Musical Notes 1

Music Notes
by Steve Finner

Singing the Journey is here. This just published companion (released at GA 2005 in June) to Singing The Living Tradition contains seventy four hymns, responses, anthems and rounds. It is a marvelous collection consisting mostly of contemporary music written by Unitarian-Universalist composers and also contains a number of traditional pieces from African-American,Buddhist, Native American and African sources. In the same vein as Singing The Living Tradition, the selections are organized around the “six sources” making it easy to find specific pieces for a service dealing with a particular topic or theme.

Of particular interest to Universalists are the selections under the rubric of “Jewish and Christian Teachings”. I was particularly impressed with the inclusion of a very simple but beautiful two part setting of “Ubi Caritas”, the Latin lyric of which is “Where charity and love abound, God is there”. Also worth noting in this section is Robert Lowry’s “Shall We Gather By The River”, which was a most popular staple in 19th century Universalist and Methodist hymnals.

I am especially pleased to report that small congregations and small choirs will find most of the selections are accessible and easy to learn, either as choir anthems and responses or as congregational hymns. Many of the pieces can be accompanied by guitar or other instruments and to that end, the musical notation includes chord symbols. These also allow the versatile choir director to pen simple harmony lines or descants if desired (cautioning that those doing so are bound by the rules of copyright). Many of the pieces can be taught orally or by “lining out” which means that it can be introduced to your congregation while waiting for sufficient copies to be ordered. A few of the accompaniments to the contemporary hymns are tricky and call for the skills of an accomplished pianist and practice.I plan on making it the center piece of my church music program for the coming church year.

The indices are well organized along the usual lines for a hymnal. They are a topical index, onefor titles and first lines, and one for composers, arrangers and lyricists. As there are few hymns with a traditional metric structure, there is not a metrical index or a hymn tune index. However, where appropriate, hymn names are given along with the metrical notation (number of syllables per line and number of lines) at the end of the piece.

I also commend to your attention the forward by UUA President Bill Sinkford. It is a quick and enjoyable read. It also gives the companion web site for Singing The Journey, (http://www.uua.org/publications/music) which while incomplete at the time of this writing, promises to be a valuable resource for church musicians and others responsible for worship.

Singing the Journey is a paperback publication available from the UUA Bookstore on line and through mail and phone, and sells for $16 plus postage and shipping. I don’t think any UU congregation should be without copies, at least enough for the choir and hopefully in time enough for the entire congregation.

I have been asked about hymns that are specifically Universalist in tone and sentiment. Later I will write an article discussing the Universalist selections in the STLT (the hymnbook). And I am making suggestions to the newly appointed commission, Barbara Wagner, Chairwoman for Universalist music to be included in the new companion volume which will be published in a couple of years.

I would commend to your attention a wonderful arrangement by Leo Collins of Hosea Ballou's text, From Heaven and Earth, set by Daniel Read to the hymn tune, Windham (1785). Leo is the retired Director of Music at Boston's First and Second Parish and has granted permission for this arrangement to be used in any UU congregation.

This arrangement is in the style of shape note singing. The first two verses are unison alternating between all and women (other arrangements are possible). The third verse is in two part harmony with a lot of open fifths and sixths, a major characteristic of shape note singing.

For a copy of From Heaven and Earth, you may contact me:

Stephen L. Finner, Ph.D. "Steve" Director of Music Universalist Unitarian Church of St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

Music Notes
by Steve Finner

"When I hear the word, I know God is dead. When I hear the song, I know God lives. So if you would make of me a believer, Sing to me. (c-2003 S.L. Finner).

"Expect, watch for and embrace uncertainty. Dance with the madness of the cosmos and not against it. Leave your door open and your heart ready for anything. " (Vanessa Rush Southern, “This Piece of Eden", UUA 2003)

I'm pleased to report that her composition Marguerite Shaw's setting of John Murray's "Give them hope, not hell" has been named the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network "Hymn of The Year" And I take pleasure that my congregation and choir had the privilege of being the first to sing it. Congratulations, Marguerite!

Continuing my examination of hymnbooks for setting of texts by Universalists, this column focuses on the 1937 publication, "Hymns of The Spirit" (Boston: The Beacon Press).

Interestingly, this volume was a joint effort by the Unitarian and Universalist Commissions on Hymns and Services. The index is amazing, in that it gives along with the names of those contributing texts, their years of birth and death and their denominational affiliation.

John Greenleaf’s "Heaven is Here" and Adin Ballou’s "Years Are Coming, Speed Them Onward"have identical meters and the quite singable tunes to which each are set can be used for the other. As far as I can ascertain, neither hymn tune appears in Singing The Living Tradition (STLT), although here are at least two to which both these texts could be set (91 and 215).

"D.S.-1920 20th Cent American Universalist" is the somewhat cryptic identification given the author of the text, "Holy, Holy, Holy, 0 Thou Love Eternal", set to the familiar hymn tune Nicaea, which appears three times in STLT (26,39,and 290).

A text by a 19th century English American Universalist minister, Thomas Lake Harris, "0 Earth, Thy Path Is Crowned and Consecrated", is set to the tune Donne Secours (STLT 369). It celebrates "reformers", those who seek to create God's Kingdom on this earth.

A very familiar tune, old 124th from the 1551 Geneva Psalter (STLT 360), is used for the setting of "Blow, Winds of God, and Send Us On Our Way". This text is by another 19th century Universalist minister, Dwight Munson Hodge.

Another fairly common tune, "Lee" (STLT 45 and 302), is used to set a text by Adoniram Judson Patterson, another 19th century Universalist. It begins ,"In Thee our Father, are we all at home; Thou doest surround us like the ambient air". It is the first musical setting I've encountered of the words "ambient" and in the 3rd verse, "vicissitudes."

Universalist minister Byron Russell, still alive at age 87 when the hymnal was published, set a text which begins "Our Father, unto thee, we now on bended knee our voices raise". The tune was by Lowell Mason, a hymn composer fairly well known in the first half of the 20th century.

Finally, there is a contribution by a 19th century Universalist layman, Sargent Epes. The text is classic Universalist, "All souls, oh Lord, are thine assurance blest." The tune again, was contemporary for the time. It does not appear in STLT, but a number of tunes that do can be used to set this text, such as # 101, "Abide With me."

Thus, out of 576 hymns there are only eight contributions of hymn text by Universalists.

Whether this was because Universalist hymnody of the time was considered too "Trinitarian" or other reasons such as Universalist music being transmitted orally and not notated we will probably never know. But given the paucity of Universalist text in the volume despite its "joint" nature, I can understand why many Universalist churches chose other hymnals into the 1960s.

Stephen L. Finner, Ph.D. "Steve" Director of Music Universalist Unitarian Church of St. Johnsbury, Vermont.


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