About Me

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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 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Friday, July 24, 2015

UUMN 2015 Conference, July 24

Today's UUMN Conference started earlier than usual for me. I practiced in the park at 6:00, and then I was part of a focus group that met for breakfast and explored experiences with fair compensation guidelines for music professionals at mid-sized Unitarian Universalist congregations. This is not something I typically think about at 7:00 a.m. About a dozen of us were asked lots of questions and encouraged to share experiences and thoughts about a variety of issues related to fair compensation, including how our pay compares to the UUA Fair Compensation guidelines, the hours we are paid to work versus the hours we actually work, level of education and training compared to the religious education directors and ministers at our various congregations, whether or not we are truly perceived as professionals by other staff and the congregation, and much more. I already knew I was treated well at Northwest UUC, and I found myself feeling pretty good about my work situation. Our minister, Terry Davis, treats me very well. We plan services together, and she has made it clear to me on many occasions that she enjoys having me as a colleague and that she considers the music to be just as important as the sermon and other parts of Sunday services. My pay is almost smack in the middle of the UUA Fair Compensation guidelines. I suspect that I work more than the 15 hours for which I am paid, but I'll find out for sure when I begin the next church year, because we're all going to be tracking the time we spend doing our jobs at Northwest.

One thing we all agreed on is that most of the congregants have no idea what kind of planning and preparation goes into pulling off the music on a Sunday morning, not to mention the years of training and practicing. The reason many of us can sight-read a piece of music well is that we've spent years in the practice room. One of the participants had a great quote. When a good musician plays a piece of music well, he says "That piece took twenty years to perform. You just heard the last five minutes."

After the focus group meeting, we went to the morning service. It was really nice to hear an organ in such a grand, historic space as the Arlington Street Church. Wow! One effective part of the service was a series of short quotes, punctuated by Native American flute. I'd like to try something similar at Northwest. We are going to be adding an early meditative service once a month. I bet we could try this in one of those services.

I skipped the annual meeting that followed the service, opting to practice in the park for another hour, and then I returned for the Conference Choir rehearsal. We rehearsed the music in greater depth today. Our conductor has a knack for being picky but pleasant. I took one thing away from rehearsal that I'd like to try with my own choir. We work on vowel sounds in our warm-up, and I try to talk about vowel sounds as we rehearse the music so that we can achieve a better blend. I now plan to occasionally have the choir leave out consonants altogether and sing only the vowels so that we can really hone in on vowel sounds.

After choir rehearsal was lunch and another guitar practice session, and then the workshops began.

The first workshop I attended was "The Risky Business of Congregational Singing." It was essentially another workshop on creative hymn leading. At first, I was afraid that it was going to be somewhat of a repeat of the "leading from the keyboard" session that I attended yesterday, but I learned plenty of new tricks and tips. I find that I'm doing a lot of things right, but there is always something to add or improve. Here are some ideas from the workshop that I would like to try when I get back to my own congregation:

  • If a song or hymn needs a verbal introduction, have the accompanist play quietly while I talk.
  • Some of our hymns are short and have only one verse. Repeat the hymn, interspersing readings (similar to how the Native American flute was used between readings in the morning service).
  • Train any helpers (especially leaders of rounds) in microphone technique.
  • Some hymns can be effectively sung a cappella.
  • I assign a hymn leader from the choir on my Sunday off. Have the hymn leaders practice leading the upcoming Sunday hymns at the Wednesday night choir rehearsal.
The second workshop I attended was "Using Technology to Build and Sustain a Thriving Music Ministry." We discussed how to effectively use current technology during services and to prepare for services. Much of this was familiar to me, but I still picked up a few things. The topic of projecting lyrics came up. Not many in the room had experience in projecting lyrics, including me. I'm becoming less resistant to the idea of projecting lyrics – as long as we still have the option of using hymnals. We also discussed how projecting can be used for non-musical items, such as displaying the Order of Service on a screen, video, pictures for the children's story, and using images to enhance the sermon.

We closed out the day's offerings with a Choral Repertoire session. Today, we read through several challenging pieces. Several of these difficult pieces tripped us up! We didn't read anything that I felt I could take back to my choir, but I still enjoyed the sight-singing practice.

I'm attending three sessions tomorrow that will explore choir literature, including a workshop entitled "Unique Rounds for UU Choir" and two reading sessions, one of which will focus on smaller choirs. I'm sure to find some gems for my choir tomorrow.

Looking ahead to next year, I spoke with the person who chairs the conference planning committee to let him know that I would be happy to lead a contemporary group next year.  I was disappointed to find that there are no plans to continue having an official Conference Band like there was last year. I was under the impression that it was going to continue. Since that isn't going to be part of the picture, I told him that I would love to lead a workshop that focuses on how to get a contemporary group started. He seemed interested in the idea, so we'll see how it goes. After this third year at the conference, I feel confident enough that I feel like I have something to offer, and that I can take a more visible role in the UUMN.

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