The Sound of Faith

Ethnomusicologist writes about the power of faith in the life of music and the power of music in the life of faith.
November 29, 2007

Assistant professor of music Timothy Rommen writes that "conviction" is the "central and unifying thread" running through his new book, Mek Some Noise: Gospel Music and the Ethics of Style in Trinidad. His study looks at Full Gospel Christians (mostly Protestant Pentecostalists) in Trinidad and examines how religious belief and believers' self-understanding get translated into sacred music as it is created, performed, listened to and talked about. "I am very interested in the role that music plays in helping us come to a sense of ourselves and of our place in community," he explains. "This is how I approach the musical life of Full Gospel Trinidad."

Several styles of gospel music circulate among Trinidadians – gospelypso, jamoo, gospel dancehall and North American gospel music. Rommen's ethnography considers how members of Full Gospel sects embrace particular musical venues, lyrics, dress and dance to differentiate themselves from other religious traditions. Deeply held convictions about these styles continually define and re-define what it should sound like – what it means – to be a Full Gospel believer in Trinidad. Mek Some Noise is about music, not as entertainment, but as the actualization of belief – in the spirit, in the body and throughout the congregation. "There is a sense in which a Full Gospel believer in Trinidad can say that she is what she sings," Rommen says.

"I am very interested in the role that music plays in helping us come to a sense of ourselves and of our place in community." - Timothy Rommen

The "ethics of style" in the subtitle draws attention to the good, not merely as an aesthetic judgment that reveals musical taste, but as the culture of ongoing moral decisions by a believing community about its approach to musical worship. "Trinidadian Full Gospel believers are constantly negotiating the particularities of their faith and practice," the author writes, "actively engaging with music's national, regional, and transnational origins and bending them to their own conceptions of the 'good.'" Rommen observes, "The ethics of style is my way of focusing attention on the convictions that drive discourse about musical style. It attempts to illustrate how our musical choices reveal our ethical judgments – and this holds true for musicians as well as audiences."

Timothy Rommen is an ethnomusicologist who specializes in the music of the Caribbean. He is particularly interested in the musical-cultural connections among Africa, the Caribbean and North America. "I continue to be fascinated by the intersections of popular culture and sacred music," he reports, "although my current work is centered on the popular music of the Bahamas." He is also investigating the rock-music scene in Trinidad.