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?
Very 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.
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.