Mace M(S) 10030 (1966)
Seminary groups–or better, groups of seminarians–had a significant impact on the “Old Folk Mass” the Roman Catholics celebrated, both before and after the institution of the Novus Ordo Missae. The best known of these are the Dameans, but the St. Mary’s seminarians made their contribution as well.
This one comes from the Episcopal Church and antedates them both. It comes from the General Theological Seminary in New York, under the direction of Eastman-trained H. Bruce Lederhouse and advised by the Rev. H. Boone Porter, Jr. (later editor of The Living Church.)
The sleeve notes (which are shown on the later part of the video) repeatedly references them as a “hootnanny.” That’s not entirely inaccurate, because in addition to the harmonies of the seminarians they have only two instruments to accompany them: an acoustic guitar and a banjo. The latter gives a “bluegrass” feel to the performance, although there’s nothing particularly country about the melodies they sing to. This isn’t the only Episcopal album to draw inspiration from Scots-Irish folk music: Ian Mitchell also draws inspiration from this well, unlikely given the Episcopal Church’s demographics.
The album is divided into two parts. The first is the “Mass” part, with the usual Kyrie, Sanctus, etc. Contrary to most albums with this and other material on it, this is the stronger part of the album. Although the seminarians (or at least whoever wrote the sleeve notes) is proud of the folk, “hootnanny” feel of the performance, and the vocals are excellent, one longs for a better instrumental backing and arrangement. Early “folk Masses” frequently lacked these but it wasn’t long before groups such as the Berets (of Mass for Peace fame) or Peter Scholtes would ramp that up, and this Mass could use some of their skill in doing that.
The second part is a collection of hymns from the 1940 Hymnal. As was also the case with Frederick Gere and Milton Williams out in San Francisco, they picked two of the oft-performed modern hymns in the book: “They Cast Their Nets” and “In Christ There Is No East Or West.” (I heartily dislike the first.) The quality of these and the others illustrates an important difference between Episcopal and Catholic folk musicians and composers. The Episcopalians started out with a hymnody which didn’t transition well to folk performance. The Catholics started out with virtually nothing and thus their composers and performers had more creative leeway, which they pursued with vigour.
This is a good album, better than many of its contemporaries, but a genre whose most creative days were ahead of it.
- 01. Kyrie Eleison
- 02. Nicene Creed
- 03. Sanctus
- 04. The Lord’s Prayer
- 05. Agnus Dei
- 06. Gloria In Excelsis
- 07. Come Holy Ghost
- 08. A Great & Mighty Wonder
- 09. They Cast Their Nets
- 10. O Sons & Daughters
- 11. In Christ There Is No East Or West
- 12. I Walk The King’s Highway