Robin L. D. Rees, PhD
University of Sheffield

The Role of Music
and Musicians
in Current English
Parish Church Worship:
The Attitudes of Clergy and Organists

I submitted the thesis for this part-time PhD within 4¼ years, such a period being not uncommon
for completing a full-time course.

External Examiner’s Report

As its title implies, the thesis is a sociological study as well as a musico-liturgical one. It examines attitudes towards the role of music in current English parish church worship, focusing on the contention that relations between clergy and organists have become increasingly uneasy. Numerous cases of friction have been reported in recent years, but a systematic inquiry into the causes and extent of this friction has not previously been undertaken. The author has carried out his investigation by means of a detailed questionnaire addressed to the priest-in-charge and organist at more than 200 churches in the diocese of Oxford, analysing the results by computer. The questions have been chosen and carefully framed to gather factual information about such things as musical repertoire and expenditure on music, and to elicit information about styles of worship, the respondents’ personal backgrounds and general attitudes, their views of the situation at their church, and their perceptions of each other.

The gathering of such a large amount of data is a considerable achievement (the response rate to the questionnaires was over 74%), and the author’s command of statistical method and his ability to process and interpret the evidence are impressive. His commentary on the answers to individual questions, and groups of related questions, is perceptive and consistently level-headed, and his argument that conclusions drawn from the survey may be applied to the Church of England as a whole is persuasive. His findings are therefore likely to be of interest in many quarters, not least to those currently involved in the Archbishops’ Commission on Church Music.

The survey, which forms the main part of the dissertation, is preceded by a review of the principles governing the use of music in worship and a discussion of the background to liturgical changes in the Alternative Service Book. The discussion is then widened to include a review of the principal hymnals and psalters in current use; a survey of courses and qualifications in church music available in Britain; three case studies demonstrating the problems that can arise when clergy and musicians are in conflict; and a review of surveys of church music undertaken since 1950. These preliminary chapters are well researched, and provide a context for the issues addressed in the present survey.

The dissertation is very well written and the standard of presentation is high, particularly in the matter of information set out in tabular form. There are remarkably few typographical errors: I noticed only five, all of which are of a minor nature and can be corrected quickly.

Professor Peter Aston
4 April 1991

The text of the thesis was subsquently revised
for a wider readership: this is listed under
Return to Education & Qualifications
© R. L. D. Rees 2001–2003
© Peter Aston (Report) 1991