Relational Power, Music, and Identity: The Emotional Efficacy of Congregational Song

The power of congregational song to unify (or divide) people along various lines is well documented. Yet, how this process of uniting or dividing is accomplished has proven necessarily difficult to document. This paper examines the complex and polyvalent factors that contribute to the meaningfulness of congregational music making, seeking to offer a synthetic, conceptual framework with which to engage this often murky milieu.

Employing interdisciplinary research techniques drawn from sociology, ritual studies, and ethnomusicology, I construct a conceptual framework with which to understand the profoundly formative power of regular participation in the ritual of congregational singing. Combining musical entrainment theory (Clayton et al 2005; Clayton 2013; Will and Turow 2011) and relational power dynamic/interaction ritual theory (Collins 2004; Kemper 2011), I suggest that the emotional efficacy of congregational singing is constructed and configured via the process of “Compound Ritual Entrainment” (CRE).

The conceptual formula of CRE is informed and consequently grounded in ethnographic inquiry at the National Worship Leader Conference held in Dallas, Texas, from September 30—October 2, 2015. There I observed congregational bodies unified in musical worship, and conducted interviews with participants of those ritual activities, revealing the depth to which those activities informed--even as they were formed by--the emotional posture of the singers as well as their perceived communal and individual identities.

Author Biography

Nathan Myrick is a PhD Candidate in Church Music at Baylor University. His research focuses on the intersection of music, ritual, and theological care ethics and their implications for identity formation in communities and individuals. His previous work has been published in Liturgy.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.