Graduate Student Paper Prize: Christopher Blakey

The SCSM Graduate Student Prize is awarded annually to a graduate student for a distinguished scholarly paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society, with a cash prize of $250. Recent recipients have included Sonja Wermager (2019) for “‘That Hart May Sing in Corde:’ Poetic Paraphrase of the Psalms as Defense of Church Music in Matthew Parker’s The Whole Psalter Translated into English Metre (1567)”; Andrew Janzen (2018) for “The Good Road: Indigenous Christian Songs, Senses and Place of Identity”; Emilie Coakley (2017) for “Time for Prayer or Time for Work?: Nostalgia, Memory, and the Changing Reception of Church Bells in a City Soundscape”; Braxton Shelley (2016) for “Tuning Up: Towards a Gospel Aesthetic”; Bo kyung Blenda Im (2015) for “Amnesia and Anamnesis: Voicing an Alternative Modern Christian Subjectivity in South Korea”; and Cesar Favila (2014) for “Sacred Music and Its Sacred Space: The Early Modern Novohispanic Convent Coro.” The prize is open to all graduate students whose papers are accepted for presentation at the meeting.

This year’s Graduate Student Prize was awarded to Mr. Christopher Blakey for his paper, “Music Theology and Vaughan Williams’s Sinfonia Antarctica.” A quick look at the conference program points to a change of mind for Mr. Blakey, as he shifted from a more general exploration of Vaugh Williams’ natural theology (“Natural Theology and the Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams”) to a more specific exploration of the development of musical theology in his Sinfonia Antarctica. His instincts to write a different paper paid off and resulted in an exemplary scholarly paper.

Mr. Blakey is a Ph.D. student in the music department at Durham University, having also earned his B.A. (first-class) and M.A. (distinction) at the same institution. He currently holds the Northern Bridge studentship and is supervised by Professor Bennett Zon and Revd. Professor David Wilkinson. Blakey’s research is focused on the music of Ralph Vaugh Williams through the lens of natural theology and biological evolutionary thought.

Mr. Blakey’s paper was selected by a committee chaired by Cathy Ann Elias (DePaul University) that also included Pedro R. Aponte (James Madison University), and Martin V. Clarke (The Open University, UK). He received high praise from the committee members. One argued,

“This paper flows smoothly. The main argument on ‘music as theology’ is well built upon assumptions that are clearly stated. It makes good use of scholarly models and builds well upon those models to create a novel contribution to scholarship. The musical analysis fits the overall narrative quite nicely.”

A second committee member commended the interdisciplinary ability demonstrated in the paper,

“Very impressive work combining theological reflection and musical analysis in convincing detail and argument. The case study was thoroughly presented, but also ably situated in a wider field of research. The bold attempt to explore music as theology was aided by rigorous engagement with a wide range of secondary literature, both theological and musicological. While the musical analysis employed complex theory, it was presented in a way that ought to make it accessible to readers approaching this from different scholarly backgrounds.”

Thus, it seems, not only was this an excellent paper, but his writing was also clear and accessible to a multidisciplinary panel and audience, not an easy task. Mr. Blakey’s scholarship embodies much of what SCSM aspires to create and promote in the realm of music and Christian scholarship, and we look forward to hearing more from him at future conferences and beyond.

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