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    Plough Quarterly No. 31: Why We Make Music

    Spring 2022


    Featured Articles

    All Articles

    From the Editor

    Why We Make Music Music has power to shape the soul. It points to the eternal and can draw us into a community of those who have gone before and those yet to be born.


    Go Tell It on the Mountain Black spirituals aren’t just for Black churches. They should be sung by everyone.


    Dolly Parton Is Magnificent The beloved Tennessee singer-songwriter gets the joke. Do the rest of us? Reading the Comments Fans of 1980s post-punk and new wave find community and catharsis online. In the Aztec Flower Paradise For the ancient Nahua poets, the way to the holy runs through beauty. Is Congregational Singing Dead? It’s time to make church music weird again. The Bones of Memory Those who care for the dead care for the living.

    Personal History

    The Strange Love of a Strange God When my father got cancer, we prayed desperately. No answer came. Or did it?


    Take Up Your Cross Daily Get rid of everything in your heart that is in the way, and you’ll find God there. Church Bells of England Thomas North describes traditions of church-bell ringing in England in the 1880s, many of which were already dying out.


    Poem: “Sunrise and Swag” The river sings a duet with the mist / as gulls gavotte around the overflow / and peck at City scum… Poem: “Poland, 1985” The tracks of history are not as deeply buried as Poland’s landscape would have you believe.


    In Search of Eternity Why learn to play music if we’re all going to die?

    Editors’ Picks

    Editors’ Picks: Walk with Me A review of Kate Clifford Larson’s Walk with Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer Editors’ Picks: Shakeshafte A review of Rowan Williams’s Shakeshafte: And Other Plays Editors’ Picks: The Least of Us A review Sam Quinones’s The Least of Us: of True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth

    Family and Friends

    Celtic Christianity on Iona Iona Abbey served as a hub of wide-ranging activity in ancient times. Today it does again. The Catherine Project Drawing on Aristotle, Dante, and Kierkegaard, the Catherine Project has created an online lyceum, and anyone who loves learning can join.

    Community Snapshot

    Doing Bach Badly When our amateur choir sings Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion, the music’s power overwhelms our mistakes.


    Letters from Readers Readers respond to Plough’s Winter 2022 issue, Made Perfect.


    Music, Memory, and Alzheimer’s What can music do for people who suffer from dementia? Violas in Sing Sing It’s never too late to learn an instrument. Hosting a Hootenanny The darkness at the edge of a campfire provides a safety zone for even the most self-conscious singer. How to Lullaby Long before your baby is born, you can start singing lullabies. How to Raise Musical Children John Feierabend is reviving the insights of the revered music educator Zoltán Kodály for a new generation. How to Make Music Accessible We must build a culture of music-making that welcomes everyone, whether neurodivergent or not. Chanting Psalms in the Dark In the midst of the Covid pandemic, I became blind. That’s when I discovered the power of chant.


    The Fiery Spirit of Song What could be better than music to encourage the sad, humble the conceited, and mollify the hate-filled? The Harmony of the World Since everything natural is compatible with nature, music too is in accord with our human nature.


    The Tapestry of Sound Hildegard of Bingen meets Yuri Gagarin in the music of a Grammy Award–winning composer.


    Let Brotherly Love Remain In Vienna, Catholics and Anabaptists gathered to commemorate the martyrs of the Radical Reformation five hundred years ago.


    Mercedes Sosa The singer who gave voice to her people’s struggle outlived several tyrants.

    Covering the Cover

    Covering the Cover: Why We Make Music Spontaneous music-making that is not done for applause or pay, but as a means of expressing what is deep within.

    Featured Authors


    About This Issue

    In many places today, a culture of singing and making music remains robust, despite pressure from the commercial music industry. Or it was until the Covid pandemic hit and we glimpsed what a world without communal music-making could be like. According to Plato, virtuous music is vital for building a virtuous community. Jewish and Christian traditions take this insight even further: good communal music shapes and builds up the people of God. So how can we choose good music and avoid the bad? The sheer ubiquity of music available for consumption – its presence as a near-constant soundtrack to our daily lives – poses a hazard. Digital music on tap is a temptation to chronic distraction of the soul, to a habit of superficiality and non-attention. Fortunately, the remedy is straightforward: spend less time consuming prepackaged tunes and more time making music. This will be doubly rewarding if done with others – singing with one’s family, singing in church, playing in a string quartet, starting a regular jam session. If personal media players tend to cut us off from the physical presence of others, sharing in good music together breaks the spell of isolation and disembodiment. It builds friendship and community.

    Issue 31 Playlist

    Get a taste of the music in the new issue of Plough. From gospel music to war requiems to Dolly Parton, this playlist will make your heart sing.