Conference Report: SCSM Annual Meeting Online: February 25–27, 2021

by Breck McGough (Baylor University) and Hannah Porter Denecke (Florida State University)

This year’s annual meeting marked the first fully virtual SCSM, and we were left feeling grateful and inspired that we could gather to think and learn even in such strange times as the COVID-19 pandemic. There were several new members in attendance, among many longtime members and supporters of the work of SCSM. It was poignant to see the faces of so many, though we were not able to meet in person this year. The breadth of topics, discussions, and music covered in this conference made for a meaningful and insightful experience, in spite of our physical separation.

The conference opened with a thought-provoking plenary session about “Music and Racial Identity in the U.S. Church.” From the Reconstruction Era to the present, the scholarship in this session demonstrated a variety of ways for SCSM to engage with crucial discussions surrounding race and music in the church today. The concurrent sessions throughout the conference ranged in their methodological approaches, theological and denominational backgrounds, and swept across many different musical genre boundaries. There were musical examples, live and recorded, sung and played, in a variety of languages. Friday morning featured two concurrent lecture recitals. Panayotis League’s fabulous “Paraliturgical Songs of the Greek Islands,” and Delvyn Case’s novel “Interactive Introduction to Deus Ex Musica.” These two recitals were a welcome treat as so many of us have missed live music in the last year. Friday afternoon included a plenary panel discussion, “Liturgies for Change.” This hour-long conversation was bursting with passion and ideas about finding a way forward for the church in the days to come. Directly following the discussion was another plenary session where several presenters shared their posters and discussion. Saturday of the conference included more stimulating papers and presentations, and concluded with a moving and significant keynote address from Mellonee Burnim, “Aretha’s Amazing Grace: Symbol of African American Religious and Cultural Identity.” In the closing announcements of the conference, we learned that Hannah Snavely was awarded the student paper prize for her fascinating paper, “The Global Encounter as Communitas: Inter-Pilgrim Musicking along the Contemporary Camino de Santiago.”

Altogether, the SCSM 2021 Annual Meeting was evidence that even in an unfamiliar format, this society is made up of thoughtful, passionate, caring scholars, musicians, and teachers. The depth and breadth of topics covered and perspectives shared give us hope and anticipation for the future of the society. We look to 2022 with great excitement!

Breck McGough is currently a doctoral student at Baylor University, conducting research in church music and studying composition with Dr. Scott McAllister. When not making music, he is most likely to be found in a library or in his kitchen baking too much bread with his wife, Laurelin.

Hannah Porter Denecke is currently a doctoral student in Musicology at Florida State University. Hannah is intrigued by popular music in the United States, and her dissertation research explores concept albums which responded to and critiqued American politics during the Trump presidency. In her free time, Hannah likes to over-extend metaphors and go outside with her beloved husband, Eli.



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Chelle Stearns

Chelle Stearns


Associate Professor of Theology at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology