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?  Teresa Rowell at the Salisbury Gathering shares her answer with us in February. We’ll hear from Theresa Woody at the Lake Norman Gathering in March and from Dr. Carl DuPont at the University Gathering  in April.

Salisbury Gathering Music Selections

Teresa Rowell, Piedmont UU Church Member

In choosing the hymns/songs for our Salisbury services, the designated Service Leader selects the Opening Hymn, the Meditation Hymn and the Closing Hymn. Each Sunday we play 5 hymns (this includes the Chalice Lighting Song, and the Closing Blessing), and up to 4 other songs of our choosing; 8 or 9 songs in total.   The music/song leadership team at the Salisbury Gathering is made up of a wide range of ages, experiences, and musical backgrounds.  Some of us grew up singing in a church choir (and still do!) while others never sang in a church at all until Salisbury opened her doors in 2012.  Some of us grew up learning and playing a musical instrument, only playing “out” for a formal recital, or just for casual fun at home, while others have played semi-professionally in bands.   We listen to a variety of music at home, and we play a variety of styles.

So, with so much variety, how do we decide what to play when it’s our turn to lead the music on Sunday?   The first rule of Salisbury song leadership is fit the theme as best as we can. With this in our minds, most of us lean first toward our personal preferences, looking for songs we already know and love that fit the theme and message for the service. Kyla Glover suggested a song by 3 Dog Night because she’d bought one of their records at a garage sale and could not stop thinking about its message of acceptance and friendship. Linda Voelker loves songs with the opportunity to harmonize.  However we also like to go outside of our comfort zones for music, if there is something that just cries out to be played on a Sunday.  A great example of this is the 5th Sunday Service Project in 2016, which also happened to be the day before Halloween. Orland Carra was song leader and he chose songs he was familiar with that fit the theme: Season of the Witch, Spooky, and A’Soalin.’  Then, he decided to see if it would be possible arrange the theme song from Ghostbusters for two guitars, because wouldn’t that be a fun and perfect fit for that Sunday’s activities?  It was a huge success!

If looking inward leaves us with no songs we feel fit that Sunday’s theme, then we look outward via the magic of the internet!  A google search linked to songs will always turn up many pages of options.  For example, Teresa Rowell searched for “thanksgiving songs” in 2015 and was surprised to find The New-England Boy’s Song About Thanksgiving  Day, commonly known as Over the River and Through the Wood by Lydia Maria Child. She was shocked to learn that not only was this song written in 1844 by a Unitarian abolitionist, it was not about Christmas at all. Teresa worked with David Lamanno and Eric Hake to adapt the traditional version to one suited for two guitars and string bass and together they came up with a swing version that injected new life into a song everyone was familiar with.

Lastly, once the problem of what to play for Sunday has been resolved, we are often left with the issue of how to play our choices. Not all songs are readily available with lyrics and chords (remember, we are a small group of acoustic musicians).  Some of us, such as Orland Carra, are skilled enough musicians to adapt sheet music from the hymnal or other sources for guitar. Others, such as David Lamanno,  can sometimes listen to a song and figure out the guitar chords. But what if you have a song your minister has asked you to learn and you simply can’t find it anywhere? Here is where the internet comes to our rescue once again!  Sites such as Ultimate Guitar Lyrics, Cowboy Lyrics, and others are invaluable resources for us. Eric Hake stumbled upon a nifty website in 2013 called Chordify that allows chords to be pulled from pretty much any you tube video.  For example, Chordify is what we used to create the chords for People Get Ready, by Curtis Mayfield, a song Rev. Justin used as an integral component of a sermon he gave in 2016.

In closing, you should know that above all else, while the Salisbury Gathering Music Team share a love of music, that does not mean we all love the same music. We are a group of varied individuals with a diverse background of musical preferences. However, we always to find a way to play together each Sunday, and we have all grown musically since joining this music ministry. So, if you happen to see one of us staring off into space sometime, it just might be we are thinking of what to play next!