MUSIC NOTES, by Catherine Massey
The Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network (UUMN) annual conference in Arlington, VA in July was rich with professional development and worship experiences that I can use this year. They fall into two general categories: dismantling white supremacy, and music for social action in these times.
Just as the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is actively engaged in naming and dismantling white supremacy, the UUMN is striving to do the same. Our Professional Development Day was spent with Dr. Natalie Fenimore, Unitarian Universalist (UU) minister, religious educator and African American, for a course on UU history, theology and race. She is also serving on UUA’s newly created Commission for Institutional Change. Her hope for a reimagined UU includes interconnecting with those on the outside of our association, innovation in renewed worship, and embracing a theology of abundance as we realize our faith’s impact beyond our numbers.
Love, once again, break our hearts open wide.
The Reverend Jason Shelton, Unitarian Universalist minister, composer, arranger, and conductor
To support musicians’ roles for social action in these times, we met the Rev. Erik Martinez Resly, organizer of The Sanctuaries in D.C., who shared with us how the arts promote resilience and resistance. I met UU minister Mary Grigolia in her workshop “Heart Songs for Activists.” She shared many of her own songs and others in the context of the practice she recommends now for all activists: Feel and name the pain; lift up a “go to” source of strength; strengthen your heart and sense of self; let yourself be transformed. Several UUMN members demonstrated a method of empowering so-called “non-singers” by embodying song. And Yara Allen, who works with the Rev. Dr. William Barber, creator of “Moral Mondays” in North Carolina, shared what she knows about “Singing for Justice.”
Our worship theme for the week, led by a collaborative team using Marsha McFee’s model as we did last year, was “Walls.” Through six worship services we explored all kinds of walls, including our own, and how to tear down the ones that are not helpful. Brian Tate, our clinician (and composer of “Where Do We Come From?”), wrote a special gospel style anthem for our final service called “Break Down These Walls.”
Finally, we led a pluralist faith singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on our final Sunday afternoon. There were about 200 singers from many faith traditions who sang on a bright sunny day, with many summer tourists at the reflecting pool stopping to listen or join in for awhile. An empowering experience of public witness and unity, modeled by local UU music professionals.
I am writing this a week after the tragic and disturbing events in Charlottesville. Jason Shelton wrote a chant and made it available the next day: “Love, once again, break our hearts open wide.” I am so grateful for the energy, knowledge and insights I have gained from this year’s conference. It will help me to help us to do the work we need to do this year.
Director of Music
UUMN Credentialed Music Leader