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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Into the fray.

Wow - what an intro! Thanks, P. Glad to be counted among the red-headed, goatee-sporting MDivs, even if I didn't go to Harvard.

At the risk of being pigeonholed, I thought I'd take an opportunity with my first blog entry to talk a bit about Singing the Journey. Our commission has received a good bit of feedback on the book already, and there are some questions/comments that seem to come up pretty regularly that I thought I might address here.

1) Why are there so many songs in the book that were written or arranged by commission members? There is a response to this question on the STJ website. But I have a feeling there are some folks out there who would like a fuller response, one which goes into considerably more detail. Here you go...

We received somewhere in the neighborhood of 1500 submissions for this book, and the commisson reviewed each of them "blind" (i.e. with composer/lyricist names removed). Submissions by commission members were treated the same as all others, and each of us had the experience of the group saying "no" to our work while we were in the room. Some of our work made the cut. And yes, it's a little awkward for me personally having as many in there as I do. Nonetheless, I know that we tried our best to make sure every submission had a fair, impartial shot at making the cut.

Some pieces were accepted on the condition that the piece needed an arrangement. This means that we felt like the song was solid and useful for the collection, but for one of several reasons it needed some help. Sometimes the song was in lead-sheet format (melody and chords only, with no accompaniment). Some pieces were given to us as recordings that required both transcription and arrangement. And some simply needed help - just because someone writes good words and a strong melody doesn't necessarily mean that they are skilled at writing accompaniments (you might be surprised to notice how many very popular pieces in Singing the Living Tradition were arranged by someone other than the composer). Composers whose work was marked for arrangement agreed to have it done and signed off on the finished product. In fact, several composers specifically asked us to have an arrangement of their work written when they submitted their original piece.

By my count, nearly 1/3 of the music in the book was arranged by someone other than the original composer. 12 or so of those were arranged by people on the commission, and the rest either came to us pre-arranged or were arranged by composers we invited to do the work. Still, 12 is a lot, and I think it's safe to say that we would much rather have been able to get more people involved in the process than we did. But...

Time. There simply wasn't enough time. The commission that put together Singing the Living Tradition had seven years to complete their task. We had one. Yes, our is a smaller book than STLT, but we had roughly the same number of submissions to wade through. Our commission was assembled in October 2003, and had its first face-to-face meeting in February 04. Our second meeting was in August 04, at which time we finished reading through all of the music and settled on the list of entries. All of the arranging for the book took place in the six weeks between that meeting and our final meeting in October 04. There simply wasn't enough time for us to try and find lots of folks who might be skilled and willing to help out. We had to go with folks we knew who we were sure could meet our deadline. We would love to have had more time, but the budget for the project was out of our hands, as was the publication timeline.

So that meant that the folks on the commission who were skilled at arranging ended up doing a big chunk of the work. In fact, when I raised the question as to whether or not it was a conflict of interest to have composers serving on the commission during our first teleconference, I was told that one of the reasons composers were needed was precisely because of the short timeframe for publication and the certainty that arranging and editing skills were needed for the group to complete its task.

So that's the story. I hope it's helpful. And I hope that folks who have concerns about this type of thing will choose to engage with me or others from the commission before jumping to conclusions about personal motivations and such. My ego is pretty solid, mind you, but it's no fun to have such speculations floating around when we could discuss it in an open forum like this one.

I'll tackle some of the other questions in my next post. This one's already too long. Rookie mistake, I suppose...

Copyright © 2005 by Jason Shelton | Posted 21 July 2005 at 11:39 PM

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July 22, 2005 08:29 PM | Permalink for this comment

The trackback doesn't seem to be working here. Oh well.

I've got a series going on Singing the Journey over at my place, including a response to this post. I welcome your input.


July 22, 2005 10:36 PM | Permalink for this comment

Jess, I'm stumped why trackback has stopped working -- but I don't have time to troubleshoot it. Thanks for leaving a link!


July 23, 2005 02:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

Jess - a quick response to your post (more will follow as I get around to the next part of the series I've got going here). You asked, "So what was the rush?" I think that's an important question, and I should have said something about it my original post here. The fact is, our commission was a UUA task force, appointed by Bill Sinkford with a specific charge and timeline set before we ever met. We asked on several occasions for more time, but it we were told that budget constraints limited the timeframe.

If we had had another year to do the work, I dare say it would be a different collection, though not substantially so. Even I don't like everything in the book, but then again, if it were only geared toward my tastes it probably wouldn't be very useful beyond my own congregation.

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