Jim Seaborn, Music Director at Georgian Shores United Church, Owen Sound.
I am writing this article for you today to give you the opportunity to help create, develop and execute worship services that centre around social justice themes using music specifically written for that purpose. No church creates a Sunday service without hitting on the themes of world hunger, the plight of refugees, practicing inclusion, helping the homeless, feeding the hungry…the list goes on. I am sharing with you what has worked for me over the years.
Far too often traditional hymn books we all use fall short of genuinely expressing concern for global issues in a way that speaks to our modern, connected world. We all remember Alan Kurdi, the 4 year old who was discovered drowned on a beach in Turkey a couple of years ago. That galvanized millions of people through a simple but powerful image. We all felt something must be done. Few of us could [nor would we want to] actually travel to world hot spots, but we have a way to respond at our immediate disposal-the power of music. So here are some resources I am using or have used with a fair degree of success.
As a disclosure, be aware I do my musical thing in the United Church, where we are not bound by the fixed liturgy so many of us church musicians are. I also get along with my pastoral staff very well, and we respect each other’s role in designing services every week. The resources I am encouraging you to look at and try work anywhere. Sensitively handled, it can breathe new life into the expression of world issues that all of us in faith based practices claim to be important and fundamental. I do direct a choir of 25 voices, but never do I have everyone there. At least 10 do not read music, and my male singers (3 of them!) need much repetition and encouragement. Our church is well funded, and I am aware this is not everyone’s situation. But know what I am telling you can work anywhere.
One of our music books is entitled More Voices. I’d be happy to share a copy of it with you. It is loaded with texts and tunes that can really work well. One of them is #120 The Canticle of the Turning. The tune is familiar (Kingsfold) but set in a way that gives it an entirely new expression. Works really well with piano, guitars, drum kit and maybe a recorder to give it a folk song style. A real bonus would be a cantor. it’s a song of hope and optimism, human rights, and the plight of those caught in military conflicts, all in a familiar musical package. Another is Deep in our Hearts (#154) which beautifully expresses our mutual concern and unity in the time of world conflict and crisis. There are many more in the same collection, but choose them carefully. There are 225 possibilities.
Many of you are aware (I think you should be) of Ron Klusmeier’s music. Most of it is almost perfectly suited to congregational use. (musiklus.com) On his website you can, for an annual fee of $100, get complete access to all his hymn and worship song compositions. They come listed alphabetically, by theme, by liturgical season, and more. There are versions for congregational singing, unison, 2, 3 and 4 part choir, separate piano accompaniments, instrumentalists’ accompaniments, PDFs of bulletin inserts. Copy out as many as you need, because it’s ALL copyright cleared. Big. Clear and easy to read scores for both you and your singers. Many also come in an SATB choir version, often with excellent descants for your adventurous sopranos, in anthem style. They can be learned quickly, and are well within the range of any amateur choir no matter how many singers you don’t have!
I strongly recommend you take a look at a new collection from the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary called Sing the Circle Wide. All 65 songs are from around the world-a truly global collection expressing global themes. All the songs are easily learned, with beyond excellent texts. I’d be happy to take the GBRCCO through some examples at a meeting sometime. You will not be disappointed. (with the book, I don’t know about me!!) Get it from the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary through Debbie Lou Ludolf. (firstname.lastname@example.org) The best $25 you’ll spend. BTW it is NOT copyright cleared, so you’d have to purchase the copies you need. I sang with her choir (Inshallah) for a year as part of my Masters Degree studies. We have used it at Georgian Shores United Church many times, with great success.
For the more adventurous among you, I stumbled onto a website of music by Mormon composer Sally DeFord. defordmusic.com . Some really worthwhile solos, small ensemble and choir music, as well as original keyboard pieces…and it’s all free for the printing right off of your computer. Very lyrical, harmonically interesting, congregational appeal. My choir loves her writing, and that’s all that matters to me. We have used many of her compositions quite successfully.
That’s all from me for now…more to come. Maybe I’ll write an article about the history and construction of the Georgian Shores Casavant. Best wishes to all of you.