Last week I attended the annual conference of the Association of Unitarian Universalist Music Ministries (AUUMM). For three days at the First UU Congregation of Ann Arbor, 150 UU musicians worshipped together, sang together, and shared ideas and expertise and inspiration.
I attended because music is so important in my life and in my ministry, and because I believe that music moves the spirit as much as any other part of what we do in our worship service. Most of the attendees at this conference were music directors, choir directors, and pianists at their UU congregations—not “ministers” by title. And they clearly see their work as a ministry: providing moving music that ministers to the needs of the congregation; and creating meaningful communal space in small musical groups such as choirs.
UU music professionals have not always received the recognition and appreciation that they deserve. I was honored to be among some amazingly talented and sensitive people at this conference, ones who rightly have a place among the most important leaders of Unitarian Universalism today: Dr. Glenn Thomas Rideout; Francisco Ruiz; Jen Heyman; Amanda Thomas.
Two moments at the retreat were especially memorable. One occurred as part of morning worship on Friday, a service dedicated to the memories of AUUMM members who have passed away. The choir sang a piece that included a litany of their names. Every name of every AUUMM member who has died was sung, feelingly, by a soloist as part of this remarkable piece of music. After each name, the choir and the congregation sang the words “you are not forgotten.” It was incredibly moving and I sat there thinking – this is the perfect tribute to a musician who has passed away: to have their name incorporated into a beautiful piece of music, sung aloud by a gathering of their beloved fellow musicians.
The second amazing moment from the retreat was the Song Circle workshop. The workshop began with the leader (Francisco Ruiz) having the participants breathe together, then hum together, then sing in cacophony, and then sing in tune with the people around us. The workshop culminated when he divided the singers into groups, taught each group a part, and improvised a song on the spot. Because of the care and intentionality of building trust and community as we made music together, the result was an ecstatic connection of creating something beautiful out of thin air.
God of singing and of breathing; God of harmony and collaboration: bless the musicians who give their time, energy and talent to Unitarian Universalist gatherings every week.
May music bless the whole world with no exceptions. May everyone know the music within them and hear the music of those around them.
Rev. Drew Frantz
Rev. Andrew Frantz
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