So that the obsession may cease, here follows the last song-by-song review of hymns from Singing the Journey, the UUA’s new hymnal supplement. For other installments, see the bar over on the left.
1068: Rising Green
Absolutely gorgeous, words and music both. This hymn is sure to become a favorite - an accessible, yet beautifully musical melody, with a nice flowing accompaniment that provides good support. I would suggest a slight lift at the end of the first phrase; it’s a note that wants holding out just a bit longer than notated. And don’t sing it too slow!
1069-1073: Earth Centered Chants
There are five chants here that the notes say can be sung together. The notes have the numbers of the pieces wrong, though (1068-1072 instead of 1069-173), suggesting a late addition or subtraction from the book.
As a group, these don’t do a whole lot for me. Some are better than others, as I shall go into below, but I wonder at the choice to devote five slots to basically the same music. It’s interesting that they can be overlapped, but they’re different lengths, markedly different notated tempos, and there are no suggestions listed as to how one might make this happen in a congregational setting. A choir could probably put something really neat together using these pieces, but this is supposed to be group singing, right?
I’d also like to point out that while the commission who created this book may have expected a songleader or cantor in every church (see Jason Shelton’s post over at Philocrites, this is never clearly stated as an expectation in the book itself. Nor is it expressed at the UUA’s website section devoted to the book. And it’s not actually a reality in our churches - some have ‘em, some don’t, and some shudder at anything that smacks of “contemporary worship.” So to put a section in with the cryptic note that “All of these chants may be sung at the same time” adds needless confusion to what has been billed as a congregational resource, not merely one for professional/volunteer music staff.
To my mind, teaching a song or songs during a service is disruptive. The material has to merit that kind of attention in disturbing the flow of carefully planned liturgy. None of these chants speak to me in such a way as to be worth it.
1069: Ancient Mother
Most will recognize this from a quite effective choral arrangement popular in UU choirs. The plain chant is okay, where the choral piece is striking. This would be fine as a response to a reading, but don’t choose it as a stand alone hymn.
1070: Mother I Feel You
This is nice, but very poorly notated. Do we sing the verses all in a row, then the “heyas,” or repeat the “heya” after each verse, or sing them together as a two part hymn? It could be done all three ways, but needs to perhaps notate one and offer suggestions for the others in notes. As it’s written here, there has to be explanation rather than “Rise and sing!”
1071: On the Dusty Earth Drum
Not bad, but an odd second phrase. Will sound pretty good as a round. Nothing that special.
1072: Evening Breeze
Nice, short, a good round.
1073: The Earth is Our Mother
The only real chant-sounding piece in this group, but far far far too long with all six verses. Either do just the first three, where the words of verse two add on to verse one and the third is a repeat of the first, or do the first, fourth, fifth and sixth verses.
The Last Hymn!!!
1074: Turn the World Around
I love this song. I love the Muppets singing this song. I love singing this song with lots of other people.
And I wanted to be able to end this series with that. However, this arrangement of this song I find extremely disappointing.
It’s notated as a six page hymn with no less than TEN repeats.
The song is supposed to be sung in the three main parts, then put all together with everyone singing the part they like best. This, however, is both too structured, as to the ordering of what gets repeated where and when and how many times, and not structured enough, as to not showing where parts should really overlap. So it ends up as a confusing road map that doesn’t really get you anywhere. The piano is definitely accessible, but the format just falls flat. This is particularly true in the second to last section, where the piano just holds chords - relying on the congregational vocal to supply the momentum rather than supporting it. The accompanist could play unison octaves here to help drive the thing along.
But really, I would leave this lie and ask the choir to sing the very nice choral version, inviting the congregation to sing along. And so relegate this to mid-sized and up churches, when we could have had a rendition that would work in smaller churches.
I’m very sad about this.
And now a brief word of ending for the series, though I may have to write a full-on round up post.
My reviews have obviously been mixed for this book. There are things I love love love and things I HATE, and all manner of reactions in between. Please do not take my sometimes negative words as any kind of slam on the work done by the very talented and dedicated members of the commission which created this resource. They were given a project and a very very limited amount of time and resources with which to complete it, and this is the result - a bit of a mixed bag, but with lots of blood, sweat, and tears poured over top.
I would hope that the mostly positive reception to the book from all over the denomination will lead to a greater commitment of resources to its revision, and/or a more carefully planned development of the next full hymnal.
I applaud all those who worked on this resource. I applaud all those whose music is included. I don’t like all of it, but I don’t have to. Neither do you, and neither do all the people who were on the commission. But it was a ton of work, and I applaud that commitment and effort and talent which made it happen.
And that, my dear friends, is that. Please chime in with your own thoughts and experiences with this music.