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 worshipweb@ uua.org.
A song written by Pablo Fernández Badillo, a Presbyterian missionary from Puerto Rico who writes in traditional and contemporary hymn styles, often including the elements of folk or popular music. Like Haydn's great oratorio The Creation, Alabanza celebrates the glory of the Creator in the magnificent flowering of the natural world. This nature is filled with the particular accents of Badillo's homeland, the duende (a smallish, purple flower) and the coquí (a small frog-like animal that makes singing sounds). Alabanza is one of 104 hymns Badillo published in 1977 in Himnario Criollo.
All Around the Child
A song for the Christmas/Solstice holiday season that might be used anytime of celebrating a birth. This piano accompaniment is an SATB four-part harmonization. A more diverse SATB choral arrangement is available from Jim Scott Music.
As We Sing of Hope and Joy
This song is also available as a choral version from Seafarer Press.
Be Ours a Religion
This song exists in several different versions, as a brief response (as it appears in the supplement) for congregation and piano; as a response for choir SATB and piano, and as an anthem for SATB choir and piano (published by Yelton-Rhodes Music). The text is by the famous 19th century Unitarian minister, Theodore Parker, and a slightly fuller version of the text is given in Singing the Living Tradition as Responsive Reading #683.
Be Thou With Us
This song is also available in an SATB version as part of a collection of 62 Responses, Benedictions, Introits and Chalice Lighting Songs. Contact the composer at tben2 @ comcast.net or 4093 Fragile Sail Way, Ellicott City, MD 21042.
Blue Boat Home
This song was born from the composer's explorations on the guitar with Hyfrodol, one of his favorite melodies that he grew up singing in church. Being primarily a contemporary folk artist, he took some rhythmic liberties with the melody, and then added his own text that refers to our life on this earth as a grand seafaring journey. From his original recording, Jason Shelton created the score, and this wonderful piano arrangement. A copy of Peter Mayer's original version of Blue Boat Home can be purchased from Peppermint or by calling (800) 633-7020. It is available in sheet music, and on the CD entitled Earth Town Square.
This song is adapted from the poem (same title) by Senagalese poet, Birago Diop. The composer writes, “Hearing this poem, for the first time at a funeral, transformed my grief and affirmed my world view which includes and reveres my ancestors. When I heard the poem a second time years later, it began to sing itself to me, and I am glad that I have been able to share what I heard with you. As often as we call the names of those who have gone on, we enliven them; but we must then learn how to experience them anew. This poem provides entre into the new experience.”
Building a New Way
A bluesy and energetic song. One might consider teaching this song by rote since the verses are somewhat repetitive.
A song discovered by a British Quaker named Elizabeth Cave. She heard the song at Greenham Common, which was a peaceful sit-in at a nuclear energy plant in England. Elizabeth Cave sent the song to the Britain Yearly Meeting children's meeting newsletter where it was published. Someone else saw it there and submitted it to Sing Out Magazine, who published it in their RISE UP SINGING collection. Nick Page’s arrangement of this round, which was premiered at General Assembly 2002, is published by Hal Leonard’s Publishing.
Busca El Amor
This song sums up the composer’s simple personal theology. Salvador Cardenal Barquero is a fifth generation Nicaraguan. He studied to be a Catholic priest as a teenager. He, as many of his generation, answered the call for regime change by forming Duo Guardabarranco with his sister Katia. His original songs explore the need for love. He is a devotee of evolving spiritual thought. He has set music to words of St Francis of Assisi, Rabindranath Tagore, and the Sanscrit Vedas (Srimad Bhaghavatam). His plaintive song Cualquier Hombre (Anyone) has poor people calling to God in all different names and "not asking for leftovers."
This can be sung as a round, or "layered," (with each line sung repeatedly by a specified group from the congregation and/or choir). The percussion parts are optional, but would be effective to include; other percussion parts can also be improvised. This is also available as part of a collection of 62 Responses, Benedictions, Introits, and Chalice Lighting Songs. Contact the composer at tben2 @ comcast.net or write 4093 Fragile Sail Way, Ellicott City, MD 21042.
A song written in 1995. The composer writes, “It was written on a day when I wasn’t doing my life very well or very gracefully. My partner and I were being quite snarley with each other; I didn’t want to be around people and was generally feeling intolerant. I was in no mood to be nice, loving, or anything of the sort. We were visiting friends who lived on a mountaintop in Northern California. The house had no power or running water, but, luckily for me, I did have a baby grand piano in fairly good tune. (It was glossy white, no less. I kept expecting Liberace to walk in). Music has always had the ability to take me out of myself (or more into myself as the case may be). It was in this spirit that I went to the piano that day. I sat there for a while and just let my fingers wander around the keys. After a while, a chord progression presented itself. As I began to feel better, I decided to ask for guidance in how to get out of the terrible mood I had succumbed to. And then came the words. They were a combination of a prayer and a plea. As I began to believe the words that I was singing, I was able to lighten up and find compassion for myself, then my partner, then the others we were with. I continued to sing the song to myself until I felt ready to carry that gentle, compassionate energy with me.”
Comfort Me has been sung in a number of settings from concerts, to worship services, to community gatherings, to healing circles. It is a song that seems to work most effectively when sung by a group. It lends itself easily to people making up and adding harmonies, and this is encouraged by the composer. It is the composer’s hope that those who sing or hear this song find that it brings them deeper into themselves and their communities.
Cuando el Pobre
This is a Roman Catholic hymn, inspired by the mid-20th century Liberation theology that sustained both people and clergy in Latin America but alarmed popes and religious conservatives in Rome. This hymn comes from a culture that has blended Christian liturgy with indigenous spirituality. In the Andean region of South America, the supreme creator is Viracocha. The legend of the Indians is that Viracocha disguised himself as a beggar and wandered the earth, weeping at the plight of his creatures. It is believed that he would return in time of trouble as stated in the song, "We see God, here by our side, walking our way."
The English translation is by the Rev. Martin A. Seltz, a Lutheran (ELCA-the U.S. non-fundamentalist Lutheran body) minister/musician in Minneapolis, MN, who made the translation for Renewing Worship Songbook, the 2003 hymn/worship supplement published by Augsburg Fortress, the publishing house of the ELCA. Seltz is also one the editors at Augsburg Fortress.
This song is the inspiration of a Muslim residing in the United States, Samir Badri. Samir recruited the composer, a Jew, to set his words to a tune, after they both were featured at a Peace rally in Arizona before the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan and then Iraq. This song has been well embraced by those who have heard it around the country. It is structured musically to allow for people who have never sung in Arabic to do so, in echo fashion. It was first sung with a rippling banjo accompaniment, then a cappella, then with percussion, and then with a band made up of musicians from Morocco and Saudi Arabia who formed to play for the Tucson Jewish Muslim Peace Walk of 2004.
This song can been shared in different ways: Energetically, meditatively, with audience singing along (as echoes after each phrase), and/or with instrumental breaks allowing for English translation during the piece. It has been sung in 3/4, 12/8, and 4/4 time. Sometimes the composer adds the one word 'tag' "aHlaam" (dreams) only at the end and sometimes the song fades out with it. At other times he uses it as a bridge to return to the verse. When unaccompanied or with only percussion “aHlaam” can become a descant under the melody. It was put there to assure people could sing at least one word in Arabic. A pause can be added before the last line, "let us die in peace.” After the U.S. invaded Iraq, the author suggested that the opening line could be chanted. It says, "Let us live as we live." In other words, don't try and change us.
- The "classical" Arabic makes the "a" sound as in "lamb" not as in "bomb."
- The "h" sound that occurs in this song (in the word "aHlam") is not the soft English "h," nor the harsh Hebrew "h.” It's expelled from the back of the throat.
- The word "nanseej" has two syllables: They can be "a" as in "can" or "e" as in "ken". The "ee" can be as in "seen" or "sin." The consonant is not as in "bridge," but as in "leisure."
- In "namoot," the "oo" is as in "root" or "fruit."
One of four songs in Singing the Journey from the Taizé tradition. Originally Taizé was a monastic community of twenty brothers, but it became a spiritual center for increasing numbers of young people who used his chants in meditative singing. The simplicity of the songs/chants and the many repetitions become a means of listening to God. It is considered better for prayer if no one directs, but it may be necessary to have a small group of singers or instrumentalists support the singing. Both keyboard and classical guitar are recommended for accompaniments. For information about this tradition, see The Taizé Community. For inforamtion about the composer, Jacques Berthier, see Vieni Spirito Creatore.
Each Night A Child Is Born
This song was written while the composer was sitting in the First Unitarian Universalist (UU) Nashville church sanctuary on Christmas Eve, 1998, which was his first Christmas working at the church. He had been shoveling snow that afternoon, which is a pretty uncommon activity in Nashville on Christmas Eve. Anyway, he took a break from shoveling and sat at the sanctuary piano. He then opened his hymnal and found Fahs' words. There was something so peaceful, so magical about that moment that this piece literally wrote itself in just a few minutes time. His choir sang it for the first time that night, and they have sung it every year since. A recording of this piece can be found on Jason Shelton's CD, The Fire of Commitment.
Earth Is Our Mother
This song is reprinted from Songs for Earthlings which is printed by Emerald Earth Publishing. Additional information can be found at Emerald Earth.
These are the words to a poem called “Walk to Caesarea” written by Hannah Senesh in Caesarea in 1943. It was later turned into this song.
This song has been reprinted from Circle of Song which is printed by Full Circle Press. Additional information can be found at Circle of Song
An affirming lullaby and has been sung around the world as an anthem of universal love and acceptance. Fred Small wrote the song in 1983 at the request of Janet Peterson, cellist and singer with the women's music group Motherlode, who wanted a song she could sing to her nine-year-old son about the freedom to live and love as we choose. Willi Zwozdesky’s arrangement of Everything Possible was originally created for the Vancouver Men’s Chorus; it is based on the performances of English folk singer, Roy Bailey.
Filled with Loving Kindness
This song was composed for the installation of Rev. Mark W. Hayes at the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Fellowship of Centre County, State College, Pennsylvania, in April, 2001. For a choral SATB arrangement, please contact Ian Riddell (iwriddell @ gmail.com).
Fire of Commitment, The
Written to mark the closing celebration of First Unitarian Universalist (UU) Nashville's 50th anniversary in 2002. Its driving rhythm and celebratory tone have made it a popular selection for ordinations and stewardship campaigns in recent years. Don't let the 5/4 time signature fool you—just count steady eighth notes and the implied 6/8 + 2/4 beat will come through quite naturally. It is highly recommended to use some form of percussion when singing this song. A djembe and shaker will do just fine, or add a full rhythm section if possible. A recording of this piece is available on Jason Shelton's CD, The Fire of Commitment.
Go Lifted Up
Written by Mortimer Barron, and he writes, “When I was music director at Murray Unitarian Universalist Church, Attleboro, MA, Natalie Sleeth's Go Now in Peace was often sung at the end of the Sunday services. Whereas I liked its words but not its music, I composed new music for this sung benediction. The congregation loved this new version and continues to sing it to this day. This new “Go Now in Peace” also became the traditional sung benediction at my present church, First Unitarian and Universalist Society of Middleboro, MA. Go Lifted Up is very easily learned by a congregation and may be accompanied by piano, organ, or guitar, or may be sung a cappella.”
How Could Anyone
A song by Alaskan singer, Libby Roderick, was composed in response to a friend in pain. It has been heard around the world, translated into many languages, and is reprinted in many books. The simple folk tune and words have been embraced by people with many types of pain, from AIDS orphans to cancer survivors and prisoners. The lyrics have been used for healing in many different settings that include: churches, hospitals, shelters, rallies, weddings, and funerals.
How Sweet the Darkness
A hymn text that was included in Singing the Living Tradition (with a tune by Vaughan Williams), and was set anew as a choral anthem in memory of those who died on September 11, 2001. The anthem, available from the composer was then reduced to a hymn version for this collection. It is assumed that Ms. Bates' poem originally referred to World War II and the terror in the skies over her native England, but the composer saw new meaning in the words, "When wings pursue their proper flight, and bring not terror, but delight," in light of the tragic event of our day. The hymn tune, MAURO, refers to Dorothy Mauro (1946-2001), a friend of the composer's family who worked and died in the World Trade Center.
This is a spiritual, says Dr. Ysaye Barnwell. She goes on to say, “Any further information [that I would give] would be in the realm of interpretation, and there are many depending on whom you talk to and/or what you are reading.”
I Know I Can
Written in the gospel style, and it is a collaborative effort between the composer, Jeannie Gagné, with lyricist, Rev. Dennis Hamilton, and arranger, Mark Freundt. It comes from hope, prayer, and a strong will. The melody came to Jeannie in about twenty minutes one evening, which she says happens rarely but when it does, she trusts it! They hope this hymn is as inspiring to sing as it was to write.
If Every Woman in the World
From Karen MacKay’s deep connection to the living tradition of West Virginia women’s music; a tradition that, in Karen’s hands and voice, continues to be the means for perpetuating the simple ancient wisdom of mountain women. In 1982, suffering harassment at work and unsure of her life’s direction, Karen spent a weekend with “Aunt Jenny” and received the wisdom that has guided her life and music ever since. “Just git out there and play yer banjer. Git out there and play yer music and give ‘em all you’ve got!” Two weeks later Karen had quit her job. A year later she had written and recorded the songs on her first album, “Annie Oakley Rides Again.”
The final song on that album was If Every Woman in the World. Karen’s strong belief in the power of women to influence global culture and bring peace to the world found a deep expression in this song, and women all over the world have responded by passing it on from woman to woman, country to country. It has been sung at the 1985 International Women’s Conference in Nairobi, as well as at retreats and gatherings throughout Canada and the United States. It was included on the CD, O Beautiful Gaia, recorded by Carolyn McDade and the women of three different bioregions in Canada and the United States. The song’s current form incorporates three new verses written especially for its inclusion in this Unitarian Universalist (UU) hymnal supplement. If Every Woman in the World portrays a powerful dream of planetary peace that begins inside the heart of each person who sings it. The most important thing to remember in singing this music is to heed the simple wisdom of “Aunt Jenny” Wilson, “Just git out there…and give ‘em all you’ve got!”
(Substantial portions of the material included here were taken from Karen MacKay’s article “A Matter of Tradition,” published in HOT WIRE, July 1985.)
In My Quiet Sorrow
Written to honor “those things which are not expressed, kept within the silence of our hearts.” Each week during the Joys and Concerns portion of the UU Society’s worship service where Ms. Gagné is Music Director (Middleboro, MA), congregants come forward to light a candle and say a few words, or, often they choose to be silent. This song was written to acknowledge the concerns or sorrows in our hearts that sometimes go unexpressed—with a prayer for support, love, and guidance. We all have times in our lives that are challenging; sometimes we need to ask for help, but we don’t know quite how or when. Sometimes we pray. This hymn can also be sung as a solo with interpretation on the melody. The composer approaches the melody with interpretation after establishing it in the first verse. Her recording of In My Quiet Sorrow can be downloaded and is on her latest CD, Must Be Love, released Spring 2005. (See Jeannie Gagne's website for purchase information.)
Can be sung as a round, or "layered" (with each line sung repeatedly by aspecified group from the congregation and/or choir). It is based on the celebrated Pachelbel Canon, and it will benefit from improvisation at the keyboard or other instruments, as well as the addition of a rhythm section. This work is also available as part of a collection of 62 Responses, Benedictions, Introits and Chalice Lighting Songs. Contact the composer at tben2 @ comcast.net or write 4093 Fragile Sail Way, Ellicott City, MD 21042.
Lean on Me
This well-known hit song was written and performed by Bill Withers on his 1972 album Still Bill. Fifteen years later, this song gained a second round of popularity when the reggae group, Club Nouveau, recorded it and took it to number one on the Billboard charts. Withers' difficult childhood in the coal mining town of Slab Folk, WV, was the inspiration for the "Lean on Me." It was written after he had moved to Los Angeles and found himself missing the strong community ethic of his hometown. The original version of the song has become a popular, inspirational anthem. It was Withers’ first (and only) Billboard Hot 100 number one single.
Let This Be a House of Peace
A slow gospel-style tune set to text that was adapted from a poem by Kenneth Patton. It is a good opening song for a service. This piece can work well with a rhythm section. It is also available as an SATB arrangement from Jim Scott Music.
May Your Life Be As a Song
This is the refrain that comes from a Russian folk song. The entire song is available in SATB or SAA from Jim Scott Music. The verses are original and the whole song adds a gentle Latin/Bossa Nova beat that is good with rhythm section. The composer likes to end concerts with this song and include the audience in the refrain and in a round.
Meditation on Breathing
This is the chorus from an original solo piece, entitled When I Breathe In, which was written in 2001 following the tragedy of September 11, 2001. This chant has been sung all over the country at various Unitarian Universalist (UU) churches and at peace rallies and marches. It was heard on the Virginia Tech campus after the massacre there in 2007. The following is the text for the verses:
One long day of terror is etched upon my heart
When I reflect on the shock that I felt
As I cried and watched the world fall apart.
Making sense of evil is no small task
Some would say, “Let’s bomb ‘em to hell”
But before we do we should look at our own past.
At times I feel bewildered like I’m lost in a dream
I search for hope in the meaning of truth
As I close my eyes and I focus on peace.
Fear’s a heavy feeling; it can eat you alive
But it can’t run and it can’t hide
If you breathe these words, then you know you’ll survive.
When I’m feeling hopeless and out of control
I clear my mind as I think on a cure
And I center in as I make love my goal.
Is war really an answer? Can we find those to blame?
All we are saying is “Give Peace a Chance”
And I pray to God as I sing this refrain.
The complete song can be obtained from the composer at: sdjones88 @ hotmail.com.
Morning Has Come
This song was composed for and debuted at a morning worship service during the 2001 UUMN conference at the Mountain in Highlands, NC. As the story goes, it had been rainy and gray all week long, but when the time came to debut this song the sun came out and shone gloriously through the chapel windows. Ah, the power of music!
It is important that the accompanist pay close attention to the rhythm patterns in this piece. The accompaniment is essentially in 12/8 time, which means there is a constant triplet feel underneath the relatively straightforward vocal lines. Hand percussion is highly effective with this song, as is a full rhythm section. If you really want to blow the church walls out, and you have the resources available, an organist can play the chorale while a pianist plays the accompaniment (listen to recordings of the Paul Winter Consort for many fine examples of this combination). When using this song in my home church, I generally have a soloist sing the first verse a capella, with much feeling and rubato, then have the ensemble come in—at tempo—as the soloist reaches the word "home." This piece has been recorded on Jason Shelton's CD, The Fire of Commitment.
Mother I Feel You
This song was written on Spencer’s Butte, Eugene, Oregon in 1985. The composer writes, “I was sitting with my friend David, looking out over the vast view of the Willamette Valley, wondering about the ancient roots of the area, talking about the original native tribes who lived there before the white settlers came. We became quiet and sat in meditation for a long time. I was shifted out of meditation dramatically when I became aware that I was singing the song Mother I Feel You Under My Feet, Mother I Hear Your Heartbeat. I sang it for a long time and was very moved by the experience. We hiked down the mountain and shared it with friends. It immediately became a chant that many people resonated with and wanted to learn and has since traveled around the world and been interpreted in many forms and languages.
Nada Te Turbe
A meditation in the traditional style of Taizé, an ecumenical French order grounded in the Protestant tradition, which is based on a popular devotional poem by Saint Teresa de Jesus (1515-1583). Teresa, born in Avila, Spain, spent her life as a Carmelite sister. She was granted sainthood in 1622. That a leading light of the Counterreformation is embraced by a Protestant movement is a significant step on the path of religious understanding. For more information about Taizé, see De Noche. For information about the composer, Jacquers Berthier, see De Noche.
O Brother Sun
This song is based on a well-known poem by St. Francis of Assisi. Sharon Anway wrote these lyrics for the Feast Day of St. Francis and adapted them to the Scottish tune Ye Banks and Braes at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cedar Falls, IA, where Sharon is director of Music Ministry and Composer-in-Residence, and hosts an annual St. Francis Day service that includes blessing animals. The St. Luke’s Choir debuted O Brother Sun in October of 2002.
On the Dusty Earth Drum
A hymn text that originally appeared in Singing the Living Tradition in a much more traditional chorale tune setting. This version is in the style of many earth-centered chants, and works well with a hand drum keeping a "heartbeat" pattern. The round is optional, but if used it should begin with the fourth verse.
Oneness of Everything, The
This is an eco-anthem that works well or group singing or a solo voice. The traditional hymn style melody was intended to have a more contemporary feel, not too somber, with steady folk/rock rhythm. SAA, SATB, or solo/SATB arrangements are available from Jim Scott Music.
Open My Heart
This song, like many other rounds, is most effective when the accompaniment is improvised and the voices are cued so that the energy slowly rises and eventually subsides. Performers are encouraged to use more than just the keyboard for accompaniment. Open My Heart was first performed at the Prescott Unity Church.
Open the Window
Composed in 1997 in Cuzzago, Italy, this is the title song of Elise Witt's 8th recording on the EMWorld Records label. Open the Window was inspired by a Spiritual from the Georgia Sea Islands called Heist the Window, Noah. Though Elise's version uses only one phrase from the original Spiritual, it keeps the intention of naming situations in our lives, personal and global, that need opening for the dove to fly in, for us to find peace.
Elise performs this song "a cappella" in almost every concert, and she always gets the audience singing and signing (American Sign Language) along with her in glorious harmonies. It is a stirring cry for peace, and can be sung by anyone and everyone. One of the most exciting performances of the piece was a performance with the Atlanta All Star Gospel Choir. It was also performed by the Young Singers of Callanwolde, and has been used often in schools. It has been translated into many languages (including Arabic, Bosnian, Spanish, and French), and it is open ended for students and singers to add their own verses about situations in their lives that need a visit from the dove of peace. The Unitarian Universalist congregations of Auburn and Montgomery, AL, hosted a community singing workshop and concert with Elise, where they learned Open the Window. They now use the song regularly with their choirs and in congregational singing.
Open the Window can be accompanied by instruments (as in this calypso version), but Elise almost always performs it a capella and teaches the audience to being her accompaniment. It is also greatly enhanced with the addition of Sign Language. Electronic versions of the song can be heard at Elisa Witt's website and eFolkmusic.
Praise in Springtime
A song which can be sung either as a choir anthem or a congregational song, is part of a collection of 62 Responses, Benedictions, Introits, and Chalice Lighting Songs. Contact the composer at tben2 @ comcast.net or write 4093 Fragile Sail Way, Ellicott City, MD 21042.
Profetiza, Pueblo Mío
Written in 1975 and first sung at the II National Convention of Spanish Speaking Catholics in Washington, DC.
A song by the late Rabbi Shalome Carlebach, comes from a musical village tht he founded in Israel. It is the birthplace of many Jewish songs enjoyed around the world. The Hebrew word "tshuva," often translated as repentance during Yom Kippur, literally means "return." This has a deeply spiritual sense of coming back to the source of our being to re-establish right relationship with yourself and others.
Written in 1983, the composer shares these words, “Earth shakes out a mantle of green—each blade of grass true to the integrity within, yet together with others is the rise of spring from winter's urging. Our coming is with the grass—the common which persists, unexalted, but with the essence of life. Our humanness, our rhythms and dreams, the faith which nurtures our ardent love and hope for life—all this we share with earth community, of which we are natural and connected beings."
Rivers of Babylon
This title refers to a time in the 6th-5th centuries B.C.E., when the Jewish people were led off into exile following the destruction of their nation and temple. These experiences produced a literature, as reflected in Psalm 137, “by the rivers of Babylon...” that expressed their desire for repentance and reconciliation with God, and a return to the land of Judah. It is a popular church tune in Jamaica. Rastafarians who reside there sing it all the time. This tune was popularized in the U.S. by its inclusion in a movie The Harder They Come starring reggae great, Jimmy Cliff. The most notable version of "Rivers of Babylon" was recorded by The Melodians, a famous Jamaican singing group. The soundtrack album is still available in the U.S. from Island Records (314) 586-1582 (another version is available through Amazon).
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.
Answering the Call of Love (formerly: 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.
There is a Balm in Gilead
The song title refers to an ancient trade item such as was carried by the caravan of merchants to whom Joseph was sold. It is likely that it is what is now known as balsam of Mecca from a tree native to southern Arabia. In Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, The Raven, a character believes that the balm of Gilead can heal his broken heart from the loss of his lover’s death.
A Zulu chant written by Joseph Shabalala on trip to New York City in 1988. He missed his home in South Africa, and with Apartheid still in effect, he did not know if he would ever be allowed to return. He said, “Be still my heart, even here I am at home.” You wouldn’t think that such a short song would have so much meaning behind it, but we’re talking a different paradigm than our paradigm of wordy hymns. The power in chants like Thula Klizeo is in the depth of the meaning, its connection to the traditions of the past and its defiance for a better tomorrow.
The song should be repeated a number of times! It should be performed a cappella with no percussion. Nick Page learned this song from Shabalala by rote, and Nick recommends teaching it by rote. It can be used in a procession as well as a dance. There are two different versions of the dance which can be found in the following sources: Sing and Shine On published by World Music Press and from Circle of Song printed by Full Circle Press. Additional information can be found at Circle of Song.
Turn the World Around
An arrangement of the classic Harry Belafonte tune, which was first performed when he appeared as the guest host of the Muppet Show in 1977. As the song was being introduced on the show, Belafonte was asked where he gets his ideas for his songs, "Well, they don't come easily, you have to get inspired. Like the song we're going to do next; I discovered that song in Africa. I was in a country called Guinea; I went deep into the interior of the country and in a little village, I met with a storyteller. And that storyteller went way back into African tradition and African mythology and began to tell the story about the fire, which means the sun, and about the water and about the earth and that he pointed out that all these things put together turn the world around. And that all of us are here for a very, very short time and in that time when we're here, there really isn't any difference in any of us if we take time out to understand each other. And the question is, do I know who you are, do you know who I am, and we care about each other? Cause if we do, together, we can turn the world around."
This song is the refrain of a short text from a 9th-century Latin hymn for the Offices, those monastic services said or sung at eight intervals each day, following the Rule of St. Benedict, 535 C.E. For information about theTaizé tradition, see De Noche; for information about the composer, Jacques Berthier, see Vieni Spirito Creatore.
Vieni Spirito Creatore
One of four songs in Singing the Journey which comes from theTaizé tradition (see De Noche). Jacques Berthier (1923-1994) became the principal composer for theTaizé monastic community in the south of France. A celebrated liturgical composer, Berthier served as organist for the Church of St. Ignatius, the Jesuit Church in Paris, from 1961 until his death in 1994. In 1975, the brothers ofTaizé charged Berthier to "write simple chants to be sung by the young folk who come every summer toTaizé from every part of the world." The vast collection of this simple, heartfelt music makes it true effect through calm repetition. It is the music of meditation.
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, and...so in spite of our uniqueness, we come from and share every experience that human kind has ever had. In this way, we are one.”
We Give Thanks
Written in the fall of 2000 at a ministers' retreat in Cazenovia, New York. During our mealtimes, colleagues would take turns to offer a prayer or song to give thanks for the bountiful food and abundant friendship we shared with one another. The composer writes, “I had volunteered to offer something for a breakfast blessing, however, on the morning of the breakfast I was responsible for, I still wasn't sure what it would be. I awoke early that day and, as I often do, took a morning walk. Many of the songs I write emerge in my walking time, the rhythm of my steps creating a background beat, my surroundings offering inspiration. That morning it was exceptionally foggy, it had rained the night before and everything was drenched, heavy and spectacularly beautiful. That morning We Give Thanks started singing in me as I walked. The original words for the song were:
Oh we give thanks (echo)
For the fog and rain (echo)
For the placid lake, (echo)
For joy and pain (echo)
For the food we share (echo)
With love and care (echo)
Oh we give thanks (echo)
For the fog and rain (echo)
We sang it together in the dining hall as a call and response.
I have shared the song at congregational events and conferences across North America and have adapted it as needed (depending on the weather and locale—it's been "wind and sun/learning and fun.") In 2003, I adapted the song for our local neighborhood association's outdoor winter and summer solstice celebrations. Those versions go like this:
Oh we give thanks (echo)
For this shortest day (echo)
For the solstice tree (echo)
Children at play (echo)
For birds that sing (echo)
The promise of spring (echo)
Oh we give thanks (echo)
For this shortest day (echo)
Oh we give thanks (echo)
For this longest day (echo)
For the gentle breeze (echo)
Children at play (echo)
Good bye to spring (echo)
To summer we sing (echo)
Oh we give thanks (echo)
For this longest day (echo)
When I submitted "We Give Thanks" to be considered for the UUA's new hymnal supplement, I again altered the words—this time to be a more general song of praise and thanksgiving. The newest words (written in the summer of 2004) are:
Oh we give thanks for this precious day
For all gather'd here and those far away
For this time* we share, with love and care
Oh we give thanks for this precious day
(the word "time" can be replaced with "food" to be used as a meal blessing")
Please feel free to use any of the verses above-as a call and response or a unison song. It can be sung to begin and close meetings, as a blessing over food, in worship, in personal devotion, anywhere it moves you!
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, phillipnpalmer @ hotmail.com.
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).