Catholic influence on the wider Church

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Re: Catholic influence on the wider Church

Post by MaryR »

musicus wrote:I know of several amateur "smallish instrumental groups consisting of guitars, ... singers ... and ... melody instruments ..." that sing and play well, use effective arrangements, and have a wide-ranging repertoire of good and appropriate music. They probably wouldn't call themselves folk groups (even if their congregations still cling to the term), and they almost certainly wouldn't call themselves classical musicians - an equally abused term - but they would almost certainly be insulted by such a description as has been given here.

Thanks for this clarification, Musicus. Our parish music group comprises a mixed bag of young (and older) people who play tolerably well, the youngsters having had music lessons through school, or with our MD. It is being part of our group that has improved their musical skills. Our MD has no formal musical training but is a gifted musician, composer and arranger. We are far removed from either group described by Thomas but I think we provide a good standard of music using a variety of instruments including, at various times, guitars, piano, clarinet, violin, flute, oboe, viol, contra-bass clarinet, bass guitar and african drum! We rehearse every week, with the instrumentalists meeting half an hour before the choir arrives. We're still called the folk group by some of our parishioners. Some were resistant to us to begin with, preferring a more traditional organ accompaniment, but I think they like us now. :-)

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Re: Catholic influence on the wider Church

Post by dmu3tem »

So sorry that my reply to a question has diverted attention from the original topic:

How much influence does Catholic church music in England have on the music of other Christian denominations? Is it expanding or contracting?

In my original contribution I used the term 'Folk' music/groups as a shorthand for a particular form of music making that is found in many English Catholic churches. I was then asked to define the term which I did simply to make my position clearer. I therefore gave a short description of the kind of guitar dominated 'folk' groups that I have encountered in church. As it happens I know about the 'folk music revival' in Britain associated with Cecil Sharpe and co. but that was not the 'folk' music about which I was talking. If the term 'folk' is deemed inadequate for the groups I was discussing then could someone explain what the 'proper' term for them should be.

Next, as to the influence exerted by such church 'folk' groups. Here are the points that occur to me:

[1] In the 1960s and 1970s there is no doubt that they lay at the heart of a vast explosion of hymn and other new church music writing.
[2] In the process they led to the inclusion of whole groups of musicians who had for a long time been excluded by the 'choir-organ' nexus. In other words they expanded the pool of available musical talent.
[3] Catholic churches in England exploited this potential on a very broad scale in the 1960s-1980s, more so I suspect, than the Anglicans, and at least as much as nonconformist denominations.
[4] In the 1980s and early 1990s Catholic musicians following the lead of Taize (originally a Protestant community) fused 'folk' traditions with more 'orthodox' or 'traditional' church music genres in both hymnody, psalms and Mass Ordinary settings. (cf work of Paul Inwood and other composers of the St Thomas More School. Note too the structure of big 'blockbuster' hymn collections e.g. Hymns Old and New, Celebration Hymnal and Laudate series.)

If you put all these factors together it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Catholic musicians via - in the first instance the 'folk' movement - are likely to have exerted a significant impact on the church music scene.

Will this continue? Here are some reasons why not:

[1] Less new music is being produced by 'folk' musicians - as far as I can tell (please correct me if I am wrong). If more is being produced is it getting out to a large number of parishes? My impression is that it is not, because unlike in the 1970s any such movement has not been accompanied by the appearance of new publishers or a willingness by existing publishers to reach much beyond their established repertoires.
[2] There are few signs of creative technical development, either within the church 'folk' music tradition or even in other church music traditions. Styles seem - broadly speaking - to have stalled at the point arrived at by the mid-1990s. In church 'folk' groups for instance musicians still depend on basic rhythm guitar chord sequences accompanying melody. Melody instruments are deployed to strengthen the melody and add descants, and there have been some attempts to add keyboards. All this was clearly in place by the mid-1970s at the latest. Unless you go to a church with more elaborate electronic equipment and paraphanalia nothing much has changed. The same point applies to St Thomas More styles. I have yet to encounter new Mass settings and other vocal works in this idiom that experiment with different vocal-instrumental line-ups or use existing ones in technically new ways (the last creative innovation was in the Psallite series by the Collegeville Group of Composers).
[3] There is a strong drive by 'traditionalists' to revive SATB choirs and Organs along with the use of plainchant. Note that in only a few cases does this mean an exploration of new methods of using such resources and styles.
[4] As far as I can tell there has been no increase at parish level in the supply of competent musicians of all sorts (whether vocal or instrumental). This may be related to what is happening in musical education in schools. Note that in the 1960s and 1970s the 'folk' movement in churches was built on the back of a quantum increase in the number of guitarists, Clarinettists and Flautists along with more modest increases in the availability of other instrumentalists (Drum Kits, Brass some woodwind). At the same time the number of keyboard players (especially organists) and singers able to read a part declined. However such declines now seem to have bottomed out and amongst singers there now seems to be the beginnings of a modest revival, so perhaps some change - innovation - might occur because of this.
[5] The introduction of new Mass translations (and a vetting regime run by the Bishops Conference) coupled with campaigns against the 'Four Hymn Sandwich' and in favour of Entrance and Communion Antiphons threatens to render much existing music redundant (unless it is modified or retained in defiance of Ecclesiastical fiat). New repertoire is now needed (and being produced).


A musical 'vacuum' appears to be opening up in churches. The question then may not be so much whether 'folk' or existing styles will continue to drive church music written and performed by Catholics and thus help 'export' it to other denominations but what new styles will emerge and who will be promoting them. However if new styles do not appear then the present pattern of producing new settings in existing styles will prevail (and as a result Catholic musical traditions may continue to influence music making by other Christian denominations).

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Re: Catholic influence on the wider Church

Post by musicus »

I can certainly agree with this useful analysis, which gives us plenty to discuss.

As to terminology, I think 'folk' (with the quote marks) is OK. Our friends in the US used to talk about contemporary ensemble. I'm not too enamoured of that. How about music group ?
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Re: Catholic influence on the wider Church

Post by Peter »

musicus wrote:As to terminology, I think 'folk' (with the quote marks) is OK. ... How about music group ?

I support the former option. "Music group" could describe a group such as we have in my church, with a variety of instruments plus organ playing mainly traditional hymn tunes and recently composed Mass settings. On the other hand, the title of the "20th Century Folk Hymnal" (remember that?) suggests to me that "Folk group" (with or without quotation marks) is as good a name as any for the sort of group that operates approximately every other Sunday at the other church in my parish, which more-or-less fits Thomas' description (except that since the new Missal came in they no longer use the "Israeli Mass" and I have heard them practise before Mass!) but I don't know how that group describes itself. "Worship Group" is another term I have heard for such a group, but I find that even less helpful as it implies that other forms of music aren't valid forms of worship. "Folk Mass" is certainly a term I remember from the early 1970s, meaning a Mass featuring hymns derived from the American so-called "Folk" style of the 1960s rather than the British folk music revival.

Returning to the topic, as I rarely attend services in other churches in my area I have little idea how much influence flows either way. The most recent service sheets I have for Christian Unity services at my church show a mixture of traditional and "folk" hymns, presumably chosen so as to be familiar to all denominations. We used to have “folk” hymns in my church, alongside the traditional ones, but use them far less now, partly because of practical considerations (including not having a guitar) and partly because I find they haven’t aged well: a lot of the texts if not the music seem quite trivial compared with traditional hymns or the new texts written to traditional tunes, which are our mainstay now. If others see them in the same way, they are less likely to be exportable. Some of the new texts we use to traditional tunes are actually imports from other denominations.

A while ago I was talking to a friend who, though not a believer, sings in Anglican church choirs because she regards that tradition as part of our national culture worth preserving, and she poured scorn on her perception of Catholic church music, especially Taizé (which, though ecumenical, was written to suit the aspects of that community's worship which is derived from Catholic tradition). I don’t know how prevalent that attitude is but it doesn’t bode well for exporting our music in that direction.

However, I support the view in one of Thomas' earlier posts that the focus in Catholic circles on writing music to suit the new Missal rather precludes its influence on other denominations until such time as they choose to adopt the same translation.

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Re: Catholic influence on the wider Church

Post by Nick Baty »

Peter wrote:...except that since the new Missal came in they no longer use the "Israeli Mass" ....
Have heard quite a few similar comments in the last couple of years suggesting that the new translation banned such items. In fact, they were outlawed around 1985 – although they had never been allowed in the first place. Sorry, Peter, hope I don't appear to be correcting you. That's not my intention, it's just that you mention something which I've heard quite a bit of recently. :D

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Re: Catholic influence on the wider Church

Post by Peter »

No offence taken at all, Nick! However, we're in danger of drifting off-topic again, so I've posted a reply at

Maybe we should discuss here whether the Israeli Mass, or the ban on items like it, is having any influence on the wider Church. :wink:

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