Folk, Not Rock, is Most Responsible for Profaning Church Music Today!

For those concerned with the negative influences of rock music on our culture, I would like to suggest politely that you are missing the boat. By far the musical style which has posed the greatest threat to Christian worship in general and Catholic worship in particular, is folk music. Yes, I said it, and I’ll say it again: If any music style could be plausibly claimed to have exerted a bad influence on the church in recent times, folk music is it.

Perhaps you think I overstate my case? Perhaps you think that all the folk-singers you know, and even the ones you don’t, are clean-living, doctrinaire, well-intentioned souls who would not hurt a fly? That is only because you haven’t paused to consider the secular, profane, and even sadistic roots of some of tunes now regularly sung in churches.

If you know anything at all about church music in the 20th century you will undoubtedly have noticed that many of the songs you find in your missal-ette each Sunday are set to the tunes of warmed-over folk songs. Sadly, many of these songs, as sung originally, represent lifestyles and world-views that are simply incompatible with a Christian life.

Examples abound, but it might be illustrative to look at just one jarring example I heard recently at a diocesan rite of election.

Perhaps you are familiar with “The Summons”, by John Bell and Graham Maule of the Iona Community? (You can find it in Gather Comprehensive, among other locations It is a cloying bit of treacle and in its present form contains at best confusing, and at worst theologically questionable lyrics. Below is the first verse, but it plows on for four additional verses, and you can easily find someone singing it on youtube with a placid look on their face:

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

The tune of the song is a Scottish melody known as “Kelvingrove”. Various versions of the song lyrics exist, but In the Victorian era it went something like this (Thomas Lyle

Let us haste to Kelvin Grove, bonnie lassie, O
Thro’ its mazes let us rove, bonnie lassie, O
Where the roses in their pride
Deck the bonnie dingle side
Where the midnight fairies glide, bonnie lassie, O.

So, our beloved contemporary worship song is really a quaint tale of a bonnie lassie, a dingle side, some fairies, etc. If the story ended here, we might retain our composure: a sappy, secular, Victorian song about a walk in the park has been re-cast in an equally sappy “churchy” light. Where’s the harm?

Unfortunately, the Victorian version has been heavily bowdlerized. Before the Victorians “improved” it, the song lived as several versions under the title of “Bonnie Lassie-O” and “The Shearing’s Nae For You”. These versions of the song start something like this:

Oh the shearin’s no for you my bonnie lassie o
No the shearin’s no for you my bonnie lassie o
No the shearin’s no for you, for your back it willnae boo
And your bellies rowan fu’ my bonnie lassie o

For those of you a little confused by “bellies rowan fu’”, it means the lassie in question is pregnant. How did that happen you ask? Well, it wasn’t exactly her idea, as we find out later in the song:

Dae you mind on yonder hill, where you said you wid me kill
If you didnae hae your will my bonnie laddie o

It turns out today’s hymn with traditional melody originated from a song about rape, a false promise of marriage, and impending bastardy. Yes, we stand a few centuries distant from bonnie lassie and her troubles, but imagine someone in the year 2030 wanting to re-write the lyrics for “Papa Don’t Preach” and use it in a mass setting? If that makes you queasy, it should.

This is but one example, but this bizarre, out-of-context, anachronistic use of folk music has reached epidemic proportions, in my view. It is so commonplace that we take it for granted, but now that you know about its origins, the next time you hear the “Summons” in church, can you not help but be reminded of the bonnie lassie?

Note: In composing this comment on Kelvingrove, I ran across the blogger below, who summarizes this transition from profane to sacred song quite nicely:

Folk, Not Rock, is Most Responsible for Profaning Church Music Today!!


Bad pipe and electric organ.

Gosh-darn-cotton-picking-rooting-tootin-twanging banjos ruin everything!

The irony is that modified black metal in Latin (minus the evil lyrics and shrieking, and with OT passages sung by choirs in Latin) would be more well suited for Mass than that σκύβαλα*… heck, a lot of that genre’s music actually does what you’re speaking of in reverse - it take Old Testamental medieval-style Catholic culture and secularizes it!

And no, I’m not saying that we should start hiring metal bands for Mass. Just principle.

*Biblical Greek word for censored word in formerly in post.

I don’t think though it is fair to blame folk music for the fact that it was abused in this way. The stuff you hear in church isn’t usually even good folk music.

IMO a person strumming a guitar and singing a folksy tune but a religious tune doesn’t profane.I believe its possible to sing the Ave Maria using a guitar without it being profane.I would never suggest it and am sure I would never favorite it but it is possible.Folk music is just an American style of music trying to give a rural flavor.Profane would make the music irreligious or anti Catholic.Types of music played have changed in the Church.they’re weren’t always beautiflul Gregorian chants.Its just the most beautiful stick around and nothing is better to replace them.

never heard about the specifics that you mentioned… I’m not troubled by american county music.

Folk tunes have constantly been given new lyrics over the centuries, with meanings often very different from their original. This practice speaks to the appeal of certain tunes, not some kind of profaning.

For example, the popular Christmas hymn “What Child is This?” is borrowed from the traditional English folksong “Greensleeves” (which no matter what interpretation you give it, is not pious)

I’d rather hear Zeppelin, Ozzy, Maiden, or Rush anyday over the Mamas and the Papas and Simon and Garfunkle. Wait a minute…oh, uh, this is church music…never mind. Cancel all…just bring back Gregorian Chant and we’re in bidness! :thumbsup::cool:


I presume our original poster had tongue firmly wedged in cheek writing his post, consideringthe flare up of the traditional*, ‘oh so very very wicked rock music’ topic we’ve seen in a couple of threads of late.

*You could almost do a folk song on it…

Without rock music, I’d shrivel up and die! :stuck_out_tongue:

That reminds me. When I was in college and subjected my dormmates to my taste in music, one of my friends commented upon hearing the music of Christian Goth metal band Saviour Machine that if that was the type of music played in Church (instead of the folksy stuff – though I believe he used more colorful descriptors), he would still go to Mass.

Of course, the quality of music at Mass is an awful thing to base your faith on, but I thought it was an interesting comment. :stuck_out_tongue:

Greensleeves is good example of what I am describing. It is essentially a list of the worldly goods a man has given a lady (in many respects it reads like a list of goods disposed of at an estate sale), who has nonetheless spurned his love. The male protagonist in the song is very ardent in proclaiming his “love” for the lady, but there’s no mention of marriage, and only the briefest attention paid to God in the singer’s prayer that the lady just once see how constant the singer’s love has been – the mention of God is purely hyperbole, not a genuine prayer at all.

To the above posters, your comments about folk tunes being given new lyrics, doesn’t change the fact the original form of the music (ballad) was intended strictly for amusement, very likely at a feast accompanied by eating and drinking. Contrast the modern acceptance of what is essentially the “party” music of the middle ages to the attitude of the Venerable Bede in his story of the monk Caedmon, found here:

As Bede relates, Caedmon maintained a very strict separation between his (religious) singing and the “vain and trivial” popular music. Bear in mind, Bede was an early English proponent of chant, wrote books about both music and versification, sang daily in church, and is even reported to have died singing the “Gloria”.

…for which reason he never could compose any trivial or vain poem, but only those which concern religion it behoved his religious tongue to utter. For having lived in the secular habit till he was well advanced in years, he had never learned anything of versifying; and for this reason sometimes at a banquet, when it was agreed to make merry by singing in turn, if he saw the harp come towards him, he would rise up from table and go out and return home.

You are describing a perfectly awful situation. One feels as if the Augean stables will at any moment burst from the pent up filth contained in it’s mouldering walls. Efforts of a truly Herculean kind will be needed to avert the disaster should any one strum a slighly out of tune guitar with a capo at any point as the thread progresses.

Well, I will admit that there are quite possibly large logical holes in the arguments I made in the orginal post, but I think you will find my facts are in order.

I really do suffer from slight anachronism-induced vertigo when I find the “bonnie lass” intruding into sacred space – and even when the bonnie lass stays firmly planted in her own genre, my vision of her has been forever marred by Peter Schikele’s “My bonnie lass she smelleth, making the flowers jealoth.”

Good lute players don’t need capos. They can barre in any key.

At least you admit it’s cough,cough personal preference and yes indeed many folk songs have dark roots which is why (partly) why I get irked hearing the resounding cry of, ‘naughty,naughty’ rock and roll etc’ here which seems influenced by particular fundamentalist Protestant groups and is utterly alien to me as a Catholic.

I think people have to sort out to the following things to make a coherent argument (against using a particular music in worship):

  • the music (rhythym, intervals, chords, melody, etc.), as distinct from
  • the lyrics, and
  • any cultural associations the music carries

I think warmed-over folks songs, by virtue of time and distance from the original lyrics and cultural associations prove that the music itself can become acceptable to most people in a church setting.

My own personal bias is that genre-hopping in any art form should not be encouraged, and only works best when done by real masters.

I LOVE Saviour Machine! I had a non-denom Christian friend who was very goth but preferred Christian music instead of the usual pagan/atheist fare most goths listen to. She introduced me to Brian Healy/DAS and Saviour Machine and we went to various concerts in San Diego. I recently stumbled on a CD of Saviour Machine in the Goodwill store and reawakened my love for them. It’s really great stuff and their projects were so ambitious. According to the Wikipedia article, Eric Clayton is in really poor health. I wish him a full recovery and hope that they can continue to put out more great music :thumbsup:

Hey, another SM fan! :thumbsup: Pleased to meet you. :tiphat:

I was fortunate to see them live back in 2001 (along with Stryper! :D). I wait in hopeful anticipation for the release of Legend III:II. I’ve been waiting for them to finish the Legend series for 13 years (since I picked up Parts I and II)! :stuck_out_tongue: Even the “long-awaited” anticipated release date of 7/7/07 is nearly 4 years past.

Yes, I have heard about his poor health. I certainly understand his desire for privacy and his need to take care of his health, and I pray for him in that regard. I still long to hear “World War III - The Final Conflict III”, though. I bet it is epic… :o

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