-American Spirituals

The treatment of each is thorough and even-handed, examining both strengths and shortcomings. Each section concludes with some pragmatic information as to how these traditions might be introduced into other traditions. Perhaps this last section of each chapter is the most pragmatic among all the useful information given.

Caveats: First, as is my opinion about much writing in the area of congregational song, more consideration should be given to congregational song as a subset of the realities of community/corporate song in the surrounding culture. The diminishment of community song has varying impact on all these traditions. The lack of community song, for example, in the Black Lives Matter movement has been contrasted with the impact of community song in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Similarly, the effect of amplified instruments and solo singers who render the congregation’s voice to a non-essential role in CWM (as it is in popular music) might warrant a fuller expression. It very well may have been, however, beyond the scope of this book to explore these sorts of secular/sacred or popular/ecclesial relationships at length.

Second, the author is known to me. We have been colleagues and associates in the Liturgical Music Seminar (North American Academy of Liturgy) for a number of years. It is there that I came to know the care and fairness she brings to this topic, one she cares about very much.

Final thoughts: As mentioned earlier, this study serves as a good example to be followed when it comes to conversations about congregational song and liturgical music. If all discourse on this topic were this equitable, it would be a good thing.

Heather Josselyn-Cranson. The Reason Why We Sing. Franklinville, NJ: Order of St. Luke Publications, 2016. 200 pages. $20.00. ISBN: 978-1-878009-73-9.

REVIEWER: Alan Hommerding

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