October 1, 2001
When a 200-member Unitarian Universalist (UU)
congregation in the Pacific Northwest hired a music director who was on
unfamiliar ground with Unitarian Universalism, it took the extra step of
bringing in an expert to show her the terrain.
Mark Slegers, music director for twenty-five years at First Unitarian
Church in Portland, OR (819 members), spent a weekend with the director
helping her understand the possibilities in her new job. He also met with church
members and staff who wanted to make the music program grow.
"By the time we were done," says Slegers, "there was a real force
for music there. A year later the church had developed a 40-member choir."
For several years Slegers has been a consultant to UU
congregations, helping revitalize their programs. "Music should be excellent but
that doesn't mean you have to have professional musicians. Excellence that leads
to congregational vitality comes from everyone sharing their gifts to the best
of their ability," says Slegers.
His work began in the early 90's with a small grant from the
Veatch Program of the UU Congregation of Shelter Rock in Manhasset, NY, to
help pay transportation costs. Congregations also pay a negotiated amount for
Slegers is typically called in when a congregation wants more from
its music program. Sometimes there's dissatisfaction with the director or with
the music being picked, but usually there's just a feeling that more could be
happening, says Slegers.
He was invited to the UU Church of Asheville, NC (629), two
years ago. "We just had a sense the program could be more than it was," says
Jeremy Bacon, head of the Asheville music task force that met with Slegers.
Slegers spent several days at Asheville, listening to everyone who
was interested in the music program, and offering advice. As a result, the task
force and congregation increased the choir director to half-time. More classical
music was added to Sunday services and an intergenerational choir was created. A
five-year plan includes a children's choir, bell choir, and continuing education
for the music professionals.
Eight months after his visit, a survey found the congregation
satisfied with the program, says Bacon.
When Slegers consults, he makes a point to involve everyone who
wants to be involved, including ministers, religious educators, governing
boards, music professionals, and congregation members. "I try to accentuate the
positive. Most churches that call me are ready to move forward. I make sure the
music professionals know that I'm not there to get anybody fired."
After his consultations Slegers suggests things for a congregation
to do immediately, plus a five-year plan. Mistakes that congregations make with
music programs include allowing one person or group to inject too much personal
preference. "Often I'm called because there's been a steady diet of one kind of
music. We have a new generation that's grown up on multicultural music. When we
open the door to all kinds of culture we show visitors we're open to them as
Mark Slegers can be reached via the First Unitarian Church of Portland website or phone (503)
228-6389. Annual conferences of the UU Musicians Network (UUMN) provide opportunities
to learn about various kinds of music. Contact UUMN at (800) 969-UUMN or via the UU Musicians Network.
For more information contact interconnections @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Wednesday, September 14, 2011.
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