UUMN president, came up to me this afternoon and asked how I was liking the UUMN conference so far. The first words that burst out of my mouth were "I'm learning a sh*tload!" It's true. If I wrote about every single thing I learned today, I'd still be typing tomorrow morning. Here are the highlights.
We began the morning with a music service. Each service this week has a theme. Today's theme was "Better Together." We sang a few songs from Las Voces del Camino, which is a Spanish language Unitarian Universalist hymnal. I really enjoyed those songs. I bought a copy during lunch, and I'm strongly considering introducing the hymnal to my congregation back in Atlanta.
After the service, we had a meeting. Meetings aren't exactly my cup of tea, but my goal is to absorb everything I can this week, including things like meetings. I'm glad I stayed, because I learned about an upcoming hymn writing contest! The most beautiful moment of the meeting was after Sarah Dan spoke her final words as president. When she was finished, the people spontaneously began singing her Meditation on Breathing, which is a very popular song to sing among UUs.
Then we had a mass choir rehearsal for this Sunday's service. Dr. Paul Tucker is our conductor this week, and he is excellent. I learned a lot about choral conducting simply by watching him rehearse us. I found myself trying to sing and take notes simultaneously, which is not an easy trick! In particular, I learned a simple way to teach a choir how to sing proper vowel sounds. I'll be using that exercise with my choir when we start rehearsing again in August. Aside from observing and taking notes, it was wonderful to sing with a huge group of excellent musicians. The baritone section along had 20 strong voices!
Lunch followed, and then I attended a choral conducing masterclass given by Paul Tucker. It was an excellent masterclass, and I picked up a few new conducting techniques. There were three conductors signed up to be guinea pigs, and they were a good mix. One had obviously had good conducting training, one was a pianist with no formal training, and the other was an opera singer/voice teacher who also had no formal training. At a future conference, I would really like to be one of the conductor guinea pigs.
After the choral masterclass, I attended a workshop on vocal technique, which focused heavily on vowel sounds. This was all good information, which I'll put to good use with my choir. The thing that really stuck with me was what the clinician said at the end of the workshop. "The secret to good singing is that there is no secret. It is an accumulation of small skills that add up over time." How true! And it helped me put this week into perspective. I'm not going to come out of this workshop being the world's leading expert on choral vocal technique. Instead, I'll be leaving with a little more knowledge than I had before I came. These new skills will eventually become a regular part of my bag of tricks. Later on, I'll go to another conference or take part in a workshop and come back to my congregation knowing just a little bit more. My choral conducting, knowledge of UU music, guitar playing, repertoire, guitar teaching skills…it will all improve over time. I just need to stay curious, keep learning, and stick with it.
Before we broke for dinner, we had a choral repertoire reading session. We just read through a pile of music. Some of the music was forgettable, but there were a few standouts. We all received complimentary copies of the music. I marked the ones that I thought would work particularly well with my choir. I'll do the same tomorrow and the next day, and when I get back, I'll decide which pieces to order for the choir. I recognized one of the pieces, because I had engraved it for Santa Barbara Music Publishing. I had to resist the urge to inform everyone around me that I had engraved that piece.
After dinner, there was a singing meditation service. I've been trying to think of different approaches to a music service. This was a beautiful service, and I think I'd like to use this concept with my own congregation. There was very little speaking…just a lot of chanting (using chants from a variety or religious sources), and a lot of silence.
So that was my day! I'm looking forward to tomorrow, especially the rehearsal, another workshop by Paul Tucker, and the next choral repertoire reading session.
- Tom Godfrey
- Atlanta, GA, United States
- When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.