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Song Information

The information about the sources and the particular context of each song is a work in progress. These summaries, variously based on the observations of composers, writers, and/or authoritative interpreters of each song, are provided to assist in the presentation, teaching, and performance of this music. We welcome additional or corrective information to this resource, which may be sent to



The song title refers to a Spanish-language setting of the Sanctus portion of the Roman Catholic Mass which is from a complete Mass cycle Misa Popular Salvadorena composed in 1968 by Guillermo Cuéllar. It was commissioned by the late archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, Oscar Romeros (1917-1980), who was martyred for his devotion to the poor and his political advocacy for their plight. The verses of this Sanctus expand the usual Mass-text with the ideas of liberation theology, of which Romeros was an ardent advocate. "To know God is to do justice," was his theological mantra.

Shall We Gather at the River

A traditional American hymn, and both music and text are attributed to Robert Lowry (1826-1899), a Baptist preacher of some brilliance. In 1864, while Lowry was pastor of Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, he wrote this hymn during a disastrous epidemic in New York City. The river to which the hymn alludes is the "river of life" described in the final chapter of the Book of Revelation. Lowry is also acknowledged as the source of the popular hymn How Can I Keep from Singing, #108 in Singing the Living Tradition.


A South African freedom song that comes from the Apartheid Era. It is not clear whether the original composition was in Zulu or Afrikaans, although today we sing it in Zulu and English. It is said to have been composed by Andries van Tonder around 1950. However, we credit Anders Nyberg, musical director of Fjedur, a Swedish choral group, with discovering it on one of his trips to Cape Town. In 1984 he arranged it for a Western four-voice setting.

The structure of "Siyahamba" is cyclic rather than sequential. The lyrics consist of one phrase that is repeated with permutations. Cyclical forms emphasize a spirit of community and allow for a physical response during the performance. This may explain this song’s popularity as a processional and offertory as well as a protest or marching song. "Siyahamba" is appropriate for both sacred and secular settings for it could be sung, "We are standing in the light of peace." The song may be accompanied by drums, bell, and shakers; and it can be sung a cappella with male voices which is favored by the Zulu tradition.

Standing on the Side of Love

Written in 2004 to honor the Reverend William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, for his prophetic witness in being one of the leading voices of our movement in the Marriage Equality issue. It has since become something of an anthem for the movement, taking a central role in several congregational initiatives around the country. It has been recorded on Jason Shelton's CD, The Fire of Commitment, and will also be featured on a new recording by the Buffalo Gay Men's Chorus.

The song has a lilting pop style, and singers and congregations should take care not to sing it too heavily. A lighter, more relaxed sound will make the rhythms clearer and more easily sung. I generally have a soloist sing the verses, invite the congregation to sing the chorus, and use a choir for the background parts (available in a separately published choral octavo from Yelton Rhodes Music). The use of a full rhythm section (piano, bass, and drum set) is most effective and highly recommended.

Székely Áldás (Székely Blessing)

A traditional Hungarian blessing, known in Transylvania as the Házi Áldás, or “House Blessing.” This setting of the blessing is a “partner song” with the text in Hungarian in one part and in English in the other part. It was composed for the choir of First Parish in Concord, MA on the occasion of their Musical Pilgrimage to Transylvania in the summer of 2002. The song is dedicated to Concord’s partner congregation in Székelykeresztúr and to the musical pilgrims of First Parish in Concord.

The song can be performed with guitar alone, keyboard alone, or guitar and keyboard combined. Sing the Hungarian part first in unison, and then the English part. Then sing the combined parts for as long as time will allow.

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Last updated on Monday, April 9, 2012.

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