I had the privilege of attending this weekend, as an observer/guest, a meeting of the American Church Music History Consultation. Hosted on Wheaton's campus by the ISAE, the Consulation is an informal but highly intentional group of academics hoping to chart a new course for the teaching of church music history in the U.S. The group includes women and men whose work is on my bookshelves and in our hymnals. There was hardly any way I would not accept the invitation to be a fly on the wall while they worked.
I don't think their work is secret, but it is not my place to report or comment on it. But it did give me perspective on a couple of things.
First - the academic life that might have been: perhaps this is no great loss, after all. I admire all those around that table, and quite a few of them are both academics and church musicians. None can be fairly called "ivory tower" academics. But I found myself quite content to be in the church and not the academy. Enough said, except to quote my college roommate when he went to work for a denominational college in another country, "It's a school with the PCUSA; 3 guesses what the "PC" stands for." (No, I don't think there were any PCUSA musicians in this particular mix. But you get my meaning.)
Second - the challenge of objectivity: granted the legitimacy of "whose canon," "whose tradition," etc., but isn't there a point at which one has to choose the "whose" and then just live and deal within it? Maybe that will change from post to post, church to church, school to school. But how effective can we be if we have to keep that question in the foreground all the time? I needed to hear these perspectives, and I hope I will be stronger/better/more effective for them. But don't I need to work where I am with the culture I'm dealt, in order to be truly effective? (And in this regard, one beautiful example of that was at the table - a white nun whose work and worship is in the black Roman Catholic church. Fascinating.)
Well, it was a perspective shaker and a chance to focus as well. Not being an academic, there will be no temptation to take part in this Consultancy. But I am eager to see its work, and I know I will benefit from it. As of now, there is no web presence, no on-going funding, and no product. But I am sure before long all 3 will be in place, and this group will make an impressive mark not only on the academy but in the churches, and certainly in my work.