What do heart rates, hymnbooks, and jazz improvisation have to do with one another? They all involve singing, which is the theme of the first issue of a new publication from the Yale Institute of Sacred Music: The Yale ISM Review. This publication is unique in that it pulls together a wide range of perspectives on sacred music, worship, and the arts in an accessible, online format. Contributors include Yale faculty and other leaders in the field.
Among the highlights of the current issue are two poems by celebrated poet Christian Wiman and a video interview with world-famous organist Tom Murray. Other contributions include an essay on best practices in acoustical design by architect Scott Riedel, a discussion of the bodily dimensions of singing by Mark Lazenby of the Yale Nursing School, and an argument for keeping hymnals from extinction by Karen Westerfield Tucker of Boston University.
“The theme of song was deliberately chosen for the first issue because communal singing is in trouble in North America today, creating challenges for worship leaders in many communities,” said Rita Ferrone, editor of the Review. “People will tell you ‘singing is for singers, but not for me.’ I hope this issue will get them to question that assumption. Singing is a deeply human thing. If we lose our voice, we lose something extremely precious.”
Sacred music takes place in a religiously diverse universe, amid a wealth of insight that this publication harvests. In the current issue of The Yale ISM Review musicologist Judah Cohen describes psalm-singing in the Jewish community alongside composer Paul Inwood who reviews the singing of psalms in Catholic liturgy. They are joined in this discussion by noted liturgical theologian Don Saliers, who explores the spirituality of psalm singing as a lifelong endeavor. Study and life experience come together in James Abbington’s essay on black spirituals and Ike Sturm’s reflections on jazz song-leading in worship. Teacher and hymnal-editor Emily Brink shares her experience of songs that cross boundaries, especially between Asia and Africa and the United States.
A thought-provoking essay on work songs by the philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff breaks through the supposed divide between “art” and “life,” while the renowned hymn-writer Tom Troeger shows readers how to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to evaluating hymn texts.
Some readers may think that singing does not have much to do with the visual arts, but two unusual examples of artworks that are inspired by sacred song are also featured in this issue of the magazine. Australian artist John Coburn’s “Canticle of the Sun II” has taken Francis of Assisi’s song of creation and rendered it in brilliant colors, oil on canvas, inspired by aboriginal spirituality. Readers are also invited to consider how the biblical canticle from the prophet Daniel is illustrated in the mosaic floor of the Honan Chapel at University College, Cork, Ireland—including sea monsters inspired by Celtic designs.
“We’ve been eager to open up the conversations we have at the Institute with a wider audience,” said Martin Jean, director of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. “This publication is an attempt to share what is a rich, continuing dialogue about how people engage with the sacred through music, worship, and the arts.”