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Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Alexander’

I just returned from five remarkable days in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was part of the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network annual conference.  It was packed, end to end, with singing, learning, watching great performances, and sharing sound and experience with some of the most inspired musicians in our chosen faith community.  Once again, as I felt when I was at Star Island living in the middle of so much music and sound, I felt like my head was about to explode from the sensory stimulation — this time with attention focused on the connection of music to faith.

On Wednesday night, I eagerly awaited the conference opening worship service, which was held at a large United Methodist church adjacent to the conference hotel.  The attendees rose in body and spirit, as every year, to sing together “When in Our Music”, the piece which captures the connection of sound and spirit which begins:

When in our music God is glorified,
and adoration leaves no room for pride,
it is as though the whole creation cried
Alleluia!

How often, making music, we have found
a new dimension in the world of sound,
as worship moved us to a more profound
Alleluia!
© 1972 by Hope Publishing Co.

As is always the case, I had a hard time keeping it together while we sang.  We listened to the pieces – performed by a wonderful choir – which won this year’s Silliman Anthem Award competition, celebrating the best of Unitarian Universalist choral anthems.  We welcomed newcomers to the conference – more than thirty of them, I believe – and prepared to delve into the ways that music moves the head, the heart, the spirit.

And so it went for the rest of the conference.  One of the things I love about the UU Musicians Network — and there is lots to love — is the commitment that folks have to offering dynamic ministry to the world through music and worship.  There were continuing education opportunities offered in composition, conducting, children’s music, music for healing and transition, building dynamic ministry teams, integrating instruments into worship, using Finale (software for music notation), best practices for working with choirs, and lots more.  There were master classes with composer Stephen Paulus, who was commissioned to write a magnificent piece for the UUMN conference choir to perform.  Paulus has had an impressive career, and he is not, as my mother used to say, chopped liver, but rather a pretty big deal.  Stephen Alltop, who also arrived with impressive credentials, conducted the conference choir…a high-powered guy with a very easy-to-work-with style who got great results from us.

One of the high spots of the conference for me was the presentation of “Go Out!”:  a celebration of liberal religious heritage and values in words and music, by composer Elizabeth Alexander.  The presentation offered the words of many of the guiding voices of Unitarianism and Universalism and some terrific pieces, including a duet, “Die Gedanken Sind Frei,” a women’s choral piece that brought to light the words of the Edict of Torda, and another that celebrated John Murray’s exhortation to “give them not hell, but hope.”  This is a piece worth doing, and I hope that it will catch fire with musicians around the country.

There was more, of course:  handbells, Bach musicians, African music, Indian kirtan music with Milwaukee-based performer Ragani, a high-energy performance from the klezmer band Yid Vicious, recitals of classical, folk, contemporary, and eclectic music, a variety show that featured acts irreverent and delightful.  There was worship – services so good that they rank among the best worship I’ve ever been part of.  And there were deep connections made, so valuable there is no way to put a price on it.

From start to finish, every day from 8 AM until 9:30 PM (and that was only the ‘formal’ part of each day), participants were living, breathing, doing music.  This is a more profound “Alleluia,” to be sure.  May the gifts that we received continue to be brought forth to bless the world.

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