The title question is apt as you consider your choice today. How wide a path foes the folk genre cut into music as a whole, including sacred music?
The much-reviled “Kumbaya” has been transformed from a simple spiritual composed/revived not quite a hundred years ago, into an anthem of 60’s acoustic music (Thanks to Pete Seeger and Joan Baez), and now into a code-word for ridicule. Congrats on that latter part, you cynics. One of the last “popular songs” that is an explicit and direct prayer to God (Come by here, my Lord) is now sneered at universally. My take is that it shows the critics as either godless or bullies. Michael Ross offers up some apt commentary:
Decades ago, the song “Kumbaya” (alternatively spelled “Kum Ba Yah”) first became part of the national songbook as a call to peace. Since then, the message and meaning has been twisted into something altogether different. Derision of the song and its emotional foundation has become a required sign of toughness and pragmatism in American politics today, and this is especially true since the Sept. 11 attacks. That’s a little sad, or a lot, depending on your point of view.
It’s a rather delicious irony that if you want to show your 9/11 toughness, you have to poll in favor of another folk song from across the Atlantic. “The Summons” has gained a huge following in the twenty or so years since John Bell wrote his text for a traditional Scottish folk tune, Kelvingrove. I’ve always thought of John Bell as a fusion of Tom Conry and Jacques Berthier. A social justice sensibility and lyrical edginess combined with very basic roots music easily singable by virtually anyone. Who’s not to like or be big-time bothered by this thought in the second verse?
Will you leave yourself behind
If I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind
And never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare
Should your life attract or scare?
Let’s face it: some songs do scare people. Does that make them necessarily bad or good to sing? Bad or good for church music? Maybe the polling would be better phrased as which of these two songs scares you less? Have fun.