SCSM Conference Report: February 2019

written by Chad Fothergill
March 1, 2019

Archbishop Mark MacDonald during his keynote at St. Michael’s College.

February’s annual meeting at the University of Toronto was the society’s first gathering held beyond U.S. borders since its founding in 2002. The three-day conference brought together scholars from at least seven countries such as Austria, Canada, Germany, Ireland, and Japan. Among this year’s attendees were: undergraduate students; graduate students; independent scholars; church musicians; as well as teaching faculty from research universities, colleges, seminaries, and conservatories representing a broad range of affiliations with the Christian tradition. With the implementation of the Travel Fund, the society was able to reimburse seven attendees for 25% of their respective travel costs. We continue to be appreciative of those at the University of St. Michael’s College for their preparation, organization, and hospitality, especially the staff that prepared and served meals, assisted with technology, the staff and community of St. Basil’s church, and the local arrangements team chaired by Michael O’Connor.

On Thursday afternoon, members heard a plenary address by the Right Rev. Mark MacDonald, the Anglican Church of Canada’s first National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop, an office he has held since 2007. In his plenary, “The Musics of Indigenous Christians in North America,” MacDonald described the hymn singing traditions of Indigenous communities, noting that these traditions together comprise a “quiet and subtle resistance to colonization and oppression” and, as such, challenge long-standing tendencies to explain indigenous expressions with Western terminology. In indigenous thought, theological work happens in music, song, and story: singing is not an adjunct to theology, but is theology.

On Friday evening, members were treated to an exquisite concert of French Baroque music. From the chancel of St. Basil’s church, conductor and harpsichordist Adrian Ross led an ensemble of graduate students from St. Michael’s College and members of St. Basil’s Schola Cantorum in compelling performances of works by Charpentier, Couperin, and de Grigny that also featured organist Stefani Bedin.

Panel discussion on publishing (from left to right): Megan Francisco, Erin Fulton, Blenda Im, Jenny Bloxam, and Chelle Stearns.

Members and students also had occasion to explore the opportunities, challenges, and changing landscape of publishing during the annual graduate student panel. Led by Megan Francisco (University of Washington), members Jenny Bloxam (Williams College), Blenda Im (University of Pennsylvania), Erin Fulton (University of Kentucky), and Chelle Stearns (The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology) explored topics such as publication opportunities for graduate students and ways in which to enhance the publication section of one’s curriculum vitae. Some of the most valuable advice included: setting long range “bucket” goals — i.e., a two-year bucket and a five-year bucket — for one’s research and publications; the value of clarity in writing; of understanding where one’s writing is situated in wider conversations; of sharing material with peers before submission; of having conversations with editors to better understand what their needs are; and of seeking balance between a sense of credibility and a sense of self-fulfillment.

At the annual business meeting, several leadership changes became effective following the previous year’s elections. Mark Peters (Trinity Christian College) succeeded Jenny Bloxam (Williams College) as president, and Joshua Waggener (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) assumed the role of Vice President following a four-year term as a Member-at-Large. In addition to Waggener, John Paul Ito (Carnegie Mellon) and Joanna Smolko (Athens Technical College, University of Georgia) also completed their four-year terms as Members-at-Large while Effie Papanikolaou (Bowling Green State, Ohio) succeeded Tim Steele (Calvin College) who had served as SCSM secretary for the past nine years. Deborah Justice (Cornell University) and Michael O’Connor (University of Toronto) will continue their service as Members-at-Large alongside those starting their four-year terms: Pedro Aponte (James Madison University), Cathy Ann Elias (DePaul University), and Marcell Steurnagel (Southern Methodist University). Megan Francisco (University of Washington) concluded two terms as graduate student representative, and the society welcomed Hannah Denecke (University of Florida, Gainesville) as her successor. In addition, Adam Perez (Duke University) will serve another term as webmaster, Zig Reichwald (Converse College) will begin his sixth year as Treasurer, and Chelle Stearns (The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology) will continue as editor of the newsletter.

Sonja Wermager presenting her prize-winning paper.

During the business meeting, Sonja Wermager (Columbia University) was named recipient of the 2019 Graduate Student Prize for her paper, “‘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).” At the close of his remarks as incoming president, Mark Peters announced that the next annual meeting will take place in February 2020 on the campus of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. The meeting concluded with a prayer by Thomas Aquinas, whose words continue to guide our vocations:

Come, Holy Spirit, Divine Creator, true source of light and fountain of wisdom! Pour forth your brilliance upon my dense intellect, dissipate the darkness which covers me, that of sin and of ignorance. Grant me a penetrating mind to understand, a retentive memory, method and ease in learning, the lucidity to comprehend, and abundant grace in expressing myself. Guide the beginning of my work, direct its progress, and bring it to successful completion. This I ask through Jesus Christ, true God and true man, living and reigning with You and the Father, forever and ever. Amen.

Chad Fothergill (Birmingham, Alabama) is presently writing a dissertation on the role of the Lutheran Kantor throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. In addition, he is editor of CrossAccent, journal of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, and has served on faculties at Gustavus Adolphus College (2009–12), the University of Delaware (2013–15), and the Lutheran Summer Music Academy and Festival (2018–) where he has taught secondary, undergraduate, and graduate courses in music history, music theory, organ, and sacred music.

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Chelle Stearns

Chelle Stearns

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