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Mike Furtaw / Blog

Guitars in Mass? Well, I Never...

I have been both reading and hearing people's opinions on whether it is appropriate to use the guitar in mass over the years. And it has been nothing but opinions. One thing that has been frustrating me about all these conversations is that there are major generalizations on what "guitar music" is. There are a few things I would like to see separated out before people start making blanket statements on guitar music:

First of all, there are different types of guitars. Are we talking about classical / Spanish guitars (which date back to around 1800), acoustic guitars, or electric guitars? If we are talking electric guitars, are we talking archtops or solid bodies? Are we talking clean sound or distorted? Or are we simply talking all guitars in general?

Secondly, the guitar can be used in almost any genre of music. Most complaints seem to be stereotyping the guitar in to one of two music genres: acoustic singer/songwriter style music or distorted electric guitar rock. Now, I wont get into the sub-genre's of these two types of music, but I think the main point here is that a genre in itself shouldn't be stereotyped as well. Sacred music is designed to support the mass, and obviously not be a performance to the audience or a distraction to the mass itself. Why can't any type of music be transformed into a sacred style? A genre is just a style of music. Just because some popular artists have used a genre of music for unholy purposes should not define the genre as a whole.

Third is the quality of music. Now this is dependent on the abilities of the musician and songwriter, not the instrument or genre. I see this argument used mainly against the singer/songwriter style music, since only a few simple chords are played on the guitar. Remember, this style of music is focused around the singing, with chords supporting the singers. A choir can sing with no instruments, and there is no complaints on the quality of music. Why would accompanying the singers with a few guitar chords make the music low quality?

The point of my blog is this: the guitar is just a musical instrument. ANY style of music can be played on it. I don't appreciate the blanket statements that go around stereotyping guitarists. The guitar wasn't invented by drug addicted, evil heavy metal artists, if that is your stereotype of the instrument. I do get what most of these people's concerns are: it is about HOW the guitar is being played in mass. And I know that there have been some questionable music used in mass, particularly shortly after Vatican II, that did not support the mass, but was instead a performance and distraction.

Please specify this in your arguments and don't throw the baby guitarist out with the bathwater. A guitar is just like any other instrument and can follow the same rules as the other instruments. If you hear a guitar in mass that you don't think is appropriate, it is likely HOW the guitar and music is being played, not just because it is a guitar.

Please let me know if I am missing any other common reservations regarding the guitar in mass. This conversation can also be expanded to the use of drums in church, but I don't think this blog would change much on that topic.

Catholic Music Scene? Bueller? Bueller?

Do a search for Christian bands or musicians. Now do a search for Catholic bands or musicians. Try this on Google, Craigslist, ReverbNation, anywhere. Now look at the statistics of how many Catholics there are in the world vs. non-Catholic Christians. We Catholics are doing something very wrong!

I am a Catholic guitarist and am always on the lookout for fellow Catholic musicians. However, I am having the hardest time finding musicians of the same faith. And this is particularly difficult for me as I am not into the typical acoustic guitar singer-songwriter material. I am more about older style rock n roll, blues, jazz, which is pretty much non existent in Catholic circles.

Non-Catholic Christians are doing something very right in proclaiming the Gospel through music and through multiple genres. They are everywhere. There are multiple Christian music stations on the radio and you can find their CDs in any store. As for Catholic music... not so much. I have found it extremely difficult to find Catholic bands out there. There are a few, but not many.

Now Catholics are Christians, so there are a few Catholic bands out there that promote themselves just as Christian bands. However, based on the numbers of Catholics vs non-Catholic Christians in the world, we should have at least THREE TIMES the number of bands that non-Catholic Christians do.

So why are there so few Catholic bands and musicians out there? That I do not know. I wish I did. From experience, I think Catholics tend to think of music just in terms of mass and worship music, which is important. However, I believe we also need to look at other genres of music that can be used to preach the Gospel to secular audiences. A positive message can be applied to any musical style.

Where Did Today's Rockabilly Scene Go Wrong?

So when did Rockabilly turn EVIL? As a guitarist I consider myself very traditional in my approach to rockabilly music. However, I can't help notice a current trend in the modern rockabilly scene… devils, blood, and gore... oh my! One has to think, what does this have to do with 50s culture?

Let's begin with the devil and evil themes and imagery. If I'm not mistaken, when one thinks of the original rockabilly music, artists such as Elvis, Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, Bill Haley & his Comets, Johnny Burnette, Little Richard, and Gene Vincent come to mind (just to name a few). Looking into the lives of these people, you may discover something shocking… they were all Christians! Heck, even Bettie Page of all people, who image is extremely popular in today's rockabilly culture, was a devout Christian. Then rockabilly began to fade until around 1980 with the Stray Cats. And guess what? Brian Setzer, who is currently one of the most successful rockabilly and swing artist of today, is a practicing Catholic. So why does rockabilly today have the "devils music" image? Is it today's way of showing rebellion? Or is it just simply the merging of punk with rockabilly? The musicians from the 50s showed rebellion by playing a more energetic style of music and bringing in "black rhythm" to a white audience. And for many of those artists, their exposure to black music was through southern gospel music. Now I am not suggesting that 50s rockabilly was "Christian music" by any means, but it wasn't "evil" in theme or intent. Sure there was a rebellious attitude, but these were young guys looking for a fun high energy sound by combining Gospel, Country, and R&B.

I also want to point out that blood and gore are not a 50s theme. Sure, horror and sci-fi were popular themes in the 40s and 50s. However, over the top blood and gore in films did not arise until the late 60s and 70s. In the 40s, Horror films were about atmosphere, suspense, and sinister characters (think of Val Lewton and RKO films). In the 50s, they were more about monsters, aliens, and gimmicks, but still no blood (think Ed Wood and William Castle).

The fact that so many bands are redefining and misrepresenting what '50s rock n roll and rockabilly is, or was, is what I am taking issue of. I want to go back to the roots of '50s rock n roll and turn it into something positive! Gospel was a major influence in Rock n Roll. Its time to put the Gospel back in Rock n Roll!