Luther’s bar tunes

Luther used bar tunes in his hymns, right?  So we too can use the pop music of the entertainment industry for our church songs, right?  Once again, as I have explained before, a “bar tune” in music history is NOT a song that was sung in our kind of “bars”!  Peter Berg explain:

Luther did not use bar songs but rather his own creations and the musical heritage of the church catholic. The term bar refers to the type of staff notation used in medieval musical composing.  . . .

The musical notation was simply a repeat sign, known in Luther’s day as a “bar”. Yes, believe it or not, some wacky American Lutherans saw Luther’s reference to “barred music” in German and changed the repeat sign into a pub!  Why did Luther write positively about “bar(red) music”?  Because it describes the musical form A A B.  He thought that the repetition of the music of the first phrase would help in learning, and then the B phrase would give the balance of variety.  Hence, many chorales are written in this way.  The reason “bars” were used for notating this form was  used to save ink & paper.  Today we simply call these “repeat signs”.  You see this even in 19th and early 20th-century hymnals: the music for the first line ends with a repeat sign, and then the second verse of the first stanza is written in.

Example:

First line of music (A)

Salvation unto us has come, by God’s free grace and favor (repeat sign)

Good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never.

SECOND line of music (B)

Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer.

via Steadfast Lutherans » Did Luther Endorse “Bar” Music for the Church? by Phillip Magness.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Carl Vehse

    The “bar tune” urban legend, like the “wise Turk” nonquote, will likely continue to be spread no matter how many times it is debunked, such as in Rev .Bob Smith’s August 2, 1996, Wittenberg List post.

  • Carl Vehse

    The “bar tune” urban legend, like the “wise Turk” nonquote, will likely continue to be spread no matter how many times it is debunked, such as in Rev .Bob Smith’s August 2, 1996, Wittenberg List post.

  • Michael Z.

    Glad (musical group) did a song that reflected this bar tune story.
    http://www.gordy-stith.com/real/Glad_-_The_Hymn_Thing.mp3
    Listen to it. It is quite entertaining.

  • Michael Z.

    Glad (musical group) did a song that reflected this bar tune story.
    http://www.gordy-stith.com/real/Glad_-_The_Hymn_Thing.mp3
    Listen to it. It is quite entertaining.

  • Digital

    I like the myth interp better, I will just pretend I did not read this :)
    However, I think Luther would have been pleased to hear Mighty Fortress in a pub.

  • Digital

    I like the myth interp better, I will just pretend I did not read this :)
    However, I think Luther would have been pleased to hear Mighty Fortress in a pub.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I remember that Glad piece from back in the 1980′s. It’s got horrible, we-centered lyrics set to different music styles. At least it’s John Wesley being blamed instead of Luther.

    Mildly entertaining, anyhoo…

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I remember that Glad piece from back in the 1980′s. It’s got horrible, we-centered lyrics set to different music styles. At least it’s John Wesley being blamed instead of Luther.

    Mildly entertaining, anyhoo…

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    The more I study Luther, the more the popular caricatures of him frsutrate me.
    This is one myth that is constantly shared. but it is only one.
    There is also the whole idea that he didn’t care about missions, and didn’t have anything to say about that.
    Or that he was really a Calvinist, who happened to believe in transubstantiation.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    The more I study Luther, the more the popular caricatures of him frsutrate me.
    This is one myth that is constantly shared. but it is only one.
    There is also the whole idea that he didn’t care about missions, and didn’t have anything to say about that.
    Or that he was really a Calvinist, who happened to believe in transubstantiation.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Actually, I think Luther was referring to barre chords, as he preferred that simpler style of guitar fingering over what he termed “der Cowboy Akkorde”. As such, it is obvious that punk music should be welcomed in Lutheran settings, as it consists largely of “barre” music.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Actually, I think Luther was referring to barre chords, as he preferred that simpler style of guitar fingering over what he termed “der Cowboy Akkorde”. As such, it is obvious that punk music should be welcomed in Lutheran settings, as it consists largely of “barre” music.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    More seriously, I find that Lutherans aren’t terribly consistent on this issue. Sure, fine, Luther didn’t use drinking tunes. So let’s ban all popular styles of music from the church or tunes that are associated with more worldly concerns, right? Right?

    I mean, certainly, we would never allow the church to appropriate some nationalist tune used to protest external political influences, would we? I mean, every time someone heard that tune, their minds would be directed to those worldly political concerns! And yet we have “Be Still, My Soul”. Better chuck that one.

    Okay, well, but we’d never appropriate a tune written to depict the astrological character of a planet, would we? Congregants’ minds would be distracted by the references to the Satanic practices of astrology! And yet, we have either a reworking of “Jerusalem the Golden” or the LSB’s paraphrase of the “Te Deum Laudamus”. I’m sure those will be removed soon.

    And the less said about the tune to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, with its pagan lyrics, being reworked into “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus”, the better.

    Okay, fine, but those are all classical works of music, so they’re okay. Classical = high culture, right? What’s clearly not okay is popular music, the music of the people — or, you might say, folk music. I mean, it’s not like, if I turn to the back of my WELS hymnal, I can find any tunes attributed to folk tunes, right? Okay, well, there are three attributed to “Swedish folk tunes”. But other than that … oh, and three to “Welsh folk tune”. And one “Silesian folk tune”. One “Norwegian folk tune”. One “Jewish folk melody”. One “Irish folk tune”. A couple of “German folk tunes”. A couple of “French folk tunes”. Three “Finnish folk tunes”. A couple of “English folk tunes”, plus an “English ballad”. One “American folk tune”. And even an “African Angoni war song”.

    But other than those, the use of popular music is strictly verboten, ja?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    More seriously, I find that Lutherans aren’t terribly consistent on this issue. Sure, fine, Luther didn’t use drinking tunes. So let’s ban all popular styles of music from the church or tunes that are associated with more worldly concerns, right? Right?

    I mean, certainly, we would never allow the church to appropriate some nationalist tune used to protest external political influences, would we? I mean, every time someone heard that tune, their minds would be directed to those worldly political concerns! And yet we have “Be Still, My Soul”. Better chuck that one.

    Okay, well, but we’d never appropriate a tune written to depict the astrological character of a planet, would we? Congregants’ minds would be distracted by the references to the Satanic practices of astrology! And yet, we have either a reworking of “Jerusalem the Golden” or the LSB’s paraphrase of the “Te Deum Laudamus”. I’m sure those will be removed soon.

    And the less said about the tune to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, with its pagan lyrics, being reworked into “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus”, the better.

    Okay, fine, but those are all classical works of music, so they’re okay. Classical = high culture, right? What’s clearly not okay is popular music, the music of the people — or, you might say, folk music. I mean, it’s not like, if I turn to the back of my WELS hymnal, I can find any tunes attributed to folk tunes, right? Okay, well, there are three attributed to “Swedish folk tunes”. But other than that … oh, and three to “Welsh folk tune”. And one “Silesian folk tune”. One “Norwegian folk tune”. One “Jewish folk melody”. One “Irish folk tune”. A couple of “German folk tunes”. A couple of “French folk tunes”. Three “Finnish folk tunes”. A couple of “English folk tunes”, plus an “English ballad”. One “American folk tune”. And even an “African Angoni war song”.

    But other than those, the use of popular music is strictly verboten, ja?

  • http://blog.captainthin.net/ Captain Thin

    Well put Todd @7. Well put indeed.

    Oh, and let’s not “What Wondrous Love is This” (LSB 543) whose music, of course, comes from that wonderful (Christian?) pirate folk song “The Ballad of Captain Kidd”. Oh, my name is Captain Kidd when I sailed, when I sailed…

  • http://blog.captainthin.net/ Captain Thin

    Well put Todd @7. Well put indeed.

    Oh, and let’s not “What Wondrous Love is This” (LSB 543) whose music, of course, comes from that wonderful (Christian?) pirate folk song “The Ballad of Captain Kidd”. Oh, my name is Captain Kidd when I sailed, when I sailed…

  • Carl Vehse

    Let’s just get back to singing the original translation of “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word”:

    “Lord, keep us in Thy Word and work,
    Restrain the murd’rous Pope and Turk,
    Who fain would tear from off Thy throne
    Christ Jesus, Thy beloved Son.”

    And also the imprecatory fourth verse, written by Justus Jonas:

    “Destroy their counsels, Lord our God,
    And smite them with an iron rod,
    And let them fall into the snare
    Which for Thy Christians they prepare.

    One might call that verse a “(iron) bar tune.”

  • Carl Vehse

    Let’s just get back to singing the original translation of “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word”:

    “Lord, keep us in Thy Word and work,
    Restrain the murd’rous Pope and Turk,
    Who fain would tear from off Thy throne
    Christ Jesus, Thy beloved Son.”

    And also the imprecatory fourth verse, written by Justus Jonas:

    “Destroy their counsels, Lord our God,
    And smite them with an iron rod,
    And let them fall into the snare
    Which for Thy Christians they prepare.

    One might call that verse a “(iron) bar tune.”

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    tODD, “pop” culture is completely different from both “high” culture and “folk” culture. See Kenneth Myers’ “All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christianity & Pop Culture.” “High” music can certainly convey Christian content, as can “Folk” music. Pop music is the commercial produce designed for mass consumption. It is purposefully and by necessity simple, non-demanding, and written to please the lowest common denominator. (That is also not the same as “popular” music either, since some popular music is complex and artistically–rather than corporately–crafted. It is thus “high culture.” Folk music is traditional and communal, which also works well for religion.) It’s difficult for the pop style to convey any complex concepts, such as religion.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    tODD, “pop” culture is completely different from both “high” culture and “folk” culture. See Kenneth Myers’ “All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christianity & Pop Culture.” “High” music can certainly convey Christian content, as can “Folk” music. Pop music is the commercial produce designed for mass consumption. It is purposefully and by necessity simple, non-demanding, and written to please the lowest common denominator. (That is also not the same as “popular” music either, since some popular music is complex and artistically–rather than corporately–crafted. It is thus “high culture.” Folk music is traditional and communal, which also works well for religion.) It’s difficult for the pop style to convey any complex concepts, such as religion.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith (@10), I feel that your reply, while accurate, misses the point. I was responding more to the article you quoted, which deals with the question of Luther and “bar music”. Ignoring the comical misunderstanding and the plethora of apocryphal Luther stories, the usual arguments along these lines deal with whether or not it’s okay to use the modern equivalent of drinking songs in our liturgies. And the responses in the negative typically reply that (1) people would be reminded of (and distracted by) the profane nature of the original tunes, if they are appropriated, and/or that (2) the hymns themselves would not be churchy/spiritual/noble enough, owing to their origin from popular melodies. If, indeed, such are the objections to the modern-day equivalents of using drinking tunes for hymns, I have shown that a number of current (and popular — and good!) hymns already break these would-be rules.

    “Pop music is the commercial produce designed for mass consumption,” you say. Sure. But what about modern music that is not, as such, commercial. Say, a favorite artist of mine, Sufjan Stevens, whose work is, in a way, popular, but also complex, artistic, and capable of displaying a range of emotions. Stevens is also a Christian — and his lyrics make this plain (though I don’t always agree with or understand them, and they aren’t hymn-like as such). So where would his music fit in this argument? I get the impression that those here fervently setting the record straight on what “bar music” means would no more be in favor of appropriating Stevens’ lyrics, tunes, or arrangements than they would for any other contemporary “rock” artist, “pop” or otherwise. Perhaps I am mistaken.

    “Folk music is traditional and communal, which also works well for religion,” you add. Sure, but couldn’t the same be said of many or most drinking songs? And yet isn’t this article an response against those making the “Luther used drinking songs” article? Is it merely trying to set the record straight? Or is this yet another anti-”contemporary”-music screed?

    Don’t misunderstand me. I get that most “contemporary” music isn’t; that it’s all the Boomers’ fault; that much that is “contemporary” misplaces the attention and emphasis hymns should have; and that most of it is execrable, anyhow, whether you consider the lyrics or the tunes. I personally prefer hymns written before 1800 (or at least their tunes), on average.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith (@10), I feel that your reply, while accurate, misses the point. I was responding more to the article you quoted, which deals with the question of Luther and “bar music”. Ignoring the comical misunderstanding and the plethora of apocryphal Luther stories, the usual arguments along these lines deal with whether or not it’s okay to use the modern equivalent of drinking songs in our liturgies. And the responses in the negative typically reply that (1) people would be reminded of (and distracted by) the profane nature of the original tunes, if they are appropriated, and/or that (2) the hymns themselves would not be churchy/spiritual/noble enough, owing to their origin from popular melodies. If, indeed, such are the objections to the modern-day equivalents of using drinking tunes for hymns, I have shown that a number of current (and popular — and good!) hymns already break these would-be rules.

    “Pop music is the commercial produce designed for mass consumption,” you say. Sure. But what about modern music that is not, as such, commercial. Say, a favorite artist of mine, Sufjan Stevens, whose work is, in a way, popular, but also complex, artistic, and capable of displaying a range of emotions. Stevens is also a Christian — and his lyrics make this plain (though I don’t always agree with or understand them, and they aren’t hymn-like as such). So where would his music fit in this argument? I get the impression that those here fervently setting the record straight on what “bar music” means would no more be in favor of appropriating Stevens’ lyrics, tunes, or arrangements than they would for any other contemporary “rock” artist, “pop” or otherwise. Perhaps I am mistaken.

    “Folk music is traditional and communal, which also works well for religion,” you add. Sure, but couldn’t the same be said of many or most drinking songs? And yet isn’t this article an response against those making the “Luther used drinking songs” article? Is it merely trying to set the record straight? Or is this yet another anti-”contemporary”-music screed?

    Don’t misunderstand me. I get that most “contemporary” music isn’t; that it’s all the Boomers’ fault; that much that is “contemporary” misplaces the attention and emphasis hymns should have; and that most of it is execrable, anyhow, whether you consider the lyrics or the tunes. I personally prefer hymns written before 1800 (or at least their tunes), on average.

  • http://blog.captainthin.net/ Captain Thin

    I like to think an admirable version of the appropriation of “contemporary” musical styles while affirming the importance of lyrical theology can be seen in the new hymnody/rewriters movements. It’s basically the pairing of traditional hymn lyrics to musical styles more accessible to people growing up in our post-Christian society (where plenty of people just don’t understand the “language” of traditional hymn-style music).

    In this area, the Reformed have certainly gotten a head start on everyone else. Indelible Grace Music is one of the leaders in the movement. Check out their “About” page where they express their desire “to help the church recover the tradition of putting old hymns to new music for each generation, and to enrich our worship with a huge view of God and His indelible grace”. Another excellent example is Matthew Smith who is, I think, to some extent associated with Indelible Grace.

  • http://blog.captainthin.net/ Captain Thin

    I like to think an admirable version of the appropriation of “contemporary” musical styles while affirming the importance of lyrical theology can be seen in the new hymnody/rewriters movements. It’s basically the pairing of traditional hymn lyrics to musical styles more accessible to people growing up in our post-Christian society (where plenty of people just don’t understand the “language” of traditional hymn-style music).

    In this area, the Reformed have certainly gotten a head start on everyone else. Indelible Grace Music is one of the leaders in the movement. Check out their “About” page where they express their desire “to help the church recover the tradition of putting old hymns to new music for each generation, and to enrich our worship with a huge view of God and His indelible grace”. Another excellent example is Matthew Smith who is, I think, to some extent associated with Indelible Grace.

  • Digital

    I am with Veith@10 on this one. With the exception of one point:
    “It is purposefully and by necessity simple, non-demanding, and written to please the lowest common denominator.
    If by ‘Pop’ you are referring to popular music of the radio in general. I have some artists I would like to introduce you to.
    Heavy Rock
    Dream Theatre or the Liquid Tension Experiment. Or most items by Metallica (Particularly the S&M album will be enlightening)
    Bluegrass Anything. Bella Fleck or Nickel Creek if we are sticking to popular.
    Techno While this fits into the simple category, check out Fat Boy Slim.
    PopSting, Soul cages album would be a great album.
    Contemp Christian Mostly speaks for itself but since this is a Lutheran thread I will throw out Rich Mullins.
    Modern hip Hop Ok you got me there.

    I in particular think many Metallica songs would translate well to an organ. the S&M album I mentioned above was actually re-written for the San-Francisco Symphony to play with them.

    But the rest of what is said, and what I think tODD@11 is getting at is right on point. The origins of a song aren’t what is important. It is the content and the worship in the song. While I find some Hymns really distracting from worship, other people find the same hymns deeply spiritual and meaningful. Some hymns are very simple, others very complex. I think it would be edifying for a pastor to take a couple Hymns and explain them in a sermon.

  • Digital

    I am with Veith@10 on this one. With the exception of one point:
    “It is purposefully and by necessity simple, non-demanding, and written to please the lowest common denominator.
    If by ‘Pop’ you are referring to popular music of the radio in general. I have some artists I would like to introduce you to.
    Heavy Rock
    Dream Theatre or the Liquid Tension Experiment. Or most items by Metallica (Particularly the S&M album will be enlightening)
    Bluegrass Anything. Bella Fleck or Nickel Creek if we are sticking to popular.
    Techno While this fits into the simple category, check out Fat Boy Slim.
    PopSting, Soul cages album would be a great album.
    Contemp Christian Mostly speaks for itself but since this is a Lutheran thread I will throw out Rich Mullins.
    Modern hip Hop Ok you got me there.

    I in particular think many Metallica songs would translate well to an organ. the S&M album I mentioned above was actually re-written for the San-Francisco Symphony to play with them.

    But the rest of what is said, and what I think tODD@11 is getting at is right on point. The origins of a song aren’t what is important. It is the content and the worship in the song. While I find some Hymns really distracting from worship, other people find the same hymns deeply spiritual and meaningful. Some hymns are very simple, others very complex. I think it would be edifying for a pastor to take a couple Hymns and explain them in a sermon.

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