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Folk Songs Replacing Customary Liturgical Music

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Folk Songs Replacing Customary Liturgical Music

[image]:  Prepare For Folk Service

Guitarists Chuck Wollenweber (left) and Ken Bongort rehearse a number for a folk service at one of the local churches.  (News photo by Cecil Lockard)

By Gertrude P. Kurath

(News Dance Reporter)

A contemporary style of hymnody is gaining popularity in Ann Arbor, as part of a widespread trend toward worship in the vernacular. Folk songs replace customary liturgical music during certain eucharistic services in seven churches on a regular schedule, and occasionally in other parishes. The most folk-minded churches belong to the most liturgical denominations.

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic church features folk hymns every Sunday noon, under the direction of Ann Cornille. St. Mary’s student chapel has an impressive schedule of weekly folk services, in addition to more conventional services, namely, Fridays at 5:10 p.m., Saturdays at 5 p.m. and midnight, Sundays at 10:45 a.m. and 5 p.m. Chuck Wollenweber is the organizer of six groups. The North Campus Catholics meet Sundays at 9:30 a.m. in the cafeteria of Bursley Hall, for a service led by William Neenan, S J, and folk hymns led by Ann Delorio, singer, and Bruce Pomeroy, guitarist.

The University Reformed Church will hold an informal folk sing once a month. Sundays at 6:30 p.m., with David Louwsma as lead guitarist.

In Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, pastors Richard Preiss and Walter Arnold have the collaboration of Larry Johnson and Ray Schwartz, guitarists, as well as other musicians. They have presented public folk programs for some time, a series during December, 1969, and a 1970 summer series Sundays at 8:30 a.m., in a pleasant outdoor setting. Now they plan experimental services every Sunday noon, following the initiation Oct. 4, termed the Table of the Lord.

The Episcopal student center at Canterbury House plans to continue its experimental, variable, informal folk services at 11 a.m. Sundays. They have sponsored many weekday evening and Sunday programs by rock and jazz combos, gospel and folk singers, local and imported. The part-time secretary, Andrea Cappaert, has compiled a list of past programs, and she predicts more of the same.

After a vacation interruption, St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church resumed monthly folk services, starting on St. Luke’s Day, Oct. 18, at 10 a.m. The vicar, Richard Singleton, organized the project and actively participates as guitarist and singer. His nuclear team, Carol and Harold Seils, is now augmented by other musicians and by the entire, singing congregation. This group is the only one to present a coherent folk mass as well as assorted folk hymns. A year ago they inherited Ian Mitchell’s Folk-song Mass from St. Andrew’s choir under the direction of George Hunsche. Fr. Singleton has conducted this music at both churches on a monthly schedule.

St. Andrew’s and several other Protestant churches have sponsored occasional folk liturgy or folk sings. Last Jan. 18, St. Andrew’s choir and guitarists presented Rev. Martin Bell’s Folk Mass, after several successful productions at Canterbury House and St. Andrew’s. Last fall St. Andrew’ s also programmed a rock mass, arranged by Parker Lapp and his electronic combo from several folk masses. Last Sept. 26, the First Congregational Church gently introduced folk songs in combination with Rev. Terry Smith’s sermon “Blowing in the Wind.” In 1968 and 1969 the First Methodist Church youth choir sang folk hymns in experimental services, “Rejoice.” On Oct. 18, this choir sang their own compositions, under the direction of Fred Stroup, with a background of organ and instrumental music. The Rev. Kendall Cowing’s scripture readings unified this experimental worship service.

While this is the most ambitious teen-age production, other congregations are encouraging youngsters. At Concordia College students gather for folk hymns after the Wednesday evening student service. During the Northside vacation Bible School, Fr. Singleton taught folk hymns to elementary schoolchildren. Now some of these children constitute Margaret Houseman’s new junior choir, and they are preparing for Sunday morning singing, alternately at Northside Presbyterian Church and St. Aidan’s.

While teen-agers especially relish folk hymnody and some adults don’t like it at all, people of all ages can and do enjoy participation. The participants are amateurs and members of the congregations; so the tunes must be simple and singable. They are usually in regular meters, though at times with syncopated rhythms. They may have a verse-refrain structure or just a succession of verses.

In the accompaniment guitars are indispensable, regular non-electronic guitars, from 1-5 in an ensemble. The less expert players pluck away at basis chords; experts elaborate the harmonies. They may have the assistance of other, folk-like instruments — banjo, auto-harp, balalaika, recorder, flute, tambourine, drum, rattles, rarely an organ. The guitarists and drummers often experiment with rock rhythms and give the performance a lift. 

Uplift is the theme of the songs. The texts are affirmative. They speak of joy and fellowship. Ray Repp’s popular, “Allelu” and Paul Quinlains powerful “Sing to God” with a brand new canticle proclaim joy for the individual and for all nations. Ray Repp’s “Hear, oh Lord, the sound of my call” directs yearning toward an expectation of joy. “The King of Glory," by W. F. Jabusch to an Israeli folk tune, rejoices in fellowship.

A significant theme is strength through togetherness. “Let’s get together” reaches for the goal of freedom and peace. The traditional American hymn, “We Shall Overcome,” welds the people together with the challenging question of what we shall overcome — oppression, aggression, depression? During the singing the congregation often joins hands.

There are some other themes, as the wistfulness of Bob Dylan’s popular “Blow-in in the Wind.” Sister Miriam Theresa Winter draws on Biblical parables, as “the Wedding Banquet.” Several composers have invested the psalms with new meanings by their new wordings and melodies. The folk masses express the traditional texts of mercy and praise in English, with modern music. None of the songs within my experience give vent to hostility.

The directors have assiduously assembled the hymns from various popular and liturgical sources — folk songs, spirituals, labor songs, a Shaker hymn, Wesleyan and revival hymns, new compositions. Some recent compositions are by Ann Arborites, but most of them are derived from published collections like the Hymnal for Young Christians and from commercial recordings.

The musicians arrange for multigraphing of the texts and they distribute sheets to the congregation. Four churches have assembled the selections into song books, St. Aidan’s with some musical scores. St. Mary’s singers are planning to include their repertoire in a forthcoming hymnal of the Newman Center. The repertoires are diverse, with some repeats. Of the 200-odd songs in the aggregate of sheets and booklets, only 30 recur, generally in two locations, a handful in all locations.

Denomination plays no role in the selections. Protestants use Catholic music and vice versa. In fact, there is a trend towards ecumenical gatherings and song swapping. On May 1 the day-long conference of Church Women United ended with a folk-sing at St. Clare’s, under the guidance of Fr. Singleton. On July 26 the folk choirs and members of three Northside churches joined in a cheerful service, namely, St. Aidan’s, the North Campus Catholics, and Northside Presbyterians. We look for some more friendly, folk-like conclaves during the winter.

Meanwhile, everyone is welcome at the folk services of any denomination; anyone may listen and participate. If you wish to attend such an event, do bear in mind the imminent developments and phone, or study the weekly church page of The Ann Arbor News. If you do go, have a good time!