Congregational singing is a participatory vocal practice undertaken by Christians across a wide range of denominations, yet the specific qualities and active capacities of the congregational voice have yet to be investigated. Drawing on recent musicological and philosophical perspectives on voice, I theorize the congregational voice as an active practice, illuminating its abilities to do something in worship through sound.

Taking Brian Kane’s model of the voice as a circulation of content (logos), sound (echos), and source (topos), I explore how these categories are redefined through an active-based theorization of congregational singing. I argue that topos must be expanded to include the multiplicity of congregant voices and bodies, even when the sound of each voice is obscured or even intentionally hidden: as a result, congregational singing fundamentally transforms the commonly perceived correlation between echos and topos. In addition, I broaden the definition of logos to include musical content, shedding new light on discussions of musical genre in Christian worship by grounding them in the voice. As a result, I assert that music’s place within the voice is at the boundaries of sound and content, without being reducible to either. By examining the reformulations of logos, echos and topos that result through congregational singing practice, I present a new methodological framework for analyzing communal voicing, both within the congregation and beyond.

Author Biography

Marissa Glynias Moore is a PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology at Yale University.

Creative Commons License

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



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