home on the range

What’s the range of the music you play for worship?

A colleague recently said a service he attended reminded him of a scene from the movie The Blues Brothers. “Oh”, someone said, “you mean ‘we’re on a mission from God’?” “No”, he replied, “‘We play both kinds of music, country and western’. But in that congregation, ‘both kinds of music’ means ‘Bach and Beethoven’.”

Indeed, a member of a nearby UU congregation commented to me that she liked the contemporary music we do at our church, but the only musicians in her congregation were a pianist, a classical violinist and an oboist. So, in the words of my friend, what they got was “both kinds — Bach and Beethoven”.

My experience tells me that there are other musicians in their congregation, but they’re hiding their candles under the proverbial baskets. Why? Because they don’t think there’s room for their music in the worship life of their church. And I think that’s a big problem, albeit with a simple solution.

Our worship band has been playing together for 13 years now, just for a few services a year for the first decade. The musicians in the group changed slowly over the years and often we were forced to do odd arrangements or skip certain songs because we couldn’t get all the needed players or singers with the right range. I believe it was originally seen as “our thing”, not as one of the ways we all worship together.

When we began having a weekly contemporary service, with a stable band and different singers each week, I started noticing a different dynamic. More and more singers and musicians began approaching me, asking to sing or whether their instrument was something we could use. Where did those people come from? I believe they were there all along, but they didn’t feel like their music was valued as an expression of their faith. Once the space was opened for them, they found a new way to connect to their spiritual community. And the ages of our musicians now range from 16 to 67.

The most important thing we can do as music leaders, I believe, is to make the space for all musicians — from the harmonica players to the symphony cellists to the shaped-note singers — to use their music in worship. And we have to do that by example. It can be as simple as adding congas and a bass guitar to the choir, or as complex as starting a jazz ensemble, a rock band or a gospel quartet from scratch.

Once those hidden musicians see that there’s a space for them, that they can connect their spirituality with the music they like to make, they will show up offering to make music for their community. All we have to do is open up the space, and they will come.

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 home on the range

  1. David says:

    Amen, Lance. One of the best things I ever did for my congregation (accidentally–there was no brilliant plan on my part) was write an arrangement of “I’ll Fly Away” for the instruments I knew we had: piano, guitar, bass, violin, cello, recorder…. Not a traditional ensemble at all, but it got people thinking outside whatever boxes/bushels they might have been keeping themselves in! Now the instrumentalists are (sheepishly) coming out of the closet to see how they can participate!

  2. David says:

    Um. *VANCE. Cheesie peezey. :-p

  3. That sounds like it was an awesome performance, David! On one hand, it’s too bad that it’s probably the only time that arrangement will be heard. On the other hand, UUs tend to love variety, and that certainly delivered. Cool.

  4. David says:

    Actually… 😉

    A couple of other congregations have already used the arrangement. (Not sure what instrumentation they used, but the charts are available, at least.) There’s a link to the preview on my website, http://davidmglasgow.com/composition. 🙂

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