God Plays Music City

God Plays Music City

Tom Kimmel, singer-songwriter and artist-in-residence for the “God in Music City” project, with artist Lisa Silver at the project’s culminating concert at Second Presbyterian Church.
Photo by Steve Green.

One Saturday last February, a curious busload from Vanderbilt got a taste of that old-time religion–and many of the varieties of religion to be found in Nashville.

That day scholars involved with the “God in Music City” initiative watched the choir at Corinthian Baptist Church rehearse a rousing program, heard the organist at Christ Church Episcopal belt out a magnificent organ fugue, and visited stately houses of worship including Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church and Congregation Micah. Robin Jensen, the Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Worship and Art, led the tour.

“In the space of six hours, we experienced seven different structures and radically different kinds of music associated with substantially different theologies,” says Allison Pingree, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching and one of three principal investigators of the God in Music City project. “Our goal of opening up understanding and breaking down barriers and stereotypes was happening that day.”

God in Music City was an interdisciplinary class. It was a series of events including glimpses into the worlds of country music videos, gay Christian music and the blues; it was a double CD compiled and released by Greg Barz, associate professor of ethnomusicology and a principal investigator of the God in Music City project; and it was an experiment in team-teaching and experiential learning.


Odessa Settles was a featured artist during the final concert of the “God in Music City” project in April.
Photo by John Russell.

“I think the role that music-making plays in our houses of worship deserves our serious attention, and I think the God in Music City project is a huge step in the right direction,” says Dale Cockrell, professor of musicology in the Blair School of Music.

God in Music City was one project of the Music, Religion and the South study group of the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture, a transinstitutional center at Vanderbilt dedicated to developing, promoting and increasing faculty research at the intersections of religion and culture.

The God in Music City course was structured to expose students to as great a variety of religious musical expression as possible, and then help them sort it out.

“The class became a focus group that helped the professors learn something,” says John McClure, the third principal investigator of the project and Charles G. Finney Professor of Homiletics at Vanderbilt Divinity School. “It’s given me ideas for further projects.”

Already there’s talk of a book about the project. Pingree plans to explore the team-teaching employed in the class for a new project, and Barz founded a record label to release a God in Music City CD.

“This won’t stop,” says Volney Gay, co-director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture. “This train is moving down the tracks.”

Find out more: www.godinmusiccity.org

Explore Story Topics