• Each month over the coming year we'll feature a composer who writes paperless music! While you may recognize a few names from our song collections and workshops, we're especially excited to share new compositional voices bringing breadth, depth and richness to an evolving body of music sung without paper. Each composer has generously agreed to offer a free piece to the MMC community; others can be purchased from the composer directly or found in existing resources. We hope you'll enjoy the videos and sample scores, and find many new songs to share with your community.

    About Bret Hesla:

    Composer/songleader Bret Hesla leads singing for groups of ordinary people. With guitar and banjo, he has spent much of the past 30 years collecting, writing, songleading and performing music on issues of peace, justice and sustainable living, in gatherings of community groups, faith communities, schools, peace/justice groups.

    Bret weaves music into everyday community life. Bret works to create a culture of singing both in the community at large, faith-based communities, and within organizations working on social change. In 2010 he co-founded Minnesota Community Sings, where he is leading monthly sings and working with other songleaders to promote community singing by ordinary people in public places. Bret has worked for over 15 years with St. Paul-based Advocating Change Together, using songleading and collective songwriting to advance civil rights and self-advocacy for people with developmental disabilities. He was a founding member of the nationally-acclaimed music group Bread for the Journey, a Minneapolis-based group that specialized in teaching songs of faith, hope, justice and inclusion from progressive Christian communities around the world. Bret is a frequent worship music leader at churches, and when not doing that, volunteers at his home church in south Minneapolis.

    Bret is a singers' songwriter, not a "singer songwriter." He writes songs meant to be sung by groups big and small (activists, passivists, revelers, churches, schools, camps, community choirs, neighborhood parties). The melodies are singable by average voices --and memorable. The lyrics reflect a commitment to community, peace, care of the earth, social justice and fishing. The keepers are easily learned and widely used, and appear in numerous publications and recordings. Many of his songs can be sung with no printed paper.


    Pave the Way With Branches ©1999 [video above]

    This song uses some the words/themes of Jesus including when he announced his plans in Luke 4 to release the captives and set free the oppressed. Churches have used it for Palm Sunday and some groups have substituted the word "justice" for "Jesus" and used it at more political and social justice gatherings. It's a simple structure, so you should feel free to add your own verses to fit the justice work you're involved with in your community.

    You can sing it a cappella or with instruments. Once you get the song going with voices and folks feel confident, layer in the percussion (clave, shaker, conga, bell). Then start to process on your preplanned route.

    Click here for a sample score. Purchase it on Bret's website if you plan to sing it! 


    Pour Out Your Heart ©2011

    I wrote this song as part of a commission for Faith Mennonite Church in Minneapolis, MN, for their 50th Anniversary. It's a church in the heart of the city, a block from the great Mississippi river. One of their theme verses was from the book of Lamentations 2:18-19.  Cry aloud to the Lord! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night....pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord.

    Click here for a sample score. Purchase it on Bret's website and read more about the inspiration for the song. 


    Give us our daily bread ©2003

    Contexts for this song --a sung prayer-- could include weekly communion, feeding of the 5000 text, or for any occasion lifting up the importance of sharing our abundance. To teach, I first sing it once through. Then I have folks listen to and echo back that last line. Then go back and teach the first three lines (call/ echo). After you've taught the song, a cantor can call out succeeding verses in the spaces between phrases, and the whole thing can proceed with no paper. Don't take it too fast.

    Click here for a free download of the score, graciously provided by Bret.


    Little By Little ©2003

    This song lifts up this vision of small steps leading to deep change. It is inspired by a book called: By Little and By Little: The selected writings of Dorothy Day. The book is comprised of essays describing her persistent following of active nonviolence, and her focusing on the small, ordinary acts and the 'holy sublimity of the everyday.' This song was written as part of a collaboration with Jack Nelson Pallmeyer, who has written widely about the nonviolent vision of Jesus, who insisted that kingdom of god would be something ordinary and easily missed (yeast, small seeds), not dominating and all powerful. [see e.g.: Worship in the Spirit of Jesus: Theology Liturgy and Songs Without Violence.]

    Churches have used this for a sending song. It's also a favorite among very young children at several schools I know of. Kids really respond to this idea that daily habits of peace and justice can change the world.  Depending on the verses, it works in faith-based or secular setting.

    Click here for a sample score. Purchase it on Bret's website if you plan to sing it!


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