; charset=UTF-8" /> “That Singing Thing” : Connecting Voices
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“That Singing Thing”

By The Rev. Kaji Douŝa, United Church of Christ of La Mesa

Kaji Spellman2“What is that singing thing we’ve been doing at the United Church of Christ of La Mesa (UCCLM) lately?”

The phrasing of that question is not accidental.  In fact, it is based on a book that opened my journey into studying the art and practice of congregational singing.  In That Singing Thing musician John Bell traces the power of the voice through trends in western contemporary traditions.  He reaches a troubling conclusion:  there is a movement afoot that has had dire consequences in people’s confidence in their own voices.  When voices suffer, it is not just congregational singing that goes – empowerment, enfranchisement, standing up and…raising our voices will suffer, as well.

Inspired by Bell’s work (and his wonderful music compositions created for the Iona community in Scotland), I decided to learn everything I could about congregational singing.  In the process I became a trained cantor, studying this craft at Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music under my Liturgy concentration. My passion is in working with talented musicians to help unlock the power of voices.

Unfortunately, trends in musical styles in churches have actually helped to cover up the human voice. While I happen to adore singing to a booming organ, if this is all we do, we never hear the actual sound of our own voices. So it is important to build a balance between the vulnerable, naked voice, the voice joined in harmony with our neighbors, and the voices added by the beautiful instruments who join the magnificent chorus. One without the other suffers. Borrowing from the language of this church, together we do what we cannot alone.

I enjoy hearing – and look forward to more opportunities to hear – UCCLMers’ voices in church – even if they find themselves reticent.  Expanding on “That Singing Thing” we’ve been experimenting with, we will draw from the Negro Spirituals, the rich traditions of call and response, new music from the Taizé and Iona communities in France and Scotland, respectively, and the world music traditions, incorporating them into the corpus of music we find in our New Century Hymnal.  Our work, using music carefully chosen by our Choir Director, Joanne Skinner, and myself, is intentional and…a work in progress. We will reflect, together, on where our worship life is taking us, sharing our own experiences of what singing, praying and experiencing the presence of the Spirit in our worship life means to us today.

And there you have it:  “That Singing Thing,” the first notes in a wonderful musical journey!

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