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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


We Are...

This is the last song in a suite that began with the lyric, “Lawd, it’s midnight. A dark and fear filled midnight. Lawd, it’s a midnight without stars.” Dr. Barnwell wanted to create a complete circle of experience, and so she wrote “for each child that’s born, a morning star rises...” This phrase is meant to establish hope, and it defines the uniqueness of each one of us. No matter what our race, culture or ethnicity, each one of us has been called into being and are the sum total of all who came before. In the composer’s words, “Each and every one of us stands atop a lineage that has had at its core, mothers and fathers and teachers and dreamers and shamans and healers and builders and warriors and thinkers and, and, in spite of our uniqueness, we come from and share every experience that human kind has ever had. In this way, we are one.”

When I Am Frightened

This song, also titled Then I May Learn, was commissioned in 1999 by the First Unitarian Church of Dallas for their Hymnal Supplement (Voices of the Spirit) which was published for their Centennial Celebration. Because of her life-long commitment to working with and empowering youth, Shelley took the opportunity to write a piece based on children's yearning for truth, respect, and engagement with adults. In keeping with a philosophy that "children are watching, what are they learning?", Then I May Learn is meant as a reminder that all children deserve and need compassion, acceptance, commitment...and that they often learn to both give and receive these essential elements of relationship through the simple act of observation.

The song works well with guitar accompaniment, and with improvised harmonies. The Mountain Quartet utilizes a large screen PowerPoint as they sing the song, with poignant photos of children all over the world in scenes of both war and peace, underscoring and emphasizing the text.

When Our Heart is in a Holy Place

Written in 1996, this song invites us to see ourselves in others. As we come to understand that all people have wisdom to share and stories to tell—regardless of culture, race, social status, or faith—we begin to realize how important our commonalities are, and how interwoven our lives. When we open ourselves to this sacred idea, then “our heart is in a holy place.” This theme of mutual respect and understanding is a basic value of Unitarian Universalists, who continually strive to be more inclusive and tolerant. The universal message of “Holy Place makes it a relevant choice for multi-faith and multicultural gatherings as well.

An alternative arrangement of When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place features two simple harmony parts suitable for congregational singing. This version, and other material by Joyce Poley, is available through her website at Song Style Music.

When the Spirit Says Do

This was one of the songs that was used during the Civil Rights Era at virtually every demonstration, mass meeting of activists, and march in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Singing songs helped give the activists strength and a sense of self. For more detailed information, you may explore the book, When the Spirit Says Sing!: The Role of Freedom Songs in the Civil Rights Movement, written by Kerran L. Sanger.

When Will the Fighting Cease?

This song was written as a reaction to the buildup of the invasion of Iraq.

Where Do We Come From?

The lyrics of this song come from the French title of a famous oil painting by Paul Gauguin created in Tahiti in 1997 and 1998. It is currently housed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA. The three groups of women, read from the right to left, represent the three questions posed in the title of the painting. The women with the child represent the beginning of life "Where Do We Come From?" The middle group, represent the daily existence of adulthood "What Are We?" The old woman facing death is asking, "Where Are We Going?"

This piece can be sung in a three or four part round, in any combination of voices, and the composer encourages use of percussion. There are virtually infinite possibilities with this piece by staggering entrances.

Winter Solstice Chant

Written for the 2003 Winter Solstice Celebration at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County, this arrangement of the chant for SATB choir and piano (with optional harp and small percussion) can be obtained from the composer,


Written by Ghanaian drummer Sol Amarifio, Woyaya is the title song of a 1971 album by Oisibisa, a musical group of Ghanaian and Caribbean musicians. It was frequently heard in work camps throughout central West Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. The arrangement in Singing the Journey comes from the version by Ysaye Barnwell (of Sweet Honey in the Rock). “Woyaya,” like many other African scat syllables, can have many meanings. According to the song’s composer, it means “We are going.”  This song is frequently used in bridging ceremonies (UU ceremonies of passage from youth to young adulthood).

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Last updated on Monday, April 9, 2012.

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