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How Singing the Journey Came to Be

Kenneth Herman, Past President
Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network (UUMN)

In September 2003, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President William Sinkford appointed a Task Force of six Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network members, Leon Burke, Jeannie Gagné, Rev. Dennis Hamilton, Ken Herman, Rev. Jason Shelton, and Barbara Wagner (chair), to produce a music supplement to the current Unitarian Universalist (UU) hymnbook Singing the Living Tradition.  President Sinkford charged the group to find fresh, invigorating music that would both stimulate and enrich worship in UU congregations.

In November of 2003, following a flurry of emails, the Task Force members had our first telephone conference.  We discussed what we would need to make this book fresh and exciting, the styles of music and the types of hymns, songs, and chants that would fulfill President Sinkford’s challenge.  We continued conversations about existing resources, modes of publicity and submission criteria.  Whenever possible, we expected the submissions, which would include guitar chords, to be submitted electronically.

In December of 2003, the Task Force released the first call for submissions to our colleagues in the UU Musicians Network (UUMN), the UU Ministers Association and to various choral lists.  This was followed by an ad in the UU World requesting songs and hymns written in the widest span of musical styles and potential uses for contemporary UU worship.  Simultaneously, the Task Force researched other hymnals, song collections, worship supplements and many other published resources.  We contacted composers and arrangers, both within the UUMN and outside its membership, whose work we knew and respected to request possible songs and arrangements.  We were delighted to tap the extraordinary amount of talent from the members of the Task Force and the UUMN, because the supplement’s production schedule was tight and the overall project budget modest.

The Task Force met face-to-face in Boston, February 23-26, 2004, the first of three such intense encounters.  We sang through the first 300 submissions, and chose 22.  We engaged in a probing discussion with President Sinkford; met with the UUA Publications staff, and discussed a future website that would provide helpful information that could not fit in the supplement’s published version.  Each of the1500 submissions that the Task Force evaluated was stripped of all identifying information (e.g., author, composer, and publisher).  It was important that we not be influenced by anything other than the quality of the music and words as we sang them together.  Submissions continued to pour in, even as we extended the final deadline to July 15, 2004.

In August of 2004, we previewed and tested some 30 select songs and hymns with our UUMN colleagues at the annual summer conference in San Antonio, Texas.  Most of the Task Force choices were overwhelmingly supported.  It was a most informative and helpful process for all of us.  Our second face-to-face meeting came immediately after that conference, and we worked for four days without a break.  We narrowed the list of the supplement’s selections and, in certain cases, assigned arrangers, including some resident composers from Boston’s esteemed Berklee School of Music.  Lois Allen, our extraordinary typesetter, joined our discussions and guided us through format challenges.

In October 2004, one year and one month after the formation of the Task Force, we returned to Boston to finalize the choices of songs and hymns with the arrangements that had been completed.  We chose the supplement’s title Singing the Journey, as well as the book’s cover color. Seventy-five pieces (songs, rounds, chants and hymns) were selected for this exciting new worship resource.  Although the size of the supplement was dictated by the project's budget, it became clear to the Task Force that the scope of the music included was actually defined by the six Sources of the Living Tradition, as found in the UUA's Purposes and Principles.  Accordingly, we organized the volume according to these six categories.

By late February 2005, all the requisite permissions had been acquired.  The book had been typeset and turned over to UUA Publications for final editing.  Delivery to the printer was scheduled for late March/ early April, so that Singing the Journey ready for the 2005 General Assembly in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Task Force is proud of the spiritual and theological breadth of this new collection:  from earth-centered chants and rounds to new arrangements of spirituals and gospel songs; from Latin American hymns of liberation theology to Jewish and Hebrew songs; from welcoming anthems of BGLT affirmation to meditative chants from the Taizé tradition; from humanist ballads to African freedom songs—and much more!  We believe this breadth reflects the healthy diversity of contemporary UU practice and belief.

The Task Force selected music that proved emotionally compelling as we sang it together. We looked for music that would speak to the heart as well as to the mind and the imagination.  In line with the Task Force's initial charge, the musical styles favor contemporary idioms, especially pop (including reggae!), jazz, blues, Latin and gospel.  We also included new compositions in more familiar worship styles by well-loved and respected contemporary UU composers.  We hope that this book will continue to inspire worship and nurture the spirit as Singing the Living Tradition has done with such acclaim for the past twelve years.

—The New Hymn Resource Task Force, April 2005

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, April 5, 2012.

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