Monday, August 11, 2008

Con report - UUMN 2008

So, I am back from the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network Conference of 2008!

Well, not really "back", since I didn't have to go anywhere - it was in Boston. But since it was an all-consuming affair, I feel like I got home yesterday, in a way.

It was very excellent. The conference was Tuesday evening through Sunday morning. Tuesday evening I was singing in a concert with my good friend and organist Josh Lawton, so I didn't get to the conference until Wednesday morning. The general schedule of Wed. through Fri. was as follows:

8:30 - morning service
9:00 - Either the General Meeting (Wednesday) or a speaker
10:30 - Rehearsal with Nick Page
12:00 - Lunch
1:00 - Repertoire reading sessions
2:15 - 3:30 and 3:45 - 5:00 - Workshops
5:15 - hour-long pre-dinner concert
8:00 - some special event (I only went to the Wednesday night one)

The events that were plenary sessions were uniformly excellent.
The speaker on Thursday morning was Josh Jacobson, director of the Zamir Chorale, who led us through a repertoire reading session of Jewish music, combined with a bit of history of Jewish music. The speaker on Friday morning was the Rev. Burns Stanfield from Fourth Presbyterian Church South Boston, who talked about music in worship services, basically, which sounds broad, but which was both very inspirational and specifically helpful. They were both really fabulous. The other speaker was Sam Martinborough, who gave a great presentation on cultural appropriation on Wednesday night. He is incredibly dynamic, and it was a perfect topic for a group of UU musicians. And Nick Page rehearsed us every day in preparation for the service on Sunday. He's somewhat of a legend around Boston, and he quite lived up to his reputation. And all these fabulous people are right here in Boston!

The other thing we all did together was the repertoire reading sessions, which were of course wonderful - sight-reading lots of music, and being given the octavos for everything! Free music! (Well, not exactly, considering the cost of the conference, but...) The workshop sessions, though, were much more uneven. Half were fabulous, and half were...well, pretty bad. I loved the session where I learned to play harmonica in an hour, and I also loved the handbells sessions, which gave me great ideas on how to start a handbell choir at my church. (We already have a full set, so this is one of my major goals for the upcoming year.) But some of the other sessions I went to were a complete waste of my time. The silver lining is that I am utterly determined to go present a workshop myself at next year's conference, because if you want something done right, you might as well do it yourself, right? I think I'm going to do one on "Internet Resources for Choral Musicians" because I heard a lot of people asking, "What's the CPDL?" and that's just wrong!

I also saw some people there that I already knew, which was comforting, because I didn't think I would know anybody, and I got to meet a couple of fabulous new people as well. I'm really glad I went to this conference - I came away with lots of valuable new ideas for music and repertoire and all kinds of things. And I'm already looking forward to visiting Portland during next year's conference!

The one thing that cast a shadow over the proceedings, of course, was Knoxville.

For those of you who don't know, two weeks ago a gunman opened fire at the Tennessee Valley UU Congregation during a children's musical performance of "Annie Jr." He killed two people and wounded seven others. He indicated that he attacked the UU church because of their liberal views and because they supported gays and lesbians. If you google "Knoxville UU" you will come up with more news stories than you need.

This event was in our minds, of course, during the course of the week. It particularly hit me during the first afternoon concert. Various musicians signed up to perform a piece, and the last piece on the first concert was a gay couple, both rather fine tenors, performing "Come What May" from the movie Moulin Rouge. I thought it might run the risk of being cheesy when I saw it on the program, but the performers hit just the right note, in all ways, and it was really moving. But during that piece, while I was looking up at them singing in the balcony to each other about their love, I couldn't help imagining someone coming in and shooting them mid-song. It was a terrible thought, but that's one of the effects of terrorism.

The service on Sunday was also very moving. There was a very emotional piece of music during the prayer, which started me on the road to tears. And the minister, the president of the UUA, Rev. Bill Sinkford, talked about Knoxville in his sermon. But the most difficult part for me was that right after the sermon, we sang a song called "We Are Free." It was written by a man from South Africa, and the words are "We are free, we are free, let us celebrate." To be listening to someone talk about the Knoxville shooting, and how someone had tried to attack our beliefs, and then hear about how the congregation of Knoxville responded by saying, "We will not change our beliefs - we stand on the side of love" and then sing this song, well, it was really, really hard to sing; I just wanted to sob. And if you are familiar with South African hymns, you may know that they are incredibly joyful, but with this deep heart-breaking undercurrent somewhere; it's a very eyes-wide-open sort of joy. I have never really understood it, because the harmonies are always just a few major chords, and trying to analyze or dissect them yields no insights. But because of what South African hymns carry inside them, it is just unbelievable to sing that music after you have been attacked. I can only imagine what it would be like to sing that music when you are being attacked every day, as the black South Africans were.

It was a great conference, and a great experience, although it sort of wrung me out. (Did I mention that at the end of this emotionally exhausting service, I had a small solo? Last solo in the postlude. I got through it fine, but it was tough to pull it together!) Clearly, I hope that next year's conference will not be so emotional, but I expect it will be just as educational, and I'm looking forward to it.

In conclusion, since it's Monday, and that means it's time for Monday Links, here are some well-written pieces online about the Knoxville shooting.

The UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) statement is here. There was an ad in the New York Times yesterday also taken out by the UUA with a longer statement, but at the moment I can't find it online.

RJ Eskow writes on the Huffington Post has a great post about who should bear responsibility - apparently the shooter had many books from people like Pat Robertson who spread hate speech.

PeaceBang, a UU minister and blogger that I follow regularly, has an angry post on gun control in the wake of the shooting. She also posted a lovely sermon a few days later, which while not directly about the shooting, does reference them. (I didn't know that "Israel" means "One who wrestles with God." Amazing. Incidentally, I have always loved the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel, and it might have something to do with the fact that I'm a UU.)

And finally, you can donate here to the Knoxville Relief Fund.


  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Allegra. I was at the worship service on Sunday morning at ASC and the music was exquisite. Thanks to you and your colleagues for your gifts.

  2. @ peacebang:

    Thanks for the comment! How cool to have a blogger I read regularly leave a comment. *grins*

    (Also, a fannish comment that if you ever find more spare time, I love reading Beauty Tips for Ministers. The archives won't hold me forever!)