Book news

My publishers at the University of the Illinois Press asked me for an interview about my southern gospel book recently, and the results of the conversation are now up. Among other things, we talked about some of my favorites discoveries in the research process:

Q:  What is the most interesting thing that you learned while researching the book?

Harrison:  One of my favorite discoveries in this line was from an 1892 songbook preface in which the editor (and author of many songs) not only extols the virtues of gospel music in his book but also excoriates church choirs for their perfidious effects on church music and the progress of the soul more generally:

As a rule, church choirs are an abomination in the sight of the Lord. They are only efficient in the worship of God when they are used as leaders of the congregation. If those, and those only, are saved, who sing in the church choirs FOR THE GLORY OF GOD ALONE, the Lord will not have to build many additional mansions. They generally whisper, write notes, turn over the leaves in the song book, and play the fool generally. No extra charge for this discovery, for making it now.

I love this, both for its sassiness and for how it conveys the deep personal and spiritual investments that gospel has always inspired among its partisans and exponents, for whom the music has never been just a way to sing sacred songs, but is also for them a way of life with consequences here and in the hereafter.

The entire thing is here. The exchange also got an afterglow shout-out from the folks at the Columbia University Press. If you haven’t already bought six or eight copies, insert the old emcee’s joke about our limited supply of product being reinforced with another limited supply from the bus if this one runs out.

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