Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Walser, Robert. “The Polka Mass: Music of Postmodern Ethnicity.” American Music 10 (Summer 1992): 183-202.

Since the 1970s, the Polka Mass, a variant of the Catholic Mass that replaces traditional anthems with Polka songs, has been performed in the United States by Polish, German, Slovenian, and Czech congregations. The words and music draw upon familiar melodies and secular traditions to enhance the sacred occasion. This style of mass was created to respond to tensions from immigrant communities who felt like they were losing their ethnic Catholic identities in America. Oftentimes, the composers and arrangers of Polka Masses either replaced the lyrics of well-known polkas, waltzes, or country songs with standard liturgical texts, or parodied secular texts to adapt them for a sacred setting. Some of the parodies involved simple changes, such as changing the word “sun” to “Son” in Let the Son Shine In. Other parodies, however, could reinterpret an original song into one of sacred devotion, as seen in Gene Retka’s Gathered Together. Some Polka Mass writers even drew upon genres and styles such as tango, country, and bebop, which caused controversy in some churches. For example, the use of the tune from the country song, Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, by Willie Nelson was justified only when Frank Perkovich claimed that the melody was from the Czech tune Place Oci.

Works: Fr. Frank Perkovich: At This Sacrifice (188-90, 193), Let the Son Shine In (186-87, 191), The Church in the Valley (187); Fr. George Balasko: We Offer Bread and Wine (187); Gene Retka: Song for Meditation (187), Gathered Together (192), Lord, Have Mercy; Christ, Have Mercy; Lord, Have Mercy (189-90), Each and Every Day (191, 198-99).

Sources: Hair: Let the Sunshine In (186); Walter Ostanek: The Barking Dog Polka (187); Walt Solek: Julida Polka (187, 192); Hank Thunander: The Tavern in the Valley (187); Willie Nelson: Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain (188-89, 193); Lil’ Wally Jagiello: Johnny’s Knocking (191, 198-99).

Index Classifications: 1900s, 2000s, Popular

Contributed by: Cynthia Dretel, Matthew G. Leone

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