- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

A music adviser for the United Methodist Church has set out to puncture the "myth" that John and Charles Wesley, the 17th-century brothers regarded as the fathers of Methodism, based several of the most beloved hymns of Christendom on 18th-century tavern songs.
"There is a widespread misconception, and I heard it at conferences everywhere this summer, that the Wesleys used drinking songs," says Dean McIntyre, a music officer with the denomination's Board of Discipleship.
"That is a myth. It just is not true."
John and Charles Wesley, Anglican vicars whose preaching led to the founding of the Methodist Church in the late 1700s in England, wrote some of the most enduring hymns of the church, sung in churches of all Christian denominations. Mr. McIntyre, in a telephone interview from Nashville, Tenn., says many Methodists today, inspired by the Wesleys' evangelism aimed at the common man, want to believe they sanctified boisterous and drunken tavern songs with new lyrics to save souls.
"Many have cherished the idea that the Wesleys were so evangelistic that they engaged in this practice," says Mr. McIntyre. He first wrote on the topic last year and sent out another memo to church music experts this month as the myth persisted.
"This idea is that tavern songs can be used to justify using popular music today as a way to reach people, which I have no problem with," he says. "But the tavern argument is a myth."
As a frequent participant in church music conferences, such as the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada, Mr. McIntyre says there is frequent reference to the secular origins of sacred music, which has borrowed from love songs, folk songs, operas and theater. "Going Home," for example, a hymn often sung at Protestant funerals, is sung to a melodic passage from Antonin Dvorak's "New World Symphony." (And not just sacred music: Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner," which became the national anthem, to the music of a Welsh drinking song.)
But this summer, Mr. McIntyre was surprised at how often he heard the canard about hymns from tavern songs, which has also been a popular concept about the origin of great hymnody by Martin Luther, the German reformer.
"There's a little more wiggle room with Luther," he says. "The Wesleys would have never thought of such a thing."
Mr. McIntyre, the son of a pastor and a composer with a doctorate in music, says the myth probably arose over the generations by a misunderstanding of the term "bar tune" or "bar form," which refers to the number of lines repeated in a song.
The classic bar form, for example, sings one melody twice, followed by a contrast melody, and sometimes a return to the original melody. Both "What a Friend I Have In Jesus" and the early rhythm and blues tune "Kansas City," for example, follow the bar form. "Out of ignorance people began to say this was a bar song or a drinking tune," Mr. McIntyre says. "Looking in the Wesleys' notes on their hymns and the prefaces, there is absolutely no sign of that."
In contemporary church music, there is debate on how far popular or secular tunes may be borrowed or mimicked in style to change the mood of Sunday worship, or to attract generations of Americans uninterested in the church and its message.
While music was borrowed in the past, Mr. McIntyre says, and the Salvation Army excelled in adapting street tunes to reach the downtrodden in England and the United States, modern copyrights have imposed new strictures.
For example, the United Methodist Church adapted a hymn to the tune of "Edelweiss," a song composed for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "The Sound of Music," but the producers sued the church to stop it from using the tune. "What you can do today is imitate a style," Mr. McIntyre says. "But the copyright does ensure that an original work is not changed, and that is good."

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