Gifts from the Holy Spirit: Contemporary Song Composition and Performance in North-East Scottish Evangelicalism

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingPublished conference contribution


In his article, ‘A Song from the Holy Spirit’, published in Ethnomusicology in 1980, Jeff Todd Titon discusses the concept of song composition not through a conscious process of writing or borrowing of material, but as the result of an altered state of consciousness such as a dream, vision, or trance. Within the Christian context, ‘Folk Christians’ – believing that a portion of the Holy Spirit is inside them – are known to acquire song texts during times of particular spiritual intensity. This may be when they are praying, singing, preaching, giving testimony, or reading the Bible. Usually associated with the Baptist or Pentecostal denominations, they ‘believe in the existence of a body of powerful songs which have been received from the nonhuman world’ (Titon, 1980, p. 224). The aim of this paper is to further explore this songwriting process by documenting instances where it has taken place in recent years among contemporary Christian songwriters living in North-East and Northern Isles Scottish coastal communities. These coastal regions are known for their history of evangelical revival movements and the strong presence of denominations including Baptist, Brethren, Pentecostal, and Salvation Army. Presenting examples from four different singer-songwriters living in the region, I will explore the manner by which their songs are acquired, the effect of the immediate environment on each composer, and the importance of personal experience of ‘God’ or the ‘Holy Spirit’ during the compositional process. In addition to this I will consider to what extent the subject matter of each song reflects the immediate surroundings of the songwriter. In the case of all three people highlighted, the centrality of God as a guiding force in acquisition of song lyrics and melodies sets them apart from many non-Christian lyricists. Using extracts from interviews conducted during fieldwork between 2005 and 2008, the aim of this paper is not only to explore the concept of song acquisition through spiritual and personal experience, but to draw parallels between the songwriters and those discussed by Titon with regard to denominational affiliation, compositional process, environmental influence, and spiritual experience.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExperiencing Religion
Subtitle of host publicationNew Approaches to Personal Religiosity
EditorsClara Saraiva, Peter Jan Margry, Lionel Obadiah, Kinga Povedák, José Mapril
PublisherLIT Verlag
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)ISBN 978-3-643-90727-1
ISBN (Print)ISBN 978-3-643-90727-1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventExperiencing Religion: New Approaches towards Personal Religiosity - The State Ethnographic Museum, Warsaw, Poland
Duration: 1 Jun 20103 Jun 2010

Publication series

NameEthnology of Religion
PublisherLIT Verlag


ConferenceExperiencing Religion
Internet address


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