Historical Perspectives on American Church Music for the 21st Century

Hi there and welcome to Stan-McDaniel.com. I hope to share through this website my passion for worship and music in the Church.

Occasionally one can have an experience tied to specific place and time which, looking back, seems to mark a pivot point in his or her life:  It was the fall of 1971 in Canton Ohio.  I was newly married, in my third year of teaching, and for the first time able to focus all of my attention professionally or secondary school music.  My wife was in the midst of writing her master’s thesis, and we were dependent almost entirely on my meager teacher’s salary to make ends meet.

I saw an ad in the local paper – a nearby Presbyterian church was seeking a choir director, and we agreed this would be a good way to supplement our income. 

It was a rainy, blustery Ohio night making clear that winter was just around the corner.  I arrived at the church to find a small disparate group of people, a few of whom could actually sing, and the organist.  It was a dejected bunch.  The church’s pastor had left suddenly under a cloud taking the church secretary with him and half the congregation.  A regular supply pastor had yet to be appointed and so it was a guess each week as to who would show up to preach.  To make matters worse, the church had committed itself to an expensive building program a few years prior, and bills had to be paid.

And yet there was determination among the folks gathered to move ahead.  If leadership from the pulpit was missing, then why not let music be a vehicle for the church’s witness?  As I stood before those dear folks that night something happened.  Despite all the factors arguing against it, I sensed that this was where I was supposed to be.   I served John Knox Presbyterian Church for just a single year, but I can now say that that experience was truly the beginning of my career in church music.   (Of course, at the time I still had no idea what the future had in store.) 

Dr. Stan McDaniel

Music Ministry Matters

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On May 16, 2024

About Stan McDaniel

"I firmly believe that knowing the historical context gives meaning to our lives and is essential to the work of church musicians."

From Servanthood of Song, Epilogue


Music, Ministry, and the Church in America

Servanthood of Song is a history of American church music from the colonial era to the present. It’s focus is on the institutional and societal pressures that have shaped church song and have led us directly to where we are today.

The gulf which separates advocates of traditional and contemporary worship – Black and White, Protestant and Catholic – is not new. History repeatedly shows us that ministry, to be effective, must meet the needs of the entire worshipping community, not just one segment, age group, or class. 

Servanthood of Song provides an historical context for trends in contemporary worship in the United States and suggests that the current polemical divisions between advocates contemporary and traditional classically-oriented church music are both un-necessary and counterproductive.

It also draws from history to show that, to be the powerful component of worship it can be, music – whatever the genre – must be viewed as a ministry with training appropriate to that.

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