Brief Book Review: Foundations of Christian Music

Foundations of Christian Music:
The Music of Pre-Constantinian Christianity
By Edward Foley, O.F.M. Cap.

Who should read this? Pastoral musicians, clergy and historians with an interest in early Christian music.

Why is this book important? Rather than confining the data for early Christian music making to biblical and patristic texts and/or archeological remains, Foley organizes data based on the auditory environments for Jewish (Temple, synagogue, home) and early Christian (synagogue, house church) music-making.

What will you (the reader) like the most? The clarity of the writing and the extensive footnotes encouraging the reader to further explorations.

What will get you (the reader) thinking? How different present auditory environments for Christian worship are from the foundational experiences Foley describes, including the radical transformation of music-making once it can be aurally recorded and reproduced (e.g., recording devices from the 19th C. on) and transmitted by electronic means (e.g., Pandora, Spotify, YouTube).

Kudos. Foley has compressed an incredible amount of material into a pamphlet of slightly more than 100 pages. He shows admirable caution in assessing the connections between Greco-Roman pagan, Jewish, and early Christian music-making at worship. His summary of form-critical studies of various kinds of musical texts is especially helpful.

Suggestions. As far as I can tell, this is a reprint (with a new cover) of a text that first appeared in 1992 with no subsequent updating. I would appreciate a similar review of scholarship from the last quarter century or so on the topic, preferably by Foley himself, to discover what new data and insights have arisen since the booklet first appeared.

Edward Foley, Foundations of Christian Music: The Music of Pre-Constantinian Christianity (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2020), 112 pages. Previously published by Alcuin/GROW Liturgical Studies (1992) and the Liturgical Press (1996).

REVIEWER: Michael Joncas.




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