The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #116315   Message #2988467
Posted By: Joe Offer
17-Sep-10 - 01:56 AM
Thread Name: Lyr Add: I folk process 'We Gather Together'
Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I folk process 'We Gather Together'
Mysha asks (in 2008): Joe, if you dislike changes to hymns, does that mean you don't consider them part of the folk tradition? And if that's true, do you know why?

For the most part, hymns have been composed by known composers and have an original form that is known. That removes them from most definitions of "folk" and "traditional music" (but, of course, there are "traditional hymns"). So, no, I generally do not think that hymns fit into the folk tradition.

And when somebody does an intentional rewrite of a hymn or a song, it's a rewrite - it's not the "folk process," which is a much more natural process that takes a much longer time.

When a hymn is published and then sung by congregations for a generation or so, it takes on a life of its own. It has been a part of the prayer of communities for a long time, and people have taken it into their hearts and made it part of themselves. To change a treasured hymn is jarring and disturbing, and I think it is something that should be done with trepidation. I won't say categorically that it should never be done, but I think it must be done with great care. And don't try to take the "wretch" out of "Amazing Grace" - the original form of the hymn is just too well known.

All that being said, I do like leeneia's rewrite. I also have to say that I highly dislike military images and language in religious practice, and I do my best to avoid it whenever it's my job to choose music for worship. But I think that even though a hymn has been rewritten to remove military concepts, the old language remains in the minds of the congregation and serves to reinforce militaristic thinking in spite of the rewriter's best efforts. I'd rather see theologically outdated hymns retired with dignity, rather than see them hackneyed into political correctness.

On the first Sunday of Advent in 2011, the Catholic Church will introduce/impose a new English translation of the prayers used at Mass. I thought the old prayers were quite good, but they were a concept-for-concept translation instead of a word-for-word translation of the Latin original. The new translation isn't bad, but it's not really the language that English-speaking people speak. Many American bishops fought hard against it, but Rome won. It will be interesting to see how it's accepted. I predict that people will find it a bit jarring. At least, the Powers That Be didn't try to change the language of the Lord's Prayer. They weren't THAT dumb.

I don't know my history well enough to know what the situation was in the Netherlands in the 16th Century, but one could argue that at least until the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Spain was the most powerful country in the world. The seven northern provinces of the Netherlands declared independence from Spain in 1581, but the Habsburg king of Spain did not acknowledge Dutch independence until 1648. The ten southern provinces eventually became Belgium, Luxembourg, and part of Germany and France.

THEREFORE, it would seem appropriate for the Protestant Dutch to write a hymn of thanksgiving for winning a battle in their quest for independence from Catholic Spain. After all, thanking the Almighty for smiting one's enemies is a tradition that goes back to the Psalms. The current understanding of the hymn may be victory over Satan and sin, but I'll go with the several hymnal companions that say that the hymn was written to celebrate the liberation of the Netherlands from Spain.