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Sunday, February 10, 2008

'Rise Up Singing,' UU-style, in the New York Times.

Today's New York Times dedicates lots of space to Pete Seeger, the Rise Up Singing folk music songbook, and "community sings" — often hosted by Unitarian Universalist churches. Music journalist Ben Ratliff, who is currently traveling around the country writing about "pop music outside the commercial mainstream," visits the community sing at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, Mich. (Oddly, the Times copyeditors call it a "Universalist Unitarian" church, of which there are some, just not in East Lansing.) Here's a bit from the story featuring Seeger:

If there is a natural opposite to gold-plated pop irony and faceless file sharing — music as the American majority knows it in 2008 — this is it. These meetings are earnest, participant directed and person to person: a slow-going, folkish appreciation of American vernacular culture.

Much of this impulse descends from Pete Seeger, who has championed the cause of group-singing for more than 60 years. "No one can prove a damn thing," Mr. Seeger said in a recent interview, "but I think that singing together gives people some kind of a holy feeling. And it can happen whether they're atheists, or whoever. You feel like, 'Gee, we're all together.'"

Although I think I'm just too young to have developed a taste for these events myself, every UU church I've been part of has hosted a community sing, a folk-music coffeehouse, or both. (My tastes in singing run off in the classical/sacred music direction.) But I share the passion of these fine crunchy folks for singing in a group.

So, dear Philocritics, are you a hymn singer, a choir member, a folkie, a campfire singer, or a dedicated community sing-goer? What are your favorite songs for singing in a group?

("Shared song, communal memory," Ben Ratliff, New York Times 2.10.08)

Copyright © 2008 by Philocrites | Posted 10 February 2008 at 6:03 PM

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Charlie Talbert:

February 10, 2008 07:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

A song that captures for me the feeling you describe is Arlo Guthrie’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Partly that’s because its words, “Take my hand, take my whole life too” are so perfect.

As Arlo points out in the talking introduction, one wouldn’t necessarily put an Elvis song at the top of a list of favorite folk sing-along favorites. But his description of performing this American classic along with thousands of Europeans at a festival in Denmark with Pete Singer is moving beyond words.

Charlie Talbert:

February 10, 2008 07:31 PM | Permalink for this comment

Oops... make that Pete "Seeger"


February 10, 2008 08:59 PM | Permalink for this comment

All of the above, Philo. I host 'em whenever I get a chance, attend community jams and sings, choirs make me swoon, and I especially enjoy singing around a campfire with friends in the summer.

We're going to do a Pete Seeger retrospective service next year here, as I think he is one of UUism's best evangelists, even though he rarely says a word about church.


February 11, 2008 08:18 AM | Permalink for this comment

Dan Harper responds to the article at length, suggesting that mainline and UU churches frequently sponsor singalongs and coffeehouses because churches are one of the few places that still cultivate the habit of listening to other people.


February 11, 2008 03:11 PM | Permalink for this comment

I've got nothing against Pete, but community singing has been a core activity in most Protestant churches for 500 years. It is one of the main things we do on Sunday morning. The NYT article reminds me of the reporter who recently asked Hillary Clinton if the cross she was wearing was a "religious symbol".


February 11, 2008 04:37 PM | Permalink for this comment

First off - Philocrites, if you are too young to develop a taste for the community sings, then how old do you have to be to nurture a love for centuries old classical music? I'm just sayin' . . .

I think Seeger and Dan Harper are both onto something - how we come together and how we learn to listen makes all the difference on whether we will and whether we can, respectively.

Elizabeth J. Barrett:

February 11, 2008 05:45 PM | Permalink for this comment

We don't have a coffeehouse or sing-along. I've been to them at conferences, but rarely know any of the songs that everyone else seems to know! My congregation sings from our hymnal & hymnal supplement with gusto, however. We can belt out hymns like "Now Let Us Sing" (368), "For All the Saints" (103), etc. and sound great. Likewise with "Come and Go with Me" (1018), "The Fire of Commitment" (1028) and "When the Spirit Says Do" (1024).


February 11, 2008 08:40 PM | Permalink for this comment

If you'd like to see one example of the Pete Seeger effect in a worship service, come to First Parish in Groton Mass on Sunday, March 9, at 10 am. The Firehouse Band (from Littleton MA) will present their "Peace, Love and Understanding" worship service, with poetry, readings, and folk music from lots of artists-with lots of singing along. The band has brought this service to UU churches in Rockland and Saco, Maine, as well as Foxborough, Saugus and Littleton Mass. This is shameless self-promotion for FP Groton and the Band, but if you're in the vicinity, you might find the service interesting, fun, and moving.

While I agree with Dan that churches are one of the few places where people take time to listen, there is something really powerful about a congregation joining together to sing. The whole is really greater than the sum of the parts.

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