Pickup measure

I’m thinking about the role of “modern” music in Unitarian Universalist worship, I’m reading about issues facing religious communities today, I’m talking with people about making joyous and uplifting worship — and I’m choosing and performing lots of music, in hopes of achieving that. My head is swimming with things I need to share, and to keep track of.

And so, it comes to this, a blog. I want to be able to muse, in public, about what I know, what I have learned, what I suspect, what I wish, and to have others learn/suspect/wish with me. I hope you’ll join in a conversation to help me (and others) enrich their Unitarian Universalist worship with what we’ll call “modern” music – rock, folk, metal, hip-hop, jazz, R&B, ambient, whatever gets our heads and hearts into that groovy space called “good worship”. And if you’re not a UU (say, a Lutheran or Congregationalist) and this speaks to you, all the better!

Like all pickup measures, this post is not a complete phrase, or even a complete measure – it’s just an introduction, a lead-in that prepares for the “real music”. I’ll keep it short and sweet, and tackle the issue at hand in the next one.

Please, please, please post comments (pro, con, expansion, song titles, etc.)! Music is all about communication and community.


About liberalreligiongetsloud

Contemporary Music and Worship Director (retired), First Unitarian, Albuquerque NM
This entry was posted in contemporary worship. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Pickup measure

  1. Laurie says:

    It’s hard to disagree with an inclusive sentiment! In my 7 years as a UU, one thing that seems obvious is that we are a diverse lot in terms of musical preferences. The hard bit, I think, is that what is transcendental for one person can be boring, or, worse, like fingernails on a blackboard for another. So, one thing that is a constant challenge is to appeal to a broad spectrum of people without alienating too many of them.

    Another element is not to conflate genre with quality. No doubt there is quality music across the spectrum, including contemporary religious music. In our congregation we do classical choral music, chamber music, jazz, blues, folk, rock, gospel, etc., etc. And we have several really wonderful composers of contemporary music within our own congregation. It is possible to find high quality music all over the place.

    However, there is a third element: the element of music appreciation. When I joined our congregation, I mostly listened to rock and folk music. I still love the Grateful Dead, Beach Boys and PP&M, but after seven years of singing and listening to a raft of classical composers from Palestrina to Bach, Brahms, Britten, Granados and Copeland, and performing jazz and American Popular Song, etc., I find my tastes have changed. This newer (to me) music lifts me to a place I’ve never been before. To me the implication is that there IS some kind of hierarchy to music: more complex music must be something one comes to as a result of growth, rather than being prepared naturally for it. This realization says to me that there is some kind of merit to exposing people to music they might not feel ready for (yet). And there ARE no doubt good reasons why the Dead Europeans have stood the test of time.

    All this speaks to careful balance. New congregants are who they are — one has to make worship an accessible experience, otherwise they won’t come back. Yet there needs to be a broad variety of musical experience to ensure that congregants are not living too much listening to fingernails on a blackboard, and I do think that there needs to be significant complex musical experience, because it challenges the listener to spiritual growth, and this is what UU is all about. The elements that I think must be adhered to are high quality choices, appropriateness to a given setting, and diversity of experience.

    Laurie Coltri, First Alto, UUCC Chalice Choir (Tom Benjamin, Minister of Music)
    Music Committee Co-Chair
    Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (Maryland)

    PS. Don’tcha just LOVE WordPress??? It’s my adult toybox!

  2. Tom Nagy says:

    Great blog! And I bet you didn’t think this first post would inspire more than introductory platitudes…

    …but I must answer something stated/implied in Laurie’s comment: I have had an almost opposite musical journey. I grew up in a household with only one non-classical record. For me, complexity in music was a given, a starting point. It has taken me a long time to mature to the point where I can appreciate the simplicity of a single voice with an acoustic guitar. It’s only been in the last couple of years (and I’m in my mid-30s) that I’ve started not to think that Dylan, Pete Seeger, etc was just something that posers liked so that they’d be popular with other posers. My journey may be atypical, but I don’t think I’m alone.

    Rather than a hierarchy, I see these different areas as pieces of a gigantic personal puzzle that we will never be able to complete in our lifetimes. We all start putting it together in different places and add pieces at our own pace, and just when we think we’ve gotten somewhere, we look up and see how many pieces are still out there. There are deep, personal concepts that a symphony can express that Dylan will never be able to touch, just as a solo by Miles can evoke sentiment that Beethoven can’t bring out (though Ludwig was a fan/student of popular music too). If I had to create a hierarchy, my bias would be to put instrumental music ahead of sung music, but again, I recognize that not everyone sees it this way.

    Anyway, thanks for the great blog and first comment… looking forward to more, and hopefully see you both at the UUMN conference?

    Take care,
    Tom Nagy
    Music Committee Chair,
    First Unitarian Congregation of Waterloo Region (Ontario, Canada)

  3. Rev. Aaron White says:

    So glad that you started the conversation. We have started some of this musing in Dallas, thinking about what services in addition to Sunday morning might look like, and I would LOVE to take part in this discussion. So glad you’re here!!

    Associate Minister
    First Unitarian Church of Dallas

  4. John Freund says:

    It doesn’t have to pandering. The beauty of the UU faith is honoring the individual’s path to meaning through the web of community (large and small). If it feels at all like you’re trying to cram your message into some kind of ill-fitting package in order to sell it – DON’T do it.

    I’ve been writing music for over twenty years that is both directly and indirectly about the my path. I’ve performed these songs in bars and other secular venues both solo with an acoustic instrument and playing Hammond organ in loud rock bands.

    Amazingly, it was not until I got the chance to perform some of my songs at my UU church that I REALLY felt like I was connecting. I’m I rock musician, and I have things I’ve wanted to say that were more layered than what happens on Friday and Saturday night.

    And in the same way that I didn’t have to change a single belief to become a UU (5 years now), I didn’t have to change a single thing in or about my music to play it on Sunday morning. At my new-found spiritual home, I have found an audience of people who want to hear what I have to say – a good match, I think.

    I’m ready for this and it sounds like there are others that are ready for it too. Each congregtion’s path is as unique as the path of the individual. Embrace change but don’t force it. I’ve got jeans and suits in my closet. I’ve got hammers and wrenches in my toolbox. I’ve got various styles in my musical experience. I pick the right clothing for the occasion, the right tool for the job, and the right song for the service.

    John Freund
    Central Unitarian Church
    Paramus, NJ

  5. Louise says:

    Well said, Vance. I love the contemporary service! When people ask me about it, I use the example of our singing “I Wanna Be Like You” from the Jungle Book when we were celebrating Darwin. I loved the humor of it.

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