By Linda Green
A UMNS Feature
An oft-heard myth about the Methodist tradition is that founders John and Charles Wesley used drinking and tavern songs as the melodies for hymns.
"The Wesleys did no such thing," says Dean McIntyre, director of music resources at the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn. "Given their aesthetic and theological sense, it would (have been) unthinkable for them to do so."
However, the popular misconception has survived among Methodists, and a similar myth is often heard about Martin Luther, the reformer who also was a musician. The mistaken belief about the Wesleys often arises when people talk about how the brothers proclaimed the Gospel in the public places, where people gathered, according to McIntyre. Pastors, musicians, worship leaders, composers and hymn writers continually voice the misconception.
McIntyre says the legend probably began when a seminary or music student became confused over the musical term "bar tune" or "bar form" - a medieval pattern for poetry consisting of three or more stanzas - which became the pattern for songwriting. Someone with no knowledge of medieval poetry heard "bar form" in connection with John Wesley, and the songs became tavern songs, he says.
"I feel called to set the record straight," McIntyre says.
"It is not difficult to understand how the musical term 'bar form' also referred to as 'bar tune,' can be confused in an uninformed person's mind with a barroom tune, drinking song, or some other title to indicate music to accompany the drinking of alcoholic beverages."