BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

February Musings

I am grateful for the many ways BuxMont has nurtured my calling to Music Ministry over the years. One of the most important investments you’ve made in this is to help send me to the annual Unitarian Universalist’s Musician’s (UUMN) conference. Over the years I’ve learned much from UUMN. It started with basics on how to run a choir, directing skills, repertoire and other resources. It expanded to how to develop a music program. I gained a professional perspective on Music Ministry and an appreciation of congregational dynamics. I look forward to this year’s conference in San Diego, “Honoring the Past – Engaging the Future,” with an exciting suite of workshops on contemporary music and worship.

In our January 6 service I related stories of a particularly transformational experience I had at the UUMN conference in 1993. The following is adapted from those remarks:

Over my head, I hear music in the air.


Over my head, I hear music in the air.

Sounds good to me!

Over my head, I hear music in the air.


There must be a God somewhere.

Oh, not so sure about that God language at BuxMont in 1993!

That summer I first met the “new” grey hymnal Singing The Living Tradition, at a UUMN conference at The Mountain near Highlands, North Carolina. I learned to open my heart and my voice to the power of “Over My Head.” The whole UUMN conference was focused on introducing the new hymnal and on how to teach and lead the new songs for our congregations. Three amazing song leaders modeled and taught us their diverse techniques. Nick Page, famous for his Power Sings and wonderful children’s choirs, came from Boston to teach us how to use “no fault” harmony and demonstrated how to support congregations using our choirs. Ysaye Maria Barnwell, of Sweet Honey in the Rock and a member of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, taught us to layer complex, precise rhythms and harmonies aurally – not letting people take notes or even use tape recorders. She taught us eight-part harmony, picking the pitches out of thin air as she grounded us in the many traditions of African American singing, from ring shouts to spirituals to gospel. And Ken Nafziger of Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA, connected us to the breadth of traditions, and how to use that knowledge to enliven and enrich our congregational singing. It was Ken who taught us “Over My Head.” He insisted that we honor the hope that arises from music, singing, trouble, gladness and, yes, even angels. There must (big pause) be a God (pause) somewhere.

I came back to BuxMont excited, sat down with our minister at that time, the Rev. Libby Smith, and said, “I know how to make BuxMont a singing congregation,” and we started to work together to do just that. Challenge people to sing well, support their learning process, open their voices, make singing fun, connect singing to the heart, the breath and the mind, demonstrate and share enthusiasm with the congregation. With our diverse spiritual pathways, we need to learn to sing each other’s truths with the same passion we bring to our own. “There must be a God somewhere” is true for some of us, and others of us can learn to broaden our concept of God, or at least to honor the power of that statement for others. We can share each other’s songs, learning to understand each other deeply.

So thank you, BuxMont, for nurturing me through the professional development your financial contributions support. And thank you for all you do to help BuxMont nurture all of our Fellowship family.

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