This was the third year I’ve played in the UUA General Assembly “house band”. It’s a wonderful experience – exhilirating and exhausting, as a meaningful experience ought to be.
Every year I’ve been to GA, the music has gotten a little more eclectic, a little more inclusive, and a little more lively. Though I dream of the day when “Rank by Rank” is considered a baffling artifact of a previous era, I don’t expect it in my lifetime. But to have a varied group of “Americana” singers/songwriters in the opening ceremony was fabulous – we heard Appalachian, African-American and modern “folk” styles from some really talented musicians. Pretty much the entire spectrum of Western music was covered, from banjo frailing to string quartet. (OK, no tangos, but you can’t have everything.)
Interestingly, the Service of the Living Tradition was (“Rank by Rank” notwithstanding) musically the least traditional I remember. David Smith, Rick Fortner and the All Souls (Tulsa) singers and band rocked the house. Hard.
But it wasn’t just stylistic difference. There was some “God language” in that service, and some others, that seems to have riled some people. I don’t get this. The whole core of our religious movement is that everyone’s (EVERYONE’S!) path is honored and encouraged. If the Deist or Atheist or Buddhist doesn’t find resonance in African-American gospel, they will find their path honored at another time. I don’t find it threatening to my beliefs to listen to someone else profess theirs. Meanwhile, we have some spontaneously generated Universalists in our midst, willing to share with us their fresh and unjaded joy at having come to that spiritual place. How can we react to that in any way but elation?
The music at GA, like everything else, is meant to be a showcase of best practices and also limit-stretching possibilities for UU worship. I always learn a lot there about how to do worship well. If you didn’t get to go, you can still experience the group worship (and music) on video: http://uua.org/ga/2013/ That could be your weekly spiritual practice for several months.
I recommend this heartily to anyone who wants to know just how fulfilling, exciting and rich UU worship can be. And that variety comes from our own range of beliefs, traditions and cultural backgrounds. At GA, you can see fully who we are, and who we aspire to be.