Music that Makes Community with Young People - Part I

  • Fiona Vidal-White is a musician, Christian educator, and liturgist currently serving at Church of Our Savior in Arlington, MA. She is the author of the hymnal My Heart Sings Out and its companion leader’s guide, designed as a musical resource for all-age worship. Her passions include the welcome and formation of all God’s people, especially children and teens, through teaching and learning, hands-on in-reach, and outreach and liturgy and music.

    I certainly didn’t know the term then, but it was paperless music that drew me into both singing as a youth choir member, working with children and church music, and finally creating a hymnal of my own that focused on intergenerational singing. I was a teen when my father, a vicar in the UK, purchased Sound of Living Waters to go in our pews alongside Hymns Ancient and Modern, and us choir kids were so thrilled. We sang Seek ye First, and I Will Sing a Song unto the Lord,  We See the Lord, and Let All That is Within Me Cry Holy, as well as many of the hymns. As we developed a repertoire, we were allowed to choose the communion songs “on the fly”, which we really enjoyed.

  • Help MMC Share the Song!

  • This October Music That Makes Community collaborated with Alice Parker, a legend in the choral music world. Best known for arrangements and compositions created for the Robert Shaw Chorale, community singing has been her passion and joy for the past four decades.  

    Alice and I had the opportunity to lead Sharing the Song, a workshop for song leaders excited to nurture and sustain singing in their communities. In partnership with her non-profit Melodious Accord and Eden Theological Seminary, MMC was part of welcoming 18 song leaders to a transformative time of skill building and reflection.

    "It was the perfect wedding of instruction, inspiration, and affirmation for me as a community song leader. I take home a renewed sense of the energy and power of music." 

  • MMC Enriches Imagination!

  • While many come to our workshops expecting to learn new songs, they discover something even more transformative - new ways to build community through singing, even in unexpected places! 
    Did you have a required morning class your first year of college? The one you only survived with coffee or skipped more than you care to admit?
    Dr. Justin Yonker, a professor at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia attended MMC’s Paperless Singing/Story Sharing workshop at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in September. Inspired by our encouragement to take singing to places where it could help create community, he walked into his Intro to Astronomy class the next morning and taught a song. It didn’t take long for students to jump right in. And for the rest of the semester they sang before each class and students led songs of their own (all astronomy-themed, of course)!

  • MMC Empowers Leaders!

  • While many come to our workshops expecting to learn new songs, they discover something even more transformative - renewed confidence and creativity as leaders! 

    Consider the testimony of Sarah Brockus, a United Methodist musician who attended our fall workshop at Cross Roads Camp and Retreat Center in New Jersey:

    "I can’t thank you enough for the gift of this retreat. Our Pastor was gone this Sunday so I led almost the whole service – and the spirit moved in ways it never has before!

    The workshop gave me permission to “go with it.” I composed, I shaped – I made up whole new things in the moment that I’ve never done before. The congregation’s response was through the roof!! And they appreciated that I took time to fully teach them the songs – the listening part was extremely important 

    The communal spirit was heavenly and received positive feedback from the congregations for weeks afterward!"

  • Creative Worship Planning: Haiku as Chant

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    Jeanette Burgess is the Music Director at St. John's Lutheran Church in Atlanta, GA, a community with a lively, diverse musical life that includes paperless singing. Last year, she emailed to share a set of Advent chants created with her community. We offer them to you with her explanation of the process, hoping they'll jumpstart creative thinking as you approach the holiday season.

    At our 2017 Advent planning retreat, we read the scriptures for a given Sunday then were invited to capture our thoughts in haiku fashion (syllables in a 5-7-5 pattern). The results were amazing and four became the basis for our Advent candle lighting chants.  After deciding on melodies and considering the sparseness of the season, I limited accompaniment choosing from the following instruments: recorder, hand chime, Chinese cymbal, dingsha/finger cymbal, udu, and djembe.  

    The poems were also used as an opening worship statement and as part of the dismissal each week.

  • Singing Together Shapes our Humanity: A Preschool Workshop

  • P8271121.jpgLate last spring I got one of those invitations that just makes you want to shout, "YES!" 

    My friend Amy Baker, a fellow parishioner at St. Gregory’s, San Francisco is Program Director at Old Firehouse School, Mill Valley.  She wondered if I’d want to lead a half-day in service for all the teachers at Old Firehouse.  She wanted the work,  

    - to be rooted in brain development (why music is so fundamental for humans, why young children respond so well to music and rhythm, how we can use early childhood development to make our teaching lives easier/better/etc…)

    - very practical (specific songs, but more emphasis on learning useful principles and musical basics that smart teachers can take and use creatively)

    - and very reassuring and unintimidating (so that even people who think they know nothing about music and/or who have been told they can't sing will be comfortable integrating sung and other/rhythmical music into their classroom lives)

    What a great invitation to share Music that Makes Community’s work and discoveries with teachers who already sensed that singing together shapes our humanity! And to encourage them to risk singing more in their classes! Yes! Yes! Yes! 

    So what in the science would help us find our way? 

    Could our noticing free us from the interpretative restraint of the commonplace computer metaphor for the brain and thinking - data delivery, data storage, and data retrieval? 

    Could we shape a fragment of practice and experience that would help us discover “people-making” in our singing together (borrowing systems theorist Virginia Satir’s wonderful name for the mutual formation that we are always offering one another). 

    Would we hear whispers of “tacit knowing,” scientist-philosopher Michael Polanyi’s description of the knowing and truth that’s there before speech and gives life to personal knowledge? 

  • Composer of the Month: Kerri Meyer

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    Over the coming year the MMC blog is featuring composers who write 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, audio clips, and sample scores, and find new songs to share with your community.

    About Kerri Meyer:

    Kerri serves St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco and is a candidate for ordination. In another chapter of her life, she was the Executive Director of Mila Vocal Ensemble, a professional women's group specializing in the folk music traditions of Eastern Europe and Georgia. The Christian vocation to justice-seeking neighbor-love motivates her work and her singing. Kerri is well-known to the MMC community through several songs, including Go On Your Way in Joy, My Friends and There Is Enough. 

    Several of the songs below are from Resistance Through Preaching and Song, a project involving several MMC presenters including Kerri and Sylvia Miller-Mutia. Comprised of six pastors from various denominations, the group is harnessing the liberating, prophetic power of the gospel and the role of song in countering an empire which seeks to tell a single story about people. They believe that using scriptures to create new songs to sing in worship will help open ears to hear, tongues to proclaim, and hearts to receive the gospel anew.

  • Composer of the Month: Angela Morris

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    Over the coming year we'll regularly feature new composers who write 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, audio clips, and sample scores, and find new songs to share with your community.

    About Angela Morris:

    If Brooklyn’s music circles draw a Venn diagram, saxophonist-composer Angela Morris thrives in the loop between avant-jazz and pop. Originally from Toronto, Canada and based in NYC, she has performed throughout North America and Europe. Her vocal group Rallidae released their new album, Turned, and Was, in November 2016 on the NYC-based label Gold Bolus Recordings; their debut Paper Birds was praised by AllAboutJazz as “an exceptional debut by and exciting and innovative new band.”

    Morris is a member of Motel and TMT Trio, two collaborative trios that have respectively released albums in 2017: like you always do, I always did too by Motel (Prom Night Records), and Star Ballad by TMT Trio. Morris composes and co-leads several groups, including a 17-piece big band with Anna Webber – she is an alumna of the BMI Jazz Composer’s Workshop lead by Jim McNeely and studied composition with the Grammy-nominated jazz composer Darcy James Argue. In addition to her own projects, she performs with Helado Negro, Jason Ajemian’s Folk-Lords, Myra Melford, and Jessica Pavone. Morris also gives workshops and private lessons, serves as a presenter for Music that Makes Community, and coordinates music and liturgy at Saint Lydia's Dinner Church in Brooklyn.

  • Composer of the Month: Barbara Cates

  • IMG_1465_(2).jpgOver the coming year we'll regularly 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, audio clips and sample scores, and find many new songs to share with your community.

    About Barbara Cates:

    Barbara Cates has never thought of herself as a composer until now, but she usually has melodies rolling around in her head, and sometimes they attach themselves to words, or the right words rolling around call forth a melody. The inclusive, intuitive approach to composing at Music that Makes Community workshops have brought something forth from deep within or beyond; one song even came to her in a dream! 

    Barbara has had many musical influences: Foreign Service postings in Russia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uzbekistan, living at The Taizé Community for a time in her youth, and exposure to a wide variety of paperless musical traditions, from Jubilee Gospel to Sephardic to Georgian polyphony, at Vocal Week at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, WV.

    At home in Baltimore she is part of two faith communities: Memorial Episcopal Church, where the informal Faith@Eight and Taizé services give her a chance to experiment, and Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, where she sings in a choir with a wonderfully inclusive repertoire. She and her husband Matthew Stremba sing to their cats, Bobur and Koshka. Barbara also convenes MMC’s new Baltimore Practice Group at the Cathedral of the Incarnation.

  • Composer of the Month: Debbie Holloway

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    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, audio clips and sample scores, and find many new songs to share with your community.

    About Debbie Holloway:

    Debbie Holloway is a congregant and sometimes-composer at St. Lydia's Dinner Church in Gowanus, Brooklyn. St Lydia's is where she was first introduced to paperless congregational songleading, which meshed naturally with her other musical proclivities and interests.

    After working by day in Operations at the Museum of Food and Drink, Debbie enjoys exerting creativity in her side gigs as a freelance film critic. But her first love was music; whenever she can, she loves to make music with her husband or siblings, participate in choral singing, and support the music of other artists. Congregational songleading holds a special place in her heart because of its nonperformative aspect, simplicity, and the trust and camaraderie it builds within a community. 

    While these songs are her first few efforts, she hopes these will be the first of many.

  • Composer of the Month: Bret Hesla

  • 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.

  • Singing in Community: a New Paperless Resource

  • This post originally appeared on the ELCA Worship Blog. Paul Vasile is the Executive Director of Music that Makes Community.

    For over ten years Music That Makes Community has hosted workshops around the United States and Canada inviting participants to experience the power of paperless singing. The work started with a question and a challenge: how could we invite worshippers to participate in liturgy without hymnals, bulletins, or screens? How might clergy and musicians develop the skills – non-verbal communication, modeling and imitation, focused listening – to lead song (and liturgy) with sensitivity and care? And without minimizing the richness and depth of musical experiences mediated through paper, how could singing ‘by heart’ strengthen community and invite the participation of reluctant or disenfranchised singers?

  • Singing in Community: Holy Week

  • For twenty-one years, Scott served as Program Director for Worship and Music for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He recently relocated to Toronto where he is currently freelancing as a musician, liturgist, and teacher. 

    The week that Christians call “holy” is coming soon, as it does each year. The ancient liturgies of this week summon us all to sing. Short acclamations of faith stand at the heart of the Christian year. It rarely takes a lot of words to say powerful, strong, and true things. Sometimes, less is best. Sometimes, words alone are not enough. Many of the acclamations from the traditional liturgical journey of holy week accompany the actions of a gathered community, not passive spectators.

    “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord” may be proclaimed as we process through the streets of our neighborhood. Learn a joyous, three-part 'Hosanna' taught by Holly Phares.

    “Where charity and love prevail, there is God” we sing as we kneel at the feet our friends and enemies, humbly washing their feet, as Christ did for us. Watch Debbie Lou Ludolph teach 'Between Darkness and Light.'

    “We adore you, O Christ and we bless you” we might sing as we move reverently, yet confidently, to the cross of Christ to receive healing and wholeness, perhaps leaving something from our own being that needs to be discarded. Hear Lindsey Nye lead her original song, 'Have You Died Before.'

    “The light of Christ” we declare, while shivering in the cold spring night around the new fire and the pillar of light, waiting with Christians around the world and throughout all time to once again greet the resurrection. Feel the joy of resurrection as Nancy Boldt McLaren teaches 'In Christ We Live.'

  • MMC partners with The Hymn Society in 2017

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    Brian Hehn is the Director of The Center for Congregational Song, the new initiative that The Hymn Society in the U.S. and Canada launches in October 2017.

    c2d2a9_b25e269de4424a1fa02e97fa84133db2.jpg_srz_238_252_85_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srz.jpegThe Hymn Society is a community made up of hymn writers, song writers, hymnologists, song enliveners, and many other kinds of people. What unites us is a passion for congregational song. We believe that the holy act of singing together shapes faith, heals brokenness, transforms lives, and renews peace. Because of those core beliefs, our work is to encourage, promote, and enliven congregational singing. So, it is a natural fit that The Hymn Society and Music That Makes Community be in partnership with one another. The core values on the MMC website echo much of what our members hold true, and many of our members are a part of both of our communities. 

    The Hymn Society is excited for what MMC will be bringing to our conference this summer. Our members will have ample opportunity to dive into the MMC experience with a Sunday afternoon sing and a 2-session workshop on Tuesday. If you’ve never been to a Hymn Society conference before, what you’ll find is a group of scholars, practitioners, pastors, priests, poets, composers, and congregation members who are eager to sing and learn from each other. My first Hymn Society conference was in 2009 and I have never looked back! The combination of hospitality, knowledge, humility and skill with which our members approach their work is akin to the community that MMC is building with its membership. It makes for a wonderful week of singing and learning that is memorable and faith-shaping. I hope you’ll join us.

  • Paperless Music for Winter Solstice

  • Paul Vasile is a interim/transitional church musician, consultant, and composer based in New York City. He has been a Music that Makes Community presenter since 2011 and now serves as MMC's Executive Director.

    Several years ago, I hosted my first Winter Solstice gathering. It had been a season of loss and transition and I didn't feel especially cheery or comfortable approaching the holidays. Adding to the uneasiness, my ministry as a church musician asked me to give my best to liturgies and concerts that brought hope, peace and joy to others. But I just wasn't feeling it.

    So I gathered a group of close friends in my apartment on the longest night of the year. We prayed, we sat in silence, we shared a simple dinner of homemade soup, and we sang. It wasn't more than a hymn and a few short chants but there was something tender and beautiful in our voices. Our breathing softened as we filled the room with sound, making space for the unsettled and difficult parts of our lives. I think we left with a little more strength for the journey, with a measure of grace for the days ahead. I know I did.

  • Creating Space for Peace: An MMC Reflection

  • IMG_3053_(1).jpgCara Modisett is a collaborative pianist, essayist, teacher, and a contributing editor to Episcopal Cafe. She currently serves as Music Director at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Roanoke, Virginia. Cara attended our MMC workshop at the Barbara C. Harris Camp and Conference Center in October and offered this poignant reflection at the concluding Eucharist.

       We have prepared for the mystery of this hour.

    Last night, twenty or so human beings and one yellow lab circled a campfire, and it struck me how small an ember we were, glowing deep in the woods, circled in turn by towering trees and, beyond those, by the high, silver constellations, the waxing moon and the sweep of the Milky Way, so distant and incomprehensible, and also so close that it felt like we could almost hear the music of the spheres.

    We seemed fragile, this circle unbroken, singing and laughing and roasting marshmallows, and our music moved from the songs of summer childhoods to something deeper. These last days, while we have been sharing these mysterious hours, inviting God and one another into our souls and hearts, the whirlwind of the world has kept circling beyond us, the hurricanes of weather and politics.

    While I was thinking this, and during a break in the singing, one of us stepped forward to give thanks for being able to sing in the night when the morning is what we wish for. And in that thanksgiving was the promise that our fire was stronger than it seemed, small as it was within the world.

         We begin with breath – that’s all the tools you need.

    We’ve spent these last few days as teachers and learners and as friends-in-becoming, and often the lessons we’ve spoken have carried as much weight as the music we’ve sung: 

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    Take things step by step.

    Music without dissonance is boring.

    Oxytocin works.

    When we move out of our comfort zones, we can find great joy.

    When we make music together, we are never on our own.

    “Everywhere I go,” someone told me last night, “I hear someone singing.”

    Trust ourselves, trust each other.

    You don’t have to be perfect.

    A song is a container for the message, the ministry, the prayer.

    The congregation is the choir.

    Liturgy creates holy space for holy work.

    Even when we forget the words, the music doesn’t have to end.

    What is created through us can reach far beyond where we are.

  • Reimagining Hospitality Through Song: MMC Testimonial

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    Daniel Simons is the Priest for Liturgy, Hospitality, and Pilgrimage at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City. In January 2017 he assumes a new role as Director of Spiritual Formation at the Trinity Retreat Center in West Cornwall, Connecticut, while continuing to oversee Trinity’s pilgrimage program.

    As a Priest at 
    Trinity Church Wall Street, I am called to imagine and create liturgical spaces that welcome visitors who attend our historic parish. For many years, the 10 a.m. Service in St. Paul's Chapel was a place of experimentation and innovation, as we frequently offered hospitality to worshippers from other states or countries.

    The global and religious diversity of our guests at St. Paul's posed unique challenges, especially because they typically comprised over half of the congregation. Many had no experience of Anglican worship. Planning liturgy in this context required us to abandon assumptions about who belonged and to create intentional spaces for community learning. You can read more about the service in an article published by the Anglican Theological Review.

    Music That Makes Community’s method of teaching and singing music emerged as a solution to these challenges: we gathered and wrote music that could be taught in the moment, might be sung in a visitor’s native language, and was beautiful as simple unaccompanied melody or with added harmonies. The result was a tapestry of song that gave confidence to the regulars and included the visitors in a single community of participation. Our congregational singing seemed almost miraculous in its beauty, simplicity, and effectiveness. 

  • Building a New Faith Community through Song: MMC Testimonial

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    The Rev. Mieke Vandersall is the founding pastor of Not So Churchy. She has been to numerous Music That Makes Community workshops and uses paperless music when she leads worship.

    I attended my first MMC workshop in St. Louis in 2010. At that point in my life I was seeking a traditional parish job as a Presbyterian pastor, but because of the restrictive policies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) against out LGBT people I was unable to live into this calling. The stories behind this reality are complex and long, but the result of these stories is that I felt a call emerging to begin a new worshiping community. 

    I entered into my first night of the workshop and was led in song. I remember being overwhelmed with the feeling that I was worshiping for the first time in a very, very long time. I was being served through the incredible feast that the leadership of MMC provides. My soul was being watered and nourished and I began, even in that first gathering, to get back in touch with my passion for ministry and for providing the kind of space I experienced that first hour of worship. A space that allowed for my voice to be heard clearly and yet blend in with the clear and beautiful voices all around me.

  • Finding My Voice As a Leader: MMC Testimonial

  • Liesl Spitz shares 'Our Mother in Heaven,' a creative adaptation of a song from Southern Africa, at our Holy Week Retreat last February.

    I’ve always been happier coming up with harmonies than singing solos. Until I stepped into St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn, it never occurred to me that my voice might be strong enough to lead a group. There I learned to lead song paperlessly. I relied not only on my voice, but my ability to connect with everyone in the room, to communicate with my body and my eyes, and most of all my willingness to be vulnerable. Leading song doesn’t require a “solo” voice— just practice, and an openness to learn out loud.

  • Paperless Music in Context: Zion Lutheran Church

  • MMC presenter Sylvia Miller-Mutia leads an energetic Sanctus that would be effective for paperless, intergenerational worship. 

    Last month, Pastor Abby Leese and members of Zion Lutheran Church in Etters, PA visited a sister congregation that has incorporated paperless music into their liturgy. They took a Sunday morning field trip to another Zion Lutheran Church, just twenty minutes away in York, PA, which offers an intergenerational eucharist geared to help families with children worship and learn together. 

    Mark Mummert, the congregation's Cantor (and a longtime MMC collaborator) helped develop and lead the liturgy and has made their order of worship available as a resource. He also offered some helpful context for the service. 

    "We created a bulletin that is pretty didactic, so we don't have to say much. Also, the entire service has accompanying visual images, with art that comments on the action. The powerpoint for the service has no musical information (texts or musical notation) but we do sing some classic hymnody from the hymnal so it's not all paperless."

    Pastor Abby, who attended our MMC workshop in Baltimore last fall, has generously shared some of the things she noticed during her community's visit. As you read, perhaps you'll notice the way that paperless leadership at Zion Lutheran Church is helping create space for deepening trust, shared leadership, flexibility, and connection to the Sacred within and through the community. 


  • Learning to Befriend Our Fears

  • Paul Vasile is a interim/transitional church musician, consultant, and composer based in New York City. He has been a Music that Makes Community presenter since 2011 and now serves as MMC's Executive Director.


    My second year of graduate school, I registered for an elective in continuo playing (see above for examples of figured bass, i.e. Baroque chord symbols). It seemed like a great way to round out my skills as a church musician and it offered the opportunity to play different repertoire than I usually encountered as a pianist. I went to the first class with a bit of nervous anticipation, which was kicked up a notch when the professor began with an exercise to assess our skill level. Each student was given an eight-measure melody with figured bass to sightread in front of everyone.

    I registered for the class to stretch myself, to gain new experiences, and to be able to perform Baroque music with more authenticity. But, approaching this moment of assessment, all I felt was fear: fear of being scrutinized, judged, inadequate. When an exceptionally gifted keyboardist played shortly before me, I was undone.

    Intimidated and insecure, I stumbled through my excerpt, sat back down, and decided the class was too difficult. I went to the Registrar’s office the next day and signed up for a choral literature class instead, embarrassed that I had even tried in the first place. 

    *          *          *

  • Made Holy By God

  • Ben Groth is currently the Associate Pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Menomonee Falls, WI. He has also worked as a musician in Lutheran and Episcopal congregations and started a choir in a mental health hospital. Ben has been a presenter at Music that Makes Community Events since 2014.

    Our beauty is not in our strength,
    it comes from our weakness made holy by God,
    made holy by God.

    Our faith is not in our knowing,
    it comes from our yearning made holy by God,
    made holy by God.

    Our hope is not in our triumph.
    It comes from our failure made holy by God,
    made holy by God.

    I wrote these lines in the midst of a retreat on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. Each verse shares the theme that the drive for personal success might be the greatest enemy of success as it relates to a life of faith. Strength, knowledge, triumph: these are all things that successful, well-adjusted, driven people are supposed to have. But the deeper truth is that we never get where we’re going on our own, and that the beauty, faith, and hope we yearn for can only come when we let the grace of God shine on the places of failure in our lives. In the midst of a world filled with violence, these verses ask us to let go of our own self-righteousness, and seek to empower us in the places our need is greatest.

  • Charlotte Moroz is an actress, musician and playwrite and the co-creator of The Society for Misfit Puppets, a year-long puppet-musical-producing team. She has been a Music that Makes Community Presenter since 2014.

    Friends, I want to talk about surprise and singing today. Since leading and singing paperless music more intentionally these past years, I've noticed that the degree of surprise that I feel has increased mightily. To contextualize, I am a bit of a song-seeking missile, working in theatrical and music-making fields and attending a church where group paperless singing is the norm. And yet, I still think "hot dang, this is the coolest!" and "Wow! That was so cool/weird/awesome/unexpected!" every time I get to sing with you all. That's a 1 to 1 ratio of my surprised delight to singing with a group.

    A friend and mentor of mine and an amazing musician and teacher, Jake Slichter, introduced me to the importance of surprise in making music and spurred my contemplating the delightful and motivating play of uncertainty in this kind of music-making. In this spirit, I offer 5 ways to think about singing paperless music via knowns and unknowns:

    1. Without paper in front of us, our focus has the chance to shift to the group. The things we don't know become things we have in common, so we get out of our own heads and into the mind of the group as we learn together. With focus shifted, we're kids out for recess: we can't help but be game to play.

    2. There is such a rebellious, bold, "we are the boss of our lives" deliciousness of making something new, no matter how small or brief, with a group. There are so many knowns in our adult lives (bills, schedules, pant size) and so many scary unknowns (seriously, what IS going to happen to that trash island that's growing steadily in the Atlantic? And what will I be doing in 5 years, let alone 1 year?), that it's a relief to play with safe(r) unknowns, like the kinds you find when singing together. 

    3. Sharing what we know can make us feel safe enough to sing out and make space for others and try something new, and there's a give and take of knowing that creates connections between people. As a song leader I may think I know a song, but sometimes the group surprises me and I learn something new about it. Important listenings can happen here, too, about power dynamics and privilege within groups and reflections of outside systems that purposefully inhibit singing out and making space for each human individual. 
    4. There is such a delight in getting to enact something that we have learned together. Once we've learned the song, celebrating our learning brings us together. There's a reason we drive each other crazy in the car singing along to whatever comes out of the radio... isn't it the joy of knowns?

    And, finally: 5. All of this creates the chance for us to tune and harmonize, which is what humans love, I think, deep down, like dogs love to be petted and cats love to taunt us from under warm covers on early work mornings. When the relationship between what we know and don't know is more fluid, less weighed down by fear, we are stronger and freer as individuals and as a group.

    So, in summary, I think the surprised exuberance I feel in paperless singing is just a cranked-up version of joy for the chance to feel both the comforting knowns and adventurous unknowns that are so important to us humans. No surprise there! 
  • Paperless Music for Children of All Ages

  • Matthew Burt is an organist, choir director, and liturgist who has been a presenter at Music that Makes Community events since 2010. He lives in Palo Alto, California, and currently serves as West Regional Councillor of the American Guild of Organists.

    Jesus said, “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4), yet for centuries many churches have taught and required children to sit in respectful silence as adults lead their worship and song. As the father of a two year-old, I think that possibly the greatest humility we can embody is to view the world through the lens of a child—inquisitive, appreciative, and unencumbered by the prejudices and fears of our adult society. How then can we approach this in our liturgy and our music?

  • A Table Grace for Summer Gatherings

  • Marilyn Haskel is a composer, choir director, organist and liturgist who has been a Presenter at Music that Makes Community events since the project's beginning.

    You probably know the song form "round." A melody is taught to the whole group, then the group is divided into smaller groups that are led to enter singing the melody at different times. In this round the smaller groups enter one measure after each other when it becomes a four-part round. The leader here (me!) should have learned the piece a little better before teaching, but she didn't, so making the best of a hurried situation, she corrects the melody before going on. This is a four-part round, but can also be sung as a two part round first as is done here.

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