Thursday, September 17, 2009

The "Sountrack of the Peace Movement" and the Development of Liturgical Music

Thursday has dawned; hope yours is a blessed one.

Heard on the radio this morning about the deaths of Henry Gibson and Mary Travers, who is pictured above. Brought back memories of growing up in the 60s and 70s. I remember well my sister and I singing "Leavin' on a Jet Plane" duets, with me sitting at the Lowrey Organ, like the one pictured here.

On this morning's news, the radio commentator called the music of Peter, Paul, and Mary, "the soundtrack of the peace, justice, and equality movement of the 60s and 70s." I liked the way this music sounded and there was something about the lyrics that resounded in me, like these:

If I had a hammer
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening
All over this land.
I'd hammer out danger
I'd hammer out warning
I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land.

Well I've got a hammer
And I've got a bell
And I've got a song to sing
All over this land.
It's the hammer of justice
It's the bell of freedom
It's the song about love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land.

Why did this music and its lyrics touch me so deeply? Perhaps it was because we were part of the urban poor growing up. Perhaps it was because I watched my mother work hard for the poor people in our neighborhood. Perhaps it was the work ethic of my parents, especially my father, that was instilled in us.

I can't help but recall what a profound influence this folk-style had on the development of liturgical music here in the United States and beyond. What was happening with the peace and justice movement in the 60s and 70s was closely paralleled by the burgeoning of that same movement within the church. People were discovering scripture, many for the first time. And those early composers were setting the scriptures to music; embedding scriptural themes of God's peace and justice into the hearts of worshippers. This all had a definite influence as the liturgical movement unfolded. Many would argue that this was what has led to what they would term a downfall in the development of liturgical music. I disagree. The development of music for the liturgy here in the United States has been an organic process. It has borrowed from the "sounds of the times" as well as preserved the sacred treasury of chant and polyphony. There really is no turning back; there is only a move forward. Where will this organic process lead? I don't have a definitive answer to that question. As a publisher, we deal with these issues on a daily basis.

I'll go out today and either buy the actual CD or purchase the tracks to Peter, Paul, and Mary's albums. Need a shot of nostalgia.

Thanks for listening. Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Joyce Donahue said...

Thanks for this, Jerry. I, too, grew up in the 60's and was in a high school "folk group" and when I became Catholic in the late '80's and got out my dusty guitar to learn liturgical music, lots of the music felt like "home." The influence continues to be felt in the work of many popular liturgical composers. Thanks for pointing out the connection.

Anonymous said...

Many would argue that this was what has led to what they would term a downfall in the development of liturgical music. I disagree

Not so much a "downfall in the development" as a totally separate development, sort of a sidetrack. Whether that was a good or bad thing depends on where you stand on the issue of popular influenced liturgy! What I find most interesting is that the music of PP&M, perhaps the most "popular" of all popular music, influenced later popular style for only a short time...the "folk music" style was quickly rejected as quaint and obsolete in a few years (the style was all but gone on the radio by 1973), and yet it endured as an influence on Catholic liturgical music for another 20+ years. I have read several author's attempts to explain this, but none seems to really hit the mark as they (the two I have read) end up falling back on the acceptance and desire for this music by "the people", while I'm more inclined to believe that it was promoted by amateur Catholic musicians who found it accessible and performable with limited skills. That was why the music of PP&M was a big hit... it could be easily played at home with a guitar by a high school 9th grader (and that's not an was what made them wildly popular). I think this same accessibility kept the style alive in Catholic liturgy.