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Book: The Church Musician

Paul Westermeyer. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997. 159 pp. Revised edition. Reviewed by Emily R. Brink, editor of Reformed Worship.

The first edition of this book (Harper & Row, 1988) was reviewed and highly recommended in RW 11 (Spring, 1989, p. 44). And it is certainly worth recommending again. Westermeyer has a strong interest in relating theological and musical concerns; he speaks from a Lutheran perspective with wide ecumenical experience. His doctorate in church history from the University of Chicago was done under Martin E. Marty, who remains a friend and mentor and who wrote a new and longer Foreword to this second edition.

This revised edition is testament to the respect with which the book was first received as well as to changes in the church music scene in the last decade. At the heart of the book is Westermeyer's concept of the church musician as one who leads the people's song. He holds high a vision for a church musician, whether as a career musician or as a volunteer; whether in small or large churches; whether in contemporary or traditional worship.

Westermeyer added two chapters to the nine of the first edition. In chapter 10, "Challenges," he mentions several problematic issues in North American church life that are often laid at the feet of church musicians but are more accurately part of broad cultural currents. Chapter 11, "Responses," only begins to address those challenges with a number of practical observations and suggestions. In fact, the reason for adding these two chapters can be summarized by a statement in his closing paragraph, in which he addresses church musicians: "I hope you will hang in there by God's grace with a healthy perspective no matter how much you are attacked, because both church and world need you" (p. 142).

Westermeyer tends to be rather negative toward many changes in church life and culture, not unlike Marva Dawn in Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down. He is very focused on the high calling of a church musician, and he offers much practical advice to those who take such a calling seriously. Church musicians and pastors and worship committees would benefit greatly from studying this book together.