Because of my role as music provider, I've become more knowledagable about what is on offer, titles of tunes and metres, and appropriate uses. (My images, by the way, are not of Unitarians but high quality music providers - singers - in the Anglican sphere.)
Last week I assessed a service. It meant filling in a form, but I did it in a wordy way. I'd made notes from behind the curtain and because the service taker added verses and lines to hymns and presented in an unusual way it needed more response. The chap was trying very hard, but he didn't negotiate with me, as the music provider, nor did he do any other investigation regarding how his service might be appropriate. He provided the music, and it was not right, and had left me in the dark, leading to poor delivery, and his five sermonettes to provide a comprehensive history of Florence Nightingale were not short and sweet to help a narrative, but were five because he had too much material. This chap also bellowed out, "Wake up" at the start of the service, that caused the microphone to humm. Good job I wasn't wearing the headphones or anyone using the loop. I'm hoping no serious damage was done to the microphone (taken to our technician) or system.
But what the service helped show was that a worship service belongs not to the provider but to the congregation, and they make it happen. Service takers and providers of the music are facilitators of their worship. In a Unitarian setting it helps to know something of the span of the congregation and also its practices. Variety is possible but it has to be within reach of those sat.
By having different service providers we get variety of content and delivery. It does mean, though, each having to know and negotiate with our system, and it all happen on time without fail.
I do wonder about the appeal of the standard service. It is actually very difficult to replace the hymn sandwich or a deliberate liturgical alternative. I prefer something more liturgical but I want wider appeal. I try to innovate with music, by pushing the boundaries (it seems to be hymns plus Classic FM and this is over-restrictive), but my usual rule is to facilitate the service taker and offer occasional advice. I try to include some hymns with choir backing, from Unitarian CDs, along with good quality organ or piano music - occasionally this is made by me. It is possible to get a MIDI sample, read its notes in music composing software, edit them, change the instrument/s and add instruments, change the speed and then output a decent piece (usually organ or piano, but some woodwind can be excellent). The verses are either repeated within the scores or in sound editing software later. I always prefer to do the introduction within the music composer by some copying and pasting a section of verse. A constant issue is speed and not going too 'high' for voices. Hymns for Living (1985) is a little high, Sing Your Faith (2009) is a little low.
This Sunday is a lot simpler than last, and with someone who's taken a service many times and indeed was once in the congregation. He hasn't been so prescriptive about music as usual, but a preference for Mozart means much Mozart. I don't know about his theme, other than three of four hymns refering to truth, and one to summer, but given the date I put in some Charles Ives and Copland - one of which may be heard and one of which might play softly while people have coffee afterwards. I negotiated one hymn to be via Angel's Song rather than the tough to sing Deo Gracias (Agincourt).
A lot of our hymns are refreshing to ex-Christians and those who have an open view of faith. They are rather direct and not very supernatural. But I do wonder about the appeal of the format and whether they attract. Thinking of alternatives is the harder part. Only a minority go for a meditation class and a short talk - these are not compelling alternatives. Cathedrals do well these days, but I think they are populated from refusniks leaving behind usual churches to the ideologically committed and those who are club-joiners. Still, we might enrich our services more with better music.
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