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Saturday, July 23, 2005

More on 'Singing the Journey.'

2) What's with these accompaniments? They seem to be more complex than we're used to, and they don't always support the melody very well.

Our commission was very clear from the start of our work - this collection is meant to be led by a competent songleader/cantor. The UU Musicians Network has made leading congregational singing a significant aspect of our annual conference and professional development material for the past five years or so. Many of my colleagues in that organization have reported incredible changes in the singing culture within their congregations as a result of this work.

When you have a songleader in place the melody is supported by their singing, which makes it possible for the accompanist to add rhythmic and harmonic interest to the piece without losing the congregation. One of the most common complaints I hear from my colleagues in ministry is that they feel like congregational singing is generally too slow and labored, and thus suffers from a lack of enthusiasm. Their solution is to try and get the accompanist to go faster, which doesn't really solve the problem. Slow doesn't have to be boring, and when the accompaniment has a bit more complexity and rhythmic movement a song can be sung slowly and yet generate tremedous energy. And when the songleader is really strong - not in the sense of being a great soloist, but as a person who truly engages the congregation in a relational way - our singing in community has tremendous power and potential for transforming the culture of our worship.

We realize that this way of thinking about congregational singing and accompaniment is a breakaway from "traditional" hymnody. Despite claims to the contrary, I'm pretty sure that none of us on the commission think that the tried and true canon is no longer useful or in need of total replacement. Three of our commission members are Masters level organists, and one a PhD in orchestral conducting! But we had a specific charge to fulfill, one which called upon us to assemble a collection that stepped outside the boundaries of what most of our congregations usually do in worship. As such, the collection will certainly feel experimental to some, a long-overdue revolution to others, and most will probably fall somwhere in between.

The fact is that by putting this collection "out there" at this moment, when there seems to be a good bit of experimentation and exploration going on in our congregations as far as how worship can look, feel and sound, we will learn a great deal about what does and doesn't work and just how far those boundaries will stretch. I think that's a good thing.

Copyright © 2005 by Jason Shelton | Posted 23 July 2005 at 2:59 PM

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