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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Singing different songs

Father and daughter write together, from separate experiences

I didn't know for some time that Don and Emily Saliers are father and daughter. Professor of theology and worship at Candler Divinity School, Emory University, Atlanta, Don also is well known as a church musician and writer on the importance of music in worship. Emily is half of the popular singing-composing duo Indigo Girls, whose work, usually called "folk-rock," consistently expresses social-justice themes. Once I became aware of the family relationship, I remember wondering how the Saliers might view each other's very different music.

Now I know: They co-authored A Song to Sing, A Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice (Jossey-Bass, 2005). In dialogue style, they explore the relationship between the music each writes and performs — "Saturday night," Emily, and "Sunday morning," Don — and why there shouldn't really be such a distinction.

The two talk about how music shapes one's history and personality, how it reveals the soul of a culture and how it can be a vital expression of grief or loss. In approaching these themes, they share many personal experiences, including the influence that Don's father, a jazz musician, had on each of them. Others in the Saliers family also are musicians, including Jane Firmin Saliers, wife to Don and mother to Emily, who is a hymn composer.

They also consider how music divides us. One of the most fought-over issues of congregational life is what kind of music to include in services. The Saliers emphasize learning to appreciate different musical forms and styles. The authors don't absent themselves from the advice they offer. They've worked hard at understanding each other's music — and they still aren't sure about all of it. The process continues. It's not always easy, but it's incredibly rewarding.

The Indigo Girls have been recording since the 1980s. If you aren't familiar with their music, a good introduction is the CD Indigo Girls — Retrospective (Epic). Their most recent CD is All That We Let In (Sony).


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