How Sweet the Sound: Music in the Spiritual Lives of Americans

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9780674012905: How Sweet the Sound: Music in the Spiritual Lives of Americans

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.

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About the Author:

David W. Stowe is Associate Professor of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures and director of American Studies at Michigan State University.

Review:

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)

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)

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 2004-04-04)

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 2004-04-19)

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 2004-04-10)

This book by David W. Stowe offers a wide-ranging treatment of the variety of religious music that has characterized the religious expression of generations of American believers, chronicling the evolution and popularity of this music in groups as diverse as the Shakers and American Buddhists.... Stowe has greatly increased our knowledge of the important role that religious music played and continues to play in the lives of average Americans. (James R. Goff, Jr. Journal of American History 2007-06-07)

Stowe must be read and understood if we are to grasp something of the cultural context which shapes our singing—and how our singing shapes the culture around us, both within and without the church...I strongly recommend the reading of Stowe’s marvelously researched and delightfully written book. (Victor Gebauer CrossAccent)

Stowe must be read and understood if we are to grasp something of the cultural context which shapes our singing—and how our singing shapes the culture around us, both within and without the church...I strongly recommend the reading of Stowe’s marvelously researched and delightfully written book. (Victor Gebauer CrossAccent 2008-05-01)

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