"Are You Listening?": Vocal Polyphony in the Christian Rock Music of Emery
University of Kansas
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To many, the inception of Christian rock threatened the moral and religious stability of America due to its ties to rock and roll. Preachers and religious leaders spoke out against this combination of the “music of the devil” and gospel-proclaiming lyrics. Though the subgenre was gradually more accepted over time, Christian musicians faced a new challenge when they realized they had isolated themselves from a wider audience by occupying the “gospel” and “worship” sections of the record store. The Christian music industry simultaneously produced more “radio-friendly” music, while also creating their own Christian radio stations, retailers, and record labels as outlets for this music. This led to the emergence of dismissive assumptions that Christian musicians are only in the business for money and that Christian music is cheap imitation of secular music, which is more authentic. All of this points to a prevailing stereotype that in Christian rock, sincerity and compositional complexity are sacrificed for the sake of marketability and mass appeal. This thesis seeks to uncover and analyze Christian rock that has been largely overlooked by those who believe and perpetuate negative stereotypes about the subgenre. A history of Christian rock is presented in a way that existing literature on the subject has yet to accomplish. Chapter 2 includes people and events that challenge prevailing misguided beliefs about the subgenre. This includes the formation of Tooth & Nail Records and bands signed to the label who produced music that is both compositionally complex and sincere in its expression of Christian faith. The band Emery, whose history and genre classification are explored in Chapter 3, is used as a case study. Chapter 4 is an analysis of the diverse patterns of vocal polyphony in Emery’s music. Emery uses two types of this vocal polyphony: alternating and simultaneous. I have identified these same alternating and simultaneous polyphonic vocals in other contemporary rock subgenres such as emo, pop punk, indie rock, and others. This analysis of vocal polyphony in Emery’s music uncovers an area of popular music theory that should be explored further in future research.
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