Rev. Ian Mitchell: The American Folk Song Mass

(FEL 7401-M) 1967

The 1960′s were a time of ferment and change in the U.S., and, then as now, institutions had a hard time keeping up with them, let along getting ahead.

One attempt to do so was The American Folk Song Mass, performed by the Canterbury Choir at Northwestern University under the direction of Rev. Ian Mitchell.  Unlike many of its Catholic counterparts, it’s not trying to define a new style in liturgical celebration but to import in an Aaron Copelandish kind of way existing folk styles of the country.  To this end the music he uses folk styles from various traditions, mixed with the 1928 Book of Common Prayer liturgy and his own monologues (another common feature of 1960′s Catholic and Episcopal folk music).

A fair comparison is The Winds of God.  In some ways Mitchell was ahead of his California counterparts in breaking from the musical tradition of his own church.  On the other hand, Gere boiled his explanatory monologue to one place in the work; Mitchell gets a little verbose, which breaks the flow of the album.

Mitchell’s monologues, however, highlight his social activism, which was a part of his ministry.  He was in the Chicago tradition of activist priests and ministers, which included his contemporary Peter Scholtes (more adventurous in his own musical efforts) and of course Jeremiah Wright, whose influence on all of us has yet to be properly assessed.  (Mitchell went on to produce a Catholic version of this album.)

His use of different forms of American folk music was of a piece with his social activism, something from the people.  His use of Appalachian Scots-Irish style music may have been a miscalculation, given the fact that these people have been at the vanguard of the pushback against the kind of social activism that Mitchell espoused.  Although, as was the case with The Winds of God and other contemporary efforts, events and styles were moving in a different direction, it’s a reasonable attempt at meeting a rapidly changing world at least halfway.

The songs:

  1. Introduction To The Mass
  2. Lord, Have Mercy Upon Us
  3. Introduction to The Nicene Creed
  4. I Believe In One God
  5. The Elements Of The Eucharist
  6. Lift Up Your Hearts – Holy, Holy, Holy
  7. The Lord’s Prayer
  8. The Priesthood of Christ
  9. O Lamb of God
  10. The Communion
  11. Glory Be To God On High
  12. The Close
  13. Jerusalem My Happy Home
  14. Alleluia Sing To Jesus
  15. A Home In That Rock
  16. Scarlet Ribbons

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