skip to main content

Canonization & The canon of church song traditions

An intriguing example of cultural change (and stability) is the existence of cultural canons. For example, canons of literature (what are the most “influential” novels), philosophy (who are the “greatest” thinkers?), folktales (what are the most “popular” fairy tales?), or history (what are the most “important” events?) are assumed as a frame of reference for a shared culture. The emergence of canons is typically perceived as a process guided by two interacting factors: (1) acclaim from the cultural elite (publishers, translators, critics) and (2) widespread popularity in a community. However, there are still many questions about how these factors interact.4
Using computational models of cultural change, the song research at the Meertens Institute is attempting to gain a more concrete and more exact idea of the dynamics and mechanisms that are at the foundation of canon formation in music and song. Research into (the emergence of) canons is important for a better and more fundamental understanding of issues such as shared standards and values, regional individuality, and national identity, and brings various academic disciplines (such as musicology, ethnology, history, and literature) together. Here, the connecting role is also set aside for computational models of cultural change with which (through necessary abstraction and simplification) the general and fundamental principles of canon formation can be mapped out.
As a specific focus, more ethnographic research will be done into canon formation via qualitative methods, specifically in the field of church song traditions. Through the ages, the Protestant church has split up into various denominations. Each group had its own canon of hymns and a specific way of singing them, which became defining traits for individual identity. The various traditions still clash in the present day. Research will be conducted into how church song traditions serve as defining traits in the identity of individual groups and how the manner of singing could lead to mutual conflicts.

Researchers: Folgert Karsdorp, Peter van Kranenburg