Plough Quarterly No. 31 - Why We Make Music

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Communal music has the power to shape a soul and a society.

In many places today, a culture of singing and making music remains robust, despite pressure from the commercial music industry. Or it was until the Covid pandemic hit and we glimpsed what a world without communal music-making could be like. According to Plato, virtuous music is vital for building a virtuous community. Jewish and Christian traditions take this insight even further: good communal music shapes and builds up the people of God. So how can we choose good music and avoid the bad? The sheer ubiquity of music available for consumption – its presence as a near-constant soundtrack to our daily lives – poses a hazard. Digital music on tap is a temptation to chronic distraction of the soul, to a habit of superficiality and non-attention. Fortunately, the remedy is straightforward: spend less time consuming prepackaged tunes and more time making music. This will be doubly rewarding if done with others – singing with one’s family, singing in church, playing in a string quartet, starting a regular jam session. If personal media players tend to cut us off from the physical presence of others, sharing in good music together breaks the spell of isolation and disembodiment. It builds friendship and community.

On this theme:

- Maureen Swinger’s amateur choir sings Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion.

- Stephen Michael Newby says Black spirituals aren’t just for Black people. 

- Mary Townsend finds Dolly Parton magnificent, but would Aristotle? 

- Phil Christman finds catharsis in the YouTube comments of eighties songs. 

- Ben Crosby says congregational singing should be unabashedly weird to visitors.

- Joseph Julián González draws on ancient Nahua poets in his music.

- Christopher Tin explains why he weaves so many historical influences into his music. - Seven musicians talk about making your own music in schools, churches, prisons, backyards, or children’s bedrooms: Nathan Schram, Esther Keiderling, Norann Voll, Chaka Watch Ngwenya, Eileen Maendel, Adora Wong, and Brittany Petruzzi.

Also in the issue:

 Exclusive excerpts from forthcoming books by Eugene Vodolazkin and Esther Maria Magnis

- Thoughts on music from Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Hildegard of Bingen, Martin Luther, and Eberhard Arnold

- Catholics and Anabaptists unite to commemorate the Radical Reformation

- New poems by Jacqueline Saphra

- A profile of Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa.

- Reviews of Kate Clifford Larson’s Walk with Me, Rowan Williams’s Shakeshafte, and Sam Quinones’s The Least of Us

Plough Quarterly features stories, ideas, and culture for people eager to apply their faith to the challenges we face. Each issue includes in-depth articles, interviews, poetry, book reviews, and art.

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