PW: Emily, you're one of the Indigo Girls, an alternative folk rock duo, and Don, you're a professor of theology at Emory. In A Song to Sing, a Life to Live, you describe Emily's music as "Saturday night" and Don's as "Sunday morning," yet you found a lot of crossover. When did you first notice the connections?
Don Saliers: Once Emily began writing songs—at a very young age—I recognized immediately she had developed an ear for music from church.
Emily Saliers: Growing up in the church, as well as playing in a bar band, I was able to see the transformative power of music in people's lives. I've always thought about music as a healing force for love. I saw the same thing happening when I played as I saw on Sunday morning when Dad would lead the Psalms.
The other crossover point is my jazz background. I'm not completely "Sunday morning"!
How did the idea for the book evolve?
Emily and I had written an essay on music for the Practices of Faith book Way to Live, and we had such great fun that the idea really spun to life from that. It's born out of our recognition of the song in each other. Once we got rolling on it, we recognized it was something we had to say.
The writing brought to light what has been with us all our life together.
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
Finding the time. We just finally had to block out so many hours to do it because we have intense personal schedules. Thank God Emily makes great coffee!
For me, the hardest part was overcoming the fear of being associated with organized religion by writing a book that is part of a Christian series. I spent a lot of time talking with Dad about that and processing my feelings. Writing this has been fruitful for me. I got to voice my pain as a queer person—and get support from members of the church family.
Music seems to touch people more deeply than words alone. Was it difficult to explore the spirituality of music in prose?
It is difficult to articulate the power of music. We tried to touch on how music resonates in our bodies as well as the more metaphysical aspects of the song. It's hard not to fall back on clichés. It seems there are not a lot of new words to describe something so ephemeral.
Yes. It is hard to approach the inexpressible. How do you form words around that which is so deep? Poets try. Musicians, too.
You have a chapter on how music divides people. This seems to especially be the case in some churches where there are fierce disputes about musical styles in worship. What are your thoughts on these "worship wars"?
In fearful times, church and church music become symbolic of other issues. There are many fearful people out there now, fighting about music when they ought instead to be listening to one another. Also, there is a part of the music industry that supports mediocrity—and it's tough. People can get formed in mediocrity. The church, however, is in the business of mystery, awe, wonder, joy and healing—not mediocrity. If it doesn't keep growing musically, it diminishes its own central purpose.
I agree. There is a tendency to categorize music as sacred or secular. We need to instead to look at the differences and develop a diplomacy of taste. Growing and attending to making good music is a calling.