What is UU Music?

Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence

David A. Mix Barrington and Mike Nagy

11 December 2011

Here is the first reflection, "How Do UU's Make Music?" for the service of 11 December 2011.

This service began with a question from Mike Nagy -- "What is UU Music?" A good place to start, it seems, is with some facts about how we UU's make music, in services and out.

The biggest musical element in most of our services is provided by our music director Gregory Hayes, an experienced classical keyboardist. Greg plays our pipe organ, the piano, his harpsichord, and a small organ, either solo, in a chamber group, or accompanying a singer, singers, or other musicians. His music is mostly, but far from exclusively, in the classical tradition. When not with us, Greg teaches music at Dartmouth College and travels to perform all over the Northeast.

Along with playing the music, Greg makes sure that we are informed about the context of the pieces he plays. Since his notes would not fit onto the order of meeting today, he wanted us to point out that Daniel Pinkham and Arthur Foote, the composers of today's keyboard music, were each about as Unitarian as one could be. Arthur Foote's mother was a friend of Emerson, his brother was the minister at King's Chapel in Boston, and he was the organist and choir master at First Church Unitarian in Boston. Pinkham was music director at King's Chapel from 1952 to 2000 as well as head of early music at New England Conservatory.

Some years ago we had a third service at 4:00 each Sunday, where jazz pianist Ellen Cogan provided different music for a service with the same texts as in the morning.

We often have guest musicians -- classical musicians brought in by Greg, including a trumpeter for the most festive occasions. Most years Greg has a Music Sunday service with a chamber work in place of a sermon. Professional UU folksinger Greg Greenway gave a entire service of his own music last year. Our building is used for concerts, most recently one by Holly Near.

Our lay-led services like this one often feature lay and lay-led music. Elaine and Arjuna have both been the primary musicians for lay-led services. Chris Stetson has graced numerous services with a variety of recorders, lutes, and guitars. Many people, including Janet Spongberg, John Gaustad, and Flora Majunder, have played the piano for hymns.

Our choir, of which Dave is a member, practices every week and performs every few weeks, a cappella and accompanied, in the classical, gospel, and world music traditions. Greg has led the choir for several years and Flora led it for many years before that. We also have a Children's Choir, led by Noele Sandoz, that performs in services.

Our Youth Group and Coming of Age services usually feature young musicians from our society, playing and singing both classical and popular works.

Our summer services have an even wider variety of musicians, suited to the wider variety of formats, and often also use recorded music. Karl Drumm has played piano for Dave's summer services for many years. Local recording artists Roger Saloom and Nerissa Nields have both performed in summer services.

In terms of number of participants, the largest musical component of our services is hymn singing. We mostly sing out of our two hymnals, about which we'll hear more later. For many of us, hymn singing is the most intentional music-making we do in a given week.

Finally, all of us make music on our own, even singing in the shower. In a word of recorded music, it's remarkable how many of us participate in musical groups, harkening back to a century ago when most of the music in a person's life cam from their friends and neighbors. At choir practice this week, a quick survey counted the following musical groups that USNF people participate in (not counting several more of Greg's):

The UU jazz band, Valley Light Opera, the Valley Guitar Orchestra, the Hampshire Choral Society, Pioneer Valley Cappella, the Doug Hewitt Group, Florence Community Band, Expandible Brass Band, Valley Jazz Choir, the Northamptones, Smith College Gamelan, Children's Chorus of Springfield, Old Time Tunes, and the Valley Jazz Divas. Others perform solo, from Karl playing piano at nursing and veteran's homes to Carol Smith singing in night clubs.

If UU music is music made by UU's, there is certainly a lot of it.

Last modified 5 January 2012