Accepted Paper:

'Performing' Sacred Music in Contemporary Anglican Church  


Alina Apostu (St George's University of London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on sacred music rehearsals as chronotopes wherein acts of negotiation between “performance” and “worship” emerge among choir members. Encompassing both narrative and sensorial dimensions, these acts of negotiation are productive in shaping the singers' religious and artistic experience.

Paper long abstract:

This paper presents the musical process of facilitating religious experience in a traditional

Anglican church in London and it is based on recently ended fieldwork. A less prominent topic in

(ethno)musicological or anthropological research, traditional Anglican music in the contemporary

church provides a rich ground for exploring how the sound choreography (the process of choosing

and preparing the music and the act of 'performing' it in a church environment), within a service

adopts and addresses notions of performance, audience, repertoire.

I follow the process by which the church sound environment is determined through the

choice of music (hymns, anthems, mass settings), the music practice adopted and embodied by the

choir and the sonic affordances of the church space. In particular, musical choices and

'performances', as part of the broader style of religious service, nurture spaces of debate about the

boundary between sacred and secular, notions of faith, personal and collective histories, religious

identities and expectations. Within this context, musical notions of performance, professional vs

amateur singing, style, expressivity are continuously interrogated by the choir singers through their

practice. Rehearsals and services convey moments of tension between, on the one hand, obtaining a

'professional' musical sound and, on the other hand, leading the congregation in a meaningful

worship whereby the two aspects appear not to be fully compatible. By looking at the structure,

content, technique and focus during choir rehearsals, I approach questions about the implications

for both musical performance and religious experience of the choices made by the singers in

addressing this tension.

Panel P081
Comparing Notes: Realising the Sacred and the Self in Art