Broadland worship musicians form ceilidh band
2016: The changing face of worship music has been illustrated again in a North Norfolk benefice, where a well-regarded ceilidh and barn-dance band has suddenly sprung up from the worship musicians of four churches in the Waterside area.
The vast majority of churches in this region still use one of two worship music formats – either the traditional piano and organ, or what is still thought of as the ‘modern’ guitar-led format. However, in the wider world, there is now a lot of jazz worship, rock worship, punk worship, rap worship, and even heavy-metal worship (known as ‘white metal’)… but remarkably little folk worship, and very little ceilidh or barn-dance music. For a worship band to use instruments such as the melodeon, a kind of button accordion, is unusual, if not unique - research on the internet’s biggest worldwide worship forum has failed to uncover any others at all.
The new folk band is the Occasional Ceilidh Band, which has most recently been heard on a Broads cruise in aid of All Saints church, Catfield.
“It came from the Waterside Scratch Band, which was the idea of the vicar's wife to provide a pop-up band if one were needed at any one of the four churches in the benefice - Ludham, Potter Heigham, Catfield and Hickling,” explains melodeon player Ros Wilson. “I offered my art studio to one of the Scratch Band members as a place to practice. With a mutual interest in folk music and dance, we added a few traditional Norfolk tunes, more Scratch Band members became interested, and we soon realised that we had a viable ceilidh band – two wind players, melodeon, fiddle and bodhran (the Irish drum).”
What is the potential for folky stylings such as the melodeon in Christian and worship music?
“The idea of a free-reed instrument in worship is not new,” observes Ros. “The Salvation Army had concertinas made to their own design and used them in worship music from the early 1900s until the 1930s. The challenge is that the melodeon is not fully chromatic and can only play in certain keys, so selection of material is key to getting a folky style in Christian music… although the hymn 'And Can it Be' works so well on it that I think Charles Wesley was a closet melodeon player!”
What is the place of folk dancing in Christian life? There are those who still argue that maypole dancing, barn dancing, square dancing, and clog dancing are all pagan in origin and meaning... on the other hand, there are those who argue that barn-dancing at harvest time is a thanksgiving. And certainly, two psalms contain references to ‘praise Him with dance...’
The reference to 'praise Him with dance' is clear guidance to many people these days that dancing is an acceptable form of worship. The original pagan roots of maypole dancing as a fertility rite have largely been forgotten and many of the Morris dances are thought to be Moorish (hence the name), rather than pagan.
North-west clog Morris dates from the mid-1800s and has Christian origins as part of the rush-bearing processions up to the local church, where a service was held to change the rushes on the floor once a year. Most folk festivals in the UK now include a Sunday service with Morris dancing in and around the church, so few would see a conflict between traditional folk dancing and Christian beliefs.
Does this mean that the occasional church-hall ceilidh can be a valuable part of the church calendar? And can a ceilidh run by the church by a valuable outreach to the community?
“A ceilidh will attract members of the community who would otherwise be hesitant to come to church,” responds Ros Wilson decisively. “At the very least, an evening of enjoyable barn-dancing will show that Christians know how to have fun!”
The Occasional Ceilidh Band can be contacted at 01692-597120.
The picture above shows The Occasional Ceilidh Band with, left to right, Ros Wilson, Ian Boughton, David Frost, Diana Rackham, Henry Nicholls and Eilish Rothney.
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