How Does Each Gathering Select their Music?

How Does Each Gathering Select their Music?

The music leaders at each gathering were asked the following question: Given the seemingly endless music from which you could choose, how do you decide what music to include in your services?  This month we hear from Theresa Woody at the Lake Norman Gathering and we look forward to Dr. Carl DuPont at the University Gathering sharing his answer with us in April. Finally, we thank Teresa Rowell from the Salisbury Gathering for her contribution in February.

Lake Norman Gathering Music Selections
Theresa Woody, Lake Norman Gathering Music Director

At all the Piedmont UU Church sites, we plan our services around a certain monthly theme. The centering music and opening song might be generic gathering music appropriate for any Sunday, but the rest of the music amplifies and supports the speaker’s message.  The people of LKN are most comfortable singing songs they know.  But they also welcome learning new songs. So, if a guest minister requests a new hymn, we choose familiar songs for the rest of the service.

As music director, I try to balance each service with a range of styles.  Many, but not all, of our members prefer a contemporary sound and even ask for relevant popular music to be used occasionally. Others like even the most traditional songs in the grey hymnbook.  So I try to present a mix of genres throughout.

I could simply play the piano on everything, but sometimes I choose a particular piece of music because it would be fun to add our talented cellist, harmonica player, guitarists, or drummers to the musical palette.

We are lucky to have our dedicated (if small) choir.  We have one tenor, and I am usually the only alto.  So, when, weeks ahead of time, I am choosing special music, I consider our size. Do we have the range, vocal ability, and numbers needed?  Could we still get the essence of the harmony if a part were missing?  (“What if our only tenor is sick that Sunday?”)  Learning music written for four parts is risky, but sometimes we cross our fingers and learn it anyway, because it’s beautiful and fun, and worth it when it works.

Sometimes a singer suggests a popular song easy enough to put together quickly.  If the chords are simple, I can write them down for a guitarist, and/or improvise a piano part.  Sometimes our choices do require a lot of rehearsal time.  Other times, I fill in with easier stuff, for instance, by adapting a new hymn published by the UU Musicians’ Network, and using it as an easy anthem for the choir.  This is easy on the budget, too, usually. (We do contact composers and pay copyright fees).

I myself have attended two UU music conferences, where a well-wrought service is presented every day, each one chock full of great musical selections.  At the reading sessions, I enjoy sight-singing new music available to us as UUMN members.  We at LKN have learned a number of these great new hymns and anthems thanks to the inspiring, vibrant music I’ve brought from the conferences.

Sometimes, in spite of all the thinking that went into a choice of music, reality intervenes.  Last Fall, given the election poll results in October, we’d planned to sing special music called “Love has Broken Down the Walls” on Sunday, Nov. 13. (Or not.)  So, we switched gears and throughout the Fall learned and presented music about waiting, about peace expanding, and about hope.  The LKN choir came through, and the people learned a new hymn in the process.  We’ll sing “Love has Broken Down the Walls” another time.