MUSIC NOTES, by Catherine Massey
Recently Cathy Carver tagged me on Facebook with a satirical Lutheran article entitled “Hundreds Hospitalized After New Hymn Introduced in Church.” The article begins, “Hundreds were hospitalized and scores more traumatized for life in the wake of a disastrous hymn roll-out this past Sunday. Recklessly acting in a way contrary to all Lutheran sensibilities, Pastor Norman Schroeder inserted a previously unsung hymn…into the church service.” Could this happen here?
The month of September was my 20th anniversary as Director of Music with our congregation. When I began, I brushed off my skills at the piano to play hymns and classical and/or jazz piano solos. I had not played publicly for more than 20 years, due to my unhappy experience as a piano major at UT Austin as an 18-year-old. Our church needed a regular musician, so I volunteered for a few Sundays. The response was so warm that I offered to play regularly for about $25 per Sunday.
In 2000, there were enough people who wanted to sing in a regular choir that we needed to start one. I did not have training as a conductor, but I found out about the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network annual conference that summer in San Diego. I offered to go and learn how to get started, and the Board of Trustees and congregation supported me. We started up the choir that fall.
Back then, the congregation did not have much confidence in singing. I started using what I learned at each Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network (UUMN) summer conference, and it was hard sometimes. We couldn’t really sing rounds, and new or unfamiliar hymns were definitely a challenge. But we kept trying, bravely, willing to fail in the attempt if need be. And when we failed, we laughed. Really, what’s the worst thing that can happen? We are singing!
As my skills improved, and as this congregation grew to trust me more and more, we all got better. Over the years we have sung chants, rounds, songs taught by rote in Zulu (with gestures!), and all of Jason Shelton’s hymns when they were brand-new and not in a hymnal yet. Now we are a singing congregation! Having an excellent choir for support has enhanced the confidence of all. And leading congregational singing is my favorite thing in the world to do, as I keep saying!
So I’m going to say: No! We are not going to have a panic here if we sing something unfamiliar! We will do what we do—joining our voices and breath in community, strengthening the bonds holding us together, and welcoming others to join in.
Catherine Massey, Director of Music
UUMN Credentialed Music Leader