This website introduces Experience of Music, a new research exercise which aims to gather data regarding emotional, psychological and spiritual responses to music.
About Experience of Music, from Jonathan Arnold, principal investigator
Experience of Music aims to gather data regarding emotional, psychological and spiritual responses to music performed in a variety of concert and liturgical settings in order to ascertain the relative proportion of religious, or theistic, responses to music in comparison to emotional/aesthetic, non-theistic, responses, and the interaction/relationship between the two.
This study will seek, through sociological methods, to find out the views of audiences and congregations and discover who is listening, and why, to different styles of classical music. This will involve canvassing the opinions of large numbers of people who attend concerts or services by means of a survey, as well as more in-depth interviews with some. The methodology for this study is outlined below >
With experience of nearly two decades as a professional singer with choirs such as The Sixteen, a contributor to the BBC TV documentary Sacred Music and as a distinguished author, Senior Research Fellow and ordained Anglican Chaplain, I propose to offer a new and challenging work for the general reader and specialist alike asking why Christian sacred music, perhaps more than ever, appeals to such a wide and varied audience, of both religious and secular listeners.
About Jonathan Arnold
The Revd Dr Jonathan Arnold was raised in
during his time at
Praise for Sacred Music in Secular Society
‘As both a sacred musician and a scholar of historical theology, Jonathan Arnold is uniquely qualified to write this lucid and informed book. He tackles one of the most mysterious and fascinating questions in the area of theology and the arts: what is it about music that still appeals so vividly to modern people's sense of the spiritual? He explores this question in an engaging, open, accessible and enthusiastic way, bringing his own insights into conversation with some of the best-known composers, performers and theorists of sacred music at work today.’
Ben Quash, King’s College London, UK
John Scott, Organist and Director of Music, St Thomas Church, New York City, USA
Ralph Allwood, Director, Eton Choral Courses
Stephen Layton, Trinity College, Cambridge, UK
Music and Liturgy
The basis of research will be a wide-ranging social survey, which will gather findings from audiences who attend concerts of western classical music, as well as congregations who attend cathedral and church services. Attendees at a number of classical music events will be invited to take part in the survey, which will be available in paper form as handouts as well as online, via this dedicated website and the websites of those organisations involved.
In order not to confuse different types of event and different styles of music with each other, the context and repertoire will be closely monitored.
The questions will aim to discover several demographic aspects of the audience or congregation, such as age, gender and religious background; they will also aim to ascertain how an individual responded to a particular concert, piece of music, or music within a church service, and thus build a broad picture of trends in audience perception and reception. Each survey will also give individuals the opportunity to write down how they felt or experienced the music in their own words.
In addition to this social survey and the resulting statistics, I will also undertake some in depth interviews with individuals, in order to gain a sense of how listeners articulate their experience of music. These interviews will not be with professional theologians, musicians or performers, but, as far as possible, ‘ordinary’ members of the audience or congregation with no particular specialism relating to these fields of study.
Once the information has been gathered, both from the survey and the interviews, I intend to place the findings within a framework of theological reflection. In order to achieve this aim, I shall engage with recent scholarship on the theology of listening, by authors such as Jeremy Begbie, in his Music, Modernity, and God: Essays in Listening (OUP, 2013), in which he argues that ‘Music … is capable of providing a kind of ‘theological performance’ of some of modernity’s most characteristic dynamics.’ I will also relate my findings to the theology of Joseph Ratzinger on music and theology, an author with whom I did not engage in my previous work, as well as the theological reflections in a new volume of essays, edited by Ingalls, Landau, and Wagner, Christian Congregational Music: Performance, Identity and Experience (Ashgate, 2015).
In order further to contextualise and analyse the data found, I shall also be relating the material to ritual studies, such as the Experience of Worship Project, headed by Prof. John Harper, www.experienceofworship.org.uk. Such studies combine a rigorous analysis of how people experience worship and how liturgy in performance is as ambivalent and polyvalent for both those who deliver it and those who receive it. This ritual study will be compared and contrasted to the experience of attending a concert, and all that it involves for the audience.
About Music and Theology at Oxford
Experience of Music is one of the research activities being pursued under the aegis of Music and Theology at Oxford, a group convened by Jonathan Arnold, Matthew Cheung Salisbury (Lecturer in Music), and Carol Harrison (Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity) within the University of Oxford. There is a regular seminar series in Oxford which attracts students and senior members alike who are interested in connections between the disciplines: subjects discussed range widely, from historical studies to contemporary perspectives. Music and Theology at Oxford is part of the International Network for Music Theology.