Music and Ends

Music and Ends

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the relationship of music at UUCC to our new congregational ends, mission, and values statements. While I’d like to think that UUCC has often utilized music creatively to inspire and help lead the way in building Beloved Community, there is still more work to do. I’m proud of some of the new initiatives we’ve undertaken as a congregation with regards to our music, in particular our wonderful Spirituals Reparations program, in partnership with the Community Concert Choir of Baltimore. The director of CCCB is as energized and excited about the possibilities of our collaboration as am I. I hope that you can plan to be present for worship this coming Sunday, November 19, when the Chalice Choir offers a rousing new anthem-arrangement of the classical spiritual Great Day! 

Over the last few years, I’ve also been giving some thought as to how our Chalice Concert series might more directly reflect our congregational values in acting for justice, particularly in the manner that it contributes to dismantling oppression in our classical music institutions. If you’re a classical music lover, you may have noticed that there is a lot of conversation these days about enlarging our mainly white male European canon of classical music composers to include more living composers, female composers AND composers of color. Perusing current symphonic and chamber music program repertoire reflects some definite progress forward, and I am heartened that so many members of our younger generation of classical musicians (as evidenced by my own Facebook feed) make expansion of this classical canon one of their priorities. There is no reason that older, venerable masterworks of the past cannot share space with other worthy, yet often marginalized voices on the same programs.

When programming our Chalice Series, I have consciously reached out to find and encourage innovative programming, and am happy with much of what we have planned for this current year’s concert season. On October 7, we presented a special violin and piano concert that focused exclusively on the works of female composers, hosting two women who have made it their musical life’s work to research, locate, perform and record new and oft-neglected works for their duo combination. It was truly a unique experience to be able to listen and benefit from the perspective of female compositional voices, and there were many positive impressions of this event. Witness this concert perspective from one of our own UUCC members and Chalice Series Sustainers, Laurie Coltri:

“I connected strongly to a recent Chalice Concert featuring compositions by and performances by women. Later, I realized that the contextual nature of this music is what so affected me. Each piece was ‘about something specific’ on a personal level — a snowy afternoon, the journey of actual women from trauma to healing, and so forth. Some music by male composers is like this, but the works and performances at the concert seemed to speak more deeply to the complexity and personal nature of human experience. It reminded me of my classes in moral cognition as a graduate student in the early 1990s. At the time, research suggested that women, in particular, often express moral dilemmas in terms of specific context, compared to men. Often women press for specific facts and work-arounds that would enable more compassionate responses to moral dilemmas presented to them, rather than to search for universally applicable rules that can be applied to all situations. Both approaches are valid, but I am grateful that the concert took me to this seldom-recognized place of recognition and understanding”.

I think it is safe to say that others also experienced some of what Laurie so eloquently expresses. Yet sadly / disappointedly, less than 40 people attended this concert. Surely, classical music is a niche cultural product, yet our Chalice Series sometimes benefits from a more healthy and robust attendance and support — which of course, in turn directly (and financially) supports the values and mission of UUCC. But if the programming is a noble endeavor and DOES attempt to reflect our congregational values, I would love to see the benefit of healthier attendance. This would also help make our guest artists feel as though the mission of their important work is valued and supported. 

Coming up on Saturday, December 2, Byron Jones, a wonderful singer-musician who has performed on our series a number of times in the past, will offer a unique program titled “The American Songbook, Re-envisioned”. The title is taken from what is known and referred to as the Great American Songbook, a compendium of wonderful American song written mostly between the years 1920-1960. It is a somewhat loosely-defined canon of American songs deemed most important and influential during the golden age of jazz, musical theatre, and popular song. Even though the jazz section of this canon’s catalog reflects the contributions of some well-known black artists and composers, it remains primarily a white male compendium. 

In “re-envisioning” this American Songbook recital, Mr. Jones has painstakingly researched and programmed a “new” assortment of songs written by American composers who are either female, black or other POC, or openly LGBTQ+ musicians. This concert will reflect a more current and diverse statement of experience from a mainly 21st century perspective, and one that will showcase the beauty and depth of more often marginalized compositional voices. Won’t you consider coming out to hear and support the works of these magnificent and worthy composers? We’d love to see you there!

In beloved musical community,

One Comment

  1. Tom Benjamin

    Timely, important and very well written, Michael- thanks so much for this, and for your superb work directing the Music Ministry over these last, sometimes challenging, years. It’s been inspiring seeing and hearing the Choir, the Chalice Concerts and the other aspects of musical life at UUCC rebounding from Covid.
    The opening up and broadening of all aspects of musical life these days has been inspiring. I would love to see the distinctions between styles and genres broken down even more- and as you point out we’re experiencing that inclusiveness more and more at UUCC and in our larger community, and world.
    My two favorite quotes, from two great musicians, are: “If it sounds good it IS good.” (Duke Ellington), and “All music is folk music; I never heard no horse sing.” (Louis Armstrong). It IS a universal language.

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