Routley on American Liturgical Music, 1979

I was researching some hymn texts for an upcoming parish event, and pulled out the 1979 edition of A Panorama of Christian Hymnody. That volume has sat on my shelf for far too long in between brousings. I ran across Erik Routley’s commentary on “American Folk Hymnody.” What do you think?

erik routleyVery often (text and the tune) are skillful and trenchant. The best known of these pieces probably are James Thiem’s ‘Sons of God,’ Ray Repp’s ‘All peoples clap your hands,’ and Peter Scholtes’ ‘They’ll know we are Christians by our love.’ It is, like its English counterpart, informal hymnody, and not infrequently the doctrinal and scriptural content of these modern ‘Gospel Songs’–for that is what they are–is impressive. In others there is a tendency to stray into romantic ecumenism and a somewhat unfocussed zeal to serve those deemed to be underprivileged. At their worst they are crude, and it is probably fair to say that the Roman Catholic communities in America, with their sudden need for new hymns, have been the most vulnerable to the assaults of commercialized hymnody of this kind. That fact should not too much prejudice a reader against the whole genre, which at its best has brought much vitality to American worship.

a panorama of christian hymnody

For forty years ago, I think this assessment is spot on. In many posts here, we’ve detailed the songs of the “generation” after Thiem, Repp, and Scholtes. I don’t think pre-conciliar Catholic hymnody quite matches the depth of Scriptural content.

The comment on “commercialization” could be made today–and it still is in many quarters, some of which would likely not be “impressed.”

The book has a “new” edition, about ten years old. Link here.

Dr Routley’s image above is from this page which also includes a brief biography and a few additional links.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Routley on American Liturgical Music, 1979

  1. Melody says:

    “Sons of God”, a blast from the past! Like the post says, some were better than others. But the same could be said for what came before amd after. Coincidentally, our group is doing “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” tomorrow for the First Communion Mass, by request.

  2. Mary says:

    If you look at some of the older books eg Hymnal For Young Christians or Faith, Folk and Festivity in England, you find an very strong focus on scriptural sources – more so than in more recent material. Granted some of the tunes weren’t as good, but that initial focus on scripture was very strong.

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