The Lord’s Prayer as Song: Performance, Gesture and Meaning

in Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture

The Lord’s Prayer is a central text in Christian liturgy, generally recited rather than sung, often as a communal act of worship. The text has also provided inspiration for many musical settings, a process of ‘musicking’ [musikierung] which takes the text out of its traditional worship environment. The internet – and specifically video-streaming sites such as YouTube – are now providing a medium for the dissemination of stage, screen, studio and audio performances of the Lord’s Prayer as song, and these are now reaching – and speaking to – new audiences up to eighty years after they were made; the fact that individuals continue to post video and audio content of the Lord’s Prayer as song reflects their desire to share something which has moved them, whether musically or spiritually, with a worldwide audience.

In liberating the text from its liturgical context and releasing it as song into classical, jazz, rock, and pop performance arenas, many questions are raised about the transformation of textual meaning and ritual significance. The aim of this study is to examine the meaningfulness of the musico-textual setting for the receiver, firstly through the question of ownership of the text as a communal prayer, and secondly in arguing that perception and reception of the performer are contributory factors in the relative positivity or negativity of the receiver’s response. The research was carried out by examining a selection of the legion twentieth- and twenty-first-century musical settings of the Lord’s Prayer readily accessible through YouTube, using ethnographic data from on-line comments and from the author’s on-line survey of Christian worshippers to explore the issues raised by these musical settings. These include the perceived right of an individual to ‘perform’ a mutually-owned prayer; the loss of ritual functionality engendered by the ‘musicking’ of the text and its release into the popular domain; and the additional layers of meaning afforded to the text by gestures in performance, which can in turn lead to a transformation and renewal of ritual significance for the receiver. The inclusion of hyperlinks to YouTube video content throughout the article encourages the reader to engage with the performances themselves, from which it is hoped that a fruitful discussion of the issues will emerge.

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The Lord’s Prayer as Song: Performance, Gesture and Meaning

in Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture

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