What follows is a guest blog entry by Music Ministries Director Rosi Penner Kaufman:
Every passion has a convention. Within our family, in the last year someone has been to Naka-Kon (Japanese anime convention), EquiFest (everything horse), and Trombonifide. Last July, I had my chance: I was fortunate to spend four days at the Hymn Society conference at the University of Redlands. Imagine, four days of hymn singing! Enthusiastic, deeply-moving hymn singing. It was a gathering of music leaders, hymn text writers, composers, pastors of word and music, and people who love to sing. I came away renewed, enthused and stretched.
For several decades I’ve heard folks express the fear that that congregational singing is on its way out, being replaced by performance-centered praise bands and “off-the-wall” music. Not the case for these folks. In fact, from what I’m reading and hearing from colleagues, there is a resurgence of congregational singing as people look for authentic ways to participate in worship. New texts are being written that reflect and encourage a faithful response to current culture. There are new tunes being written, both for four-part and unison singing. Not all of this new music will endure, but the fact that there is so much creativity being poured into this genre is encouraging. And there are new hymnals being published, included a new Mennonite hymnal just under way with hopes that it will be published by 2020.
There were many moving moments, but the most memorable event for me was a hymn festival that combined video and singing, “Moving pictures, everlasting song.” The leaders interspersed video excerpts that gave context to songs that brought people together in crisis: the non-violent overthrow of communism in Estonia, the resilience of the Jewish orchestras in Nazi concentration camps, the march and protest songs of the Civil Rights movement, the songs of the migrant workers, anti-Apartheid protest songs, and Native American songs. In each case, there was a common song or repertoire that brought people together. Singing provided something larger than the individuals, a common experience. The question the leaders left us with is, “Given our diverse culture, even within the church, how do we build a common repertoire?” In all of those situations, there was something recognizable that brought people together. President Obama can spontaneously launch into Amazing Grace and we all know it, but in crisis, in protest, what do we sing? In family, church, or wherever we gather, we need to keep singing.
All this leads me to what is perhaps the most enthused I’ve been for the beginning of a choir season since, well, last September. I’m always enthused about the beginning of choir rehearsals, but this year I believe I come with even more resources and ideas for ways the choir can participate in worship services and build our repertoire as a congregation. That’s what we do – the Rainbow Choir isn’t a performing group; I consider the choir part of the worship leadership. Yes, we usually sing an anthem, but I think just as important is the contribution the choir makes to enlivening the hymn singing of the congregation. I believe music can inspire and respond to the spoken word in worship, and that choral singing allows an expression that is unique.
New voices are always welcome. Our routine is that we practice from 6:45 until 8:00 on Wednesday evenings. For those who want to gather early, we have a light supper from 6:15-6:45 for a $5 donation. We sing most every Sunday from the end of September through the end of April. We don’t take attendance, but the more the merrier (and the more fun it is).
Our first rehearsal will be a little different – see the newsnotes for directions and information about our September 7 rehearsal. And between now and then, just keep singing.