May 21, 2022
Dear members and friends of USG:
We are writing to provide an update from the Music Committee. We recruited committee members in January, began our work in February, hired a consultant in March, and have held 10 listening sessions with large and small groups within USG to provide an open forum for all to express opinions about what they yearn to hear in a vibrant music program for the future at USG. In addition to holding meetings for the whole congregation after worship, we held listening sessions with Adult Spiritual Development, Children’s Spiritual Development, Elderhood, Widening the Circle, People of Color, and present and former choir members. We have received a great deal of input, and we still want to hear from you, particularly those who haven’t shared feedback yet. Email your thoughts about music at USG, whether music in worship, or on other USG occasions, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please consider the following as you continue to think and talk about music at USG:
- In a diverse denomination/congregation no one will love every part of every service – music diversity challenges homogeneity and exposes all of us to different styles we may not find comfortable at first, or ever.
- Please read this UUWorld article profiling UU music director, Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout: https://www.uuworld.org/articles/rideout-profile
- Many people said that USG has a tradition of music excellence. Let’s unpack that:
- We have many different views about what makes music excellent, and your definition of excellence may exclude music that many others find powerful and moving.
- Excellence does not tell us what you want to hear. When discussing music please be more specific, like talking about musical genres, artists, decades, moods, and more. Excellence is a highly subjective term that has been used to preserve white culture.
- Emphasizing excellence can make people feel excluded in many ways. Many members want to sing and be part of the music, and don’t want to feel excluded or put down or told they are not “good enough” to participate.
- Below are five of the most common themes that came from the listening sessions, followed by other themes (below the asterisks).
- USG members have a wide variety of musical tastes and desires
- We want music that uplifts, that is prayerful, that is vibrant, that is moving
- The congregation wants to be involved in the music, participate, not feel like an audience. We yearn for embodied spirituality including singing and dancing together
- The music should be woven into the service and integrated with the message
- We would like the music program to involve children more, including bringing music beyond the worship service to children’s programs and creating opportunities for children and teens to engage with music together (not only by performing) including in a children’s choir, or children’s band or other ensembles or by sharing music
- We want a diverse and vibrant music program, not diversity for diversity’s sake, but because the music is meaningful and will move many members of the congregation and invite in and welcome new members
- We would like to encourage teens to feel that their contributions are welcome. Currently they feel that they are not part of worship and don’t connect to the music. Maybe they can be involved with guitar sessions, jam sessions, and making Tik Tok videos to be played during worship. We hope to learn directly from teens about their needs.
- We need to display the words for musical pieces that are sung by the choir and/or hymns all are invited to sing. Some members need to see the words displayed. We need to be careful not to make people feel excluded by assuming that all know the words, or assuming that all hymns are familiar to everyone
- Some people said the music at USG at many times feels cold, a performance, rather than welcoming, inviting and involving
- We need to be aware that while some members like music that feels “traditional” and familiar to them, the same music is not familiar to many others and may make people feel unwelcome or excluded
- We need a music director who will involve the whole congregation
- We need a music director who will reach out into the community and invite musicians with varied musical styles
- We have members who yearn to hear drums, a bass, cello, harp, the organ from time to time, and many other instruments and musical styles.
- We have four Sundays a month – we can hear different genres, artists, decades, moods and more on EACH of those Sunday. We can innovate and take a fresh approach
- We must recognize that some of us will love some musical pieces that others will not, and that there may be pieces that move others that we won’t care for.
With your feedback we plan to move forward to create a job description, interview questions, and begin the process to search for and identify a new music director.
With gratitude for this opportunity,
Becky Horner, Betsy Gabriel, Jacob Fisher, Vanessa Lowe, Lois Murphy
Latifah Griffin-Rogers, and Kent Matthies