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How Sweet the Sound: Music in the Spiritual Lives of Americans
by David W. Stowe
Harvard University Press, 2004
Cloth: 978-0-674-01290-5
Library of Congress Classification ML2911.S76 2004
Dewey Decimal Classification 781.700973


Musical expression is at the heart of the American spiritual experience. And nowhere can you gauge the depth of spiritual belief and practice more than through the music that fills America's houses of worship. Most amazing is how sacred music has been shaped by the exchanges of diverse peoples over time. How Sweet the Sound traces the evolution of sacred music from colonial times to the present, from the Puritans to Sun Ra, and shows how these cultural encounters have produced a rich harvest of song and faith.

Pursuing the intimate relationship between music and spirituality in America, Stowe focuses on the central creative moments in the unfolding life of sacred song. He fills his pages with the religious music of Indians, Shakers, Mormons, Moravians, African-Americans, Jews, Buddhists, and others. Juxtaposing music cultures across region, ethnicity, and time, he suggests the range and cross-fertilization of religious beliefs and musical practices that have formed the spiritual customs of the United States, producing a multireligious, multicultural brew.

Stowe traces the evolution of sacred music from hymns to hip-hop, finding Christian psalms deeply accented by the traditions of Judaism, and Native American and Buddhist customs influenced by Protestant Christianity. He shows how the creativity and malleability of sacred music can explain the proliferation of various forms of faith and the high rates of participation they've sustained. Its evolution truly parallels the evolution of American pluralism.

Table of Contents:

1. O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
2. Singing Independence
3. Marching to Zion
4. Holding the Fort
5. Dances with Ghosts
6. Onward Buddhist Soldiers
7. Yossele, Yossele!
8. Come Sunday
9. From Ephrata (F-Ra-Ta) to Arkestra
10. The Nation with the Soul of a Church
11. Coltrane and Beyond

Note on Method

Reviews of this book:
Mr. Stowe's observations regarding the relationship between music and spirituality take him to the religious music of Indians, Shakers, Mormons, Moravians, African-Americans, Jews, Buddhists and others...With abundant lyrics, photographs, and musical scores, How Sweet the Sound is a musical feast. Thump to it. Sing with it. Read this book.
--Carol Herman, Washington Times

With historical anecdotes and deft musical analysis, Stowe...focuses on selected moments, from colonial times to the present, when sacred musical styles emerged, combined with others, or took on whole new colorings.
--Jay Tolson, U.S. News and World Report

This book describes the intimate connection between music and spirituality found in such groups as the Shakers and Mormons, and in individuals such as Yossele Rosenblatt, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and Wynton Marsalis. Mr. Stowe narrates how the civil rights movement hastened the evolution of 'Amazing Grace' and 'We Shall Overcome' into the secular spirituals and icons of today's American religious culture.
--Dallas Morning News

How Sweet the Sound limns the harmonies of religion, hymns, and American culture through an amazing musical and historical panorama. Stowe's stunning exploration of European, Indian, African, and Asian interchanges underscores music's centrality to American spiritual expression and might well inspire readers to break into song themselves.
--Jon Butler, author of Becoming America: The Revolution Before 1776

Historians (at very long last) have awoken to the centrality of song in the formation, practices, transmission, and changes over time of modern religious movements. David Stowe's major contribution to this awakening is notable for both its breadth and its depth. His treatments of Buddhists and Baptists, Jews and black Protestants, the main lines and the margins offer the best sort of sympathetic exposition with the most judicious of historical explanations. With Stephen Marini, Stowe has become the leader in opening up a subject whose importance cannot be exaggerated.
--Mark A. Noll, author of America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln

David Stowe is a historian who understands the power of music to reach the human soul. Adding tools from ethnomusicology, anthropology, folklore studies, and hymnology to his own historiographical tool-kit, he offers convincing, humane, often eloquent accounts of the global give-and-take in which sacred song in America has for centuries been engaged.
--Richard Crawford, author of America's Musical Life: A History

See other books on: Americans | Church music | Religious aspects | Sound | Stowe, David W.
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