Commentary: Gospel Music At High School Football Games

Commentary: Gospel Music At High School Football Games

You’ve probably seen this story in the news unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days. The marching band at Brandon High School in Brandon, Mississippi was ordered not to perform “How Great Thou Art” as part of their half-time show.

More than 30 years ago, the marching band at East Rutherford High School where I attended high school DID perform “How Great Thou Art” as part of the half-time show for all the home football games and in several competitions where we routinely scored at the top. The applause from the fans was thunderous each time we finished.

Now here’s where it gets rather tricky. The MELODY that is most commonly associated with “How Great Thou Art” was from the Swedish folk tradition. It existed before the lyric.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that the judge is right in saying this song violates the separation of church and state when played at a high school football game. (I don’t believe it does, which is why I wrote “for the sake of argument.”)

COULD a band get away with playing Londonderry Aire? It’s precisely the SAME circumstance…a tune that existed before there were gospel words associated with it, except there are at least as many or more people who relate the “Londonderry Aire” tune to the “Danny Boy” lyric as there are who relate it to the “He Looked Beyond My Fault And Saw My Need” lyric. Hmm…

Good for the parents and fans in the stands who figured out a creative way to point out just how ignorant that federal judge and their elected “representatives” are who sit on the school board.

Land of the free; home of the brave.

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David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both and David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.

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  1. Reply August 25, 09:24 #1 joshvanklomp

    Music without words is just that…music. If people are getting offended by notes being played in a certain order, then this country has stooped to a new low.

    • Reply August 25, 10:53 David Bruce Murray Author


      People who haven’t heard the song sung before shouldn’t be offended. They don’t know the lyrics and won’t know the difference. No one is singing the song at a marching band performance. It’s just instruments.

      People who were raised in church and do associate the lyrics with the melody aren’t likely to be offended either, because they probably agree with the lyrics. They’re going to give a more rousing ovation due to the song selection, which is kind of the point if you’re arranging music for a high school marching band.

      I’d love to see what the same judge and school board would say about “Londonderry Aire” or Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy,” since those are melodies that are only sometimes associated with Christian lyrics.

  2. Reply August 25, 17:58 #2 talfonso (@talfonso0508)

    I hope they don’t mute the SATB anthem “For the Beauty of the Earth” when their choir sings in their spring concert! Neither will they ban the concert band arrangement as well (! Ironically, the composer John Rutter is an atheist.

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