They say brevity is the source of wit; I can affirm that a stomach flu is the source of brevity.

So I’ll be brief:

The second part of our quodlibet is this chant by Windsong Dianne Martin. As noted on the UUA Song Information page,

This song was written on Spencer’s Butte, Eugene, Oregon in 1985. The composer writes, “I was sitting with my friend David, looking out over the vast view of the Willamette Valley, wondering about the ancient roots of the area, talking about the original native tribes who lived there before the white settlers came. We became quiet and sat in meditation for a long time. I was shifted out of meditation dramatically when I became aware that I was singing the song Mother I Feel You Under My Feet, Mother I Hear Your Heartbeat. I sang it for a long time and was very moved by the experience.”

And here are the lyrics:

Mother I feel you under my feet,
Mother I hear your heart beat,

Heya heya heya ya heya heya ho,
Heya heya heya heya heya ho

Mother I hear you in the river song,
Eternal waters flowing on and on,


Father I see you when the eagle flies,
Light of the Spirit, gonna take us higher.


I wrestle again, as I always do on these pages, with the exclusively binary language and always wish for “parent” to be one of the verses along with “mother” and “father”… but of course that wasn’t a consideration then, nor is it appropriate to just change a living composer’s lyrics.

Anyway. It’s a good tune and an easy thing to sing – it’s not written as a canon or round but it would certainly work like that if you were not doing the quodlibet thing.

Photo of the view from Spencer’s Butte by Tess Freeman/Oregon Daily Emerald.

In this exciting episode: Jason Shelton did a great innovative thing and I just had to go and innovate it further.

This may be one of my favorite liturgical pieces – a chorus by Jason Shelton to make new the stunning piece by Sophia Lyon Fahs that most of us use at Christmastime, often on Christmas eve. The melody is sweet and simple, warm and peaceful. Jason’s response turns the ‘ho hum, we’ve heard it before’ recitation into an interactive, musical responsive reading. And the truth is, we need more of this kind of thing – I play a lot with unexpected sung responses, but I’m not a composer, so I’ve interleaved pieces. Jason just goes right ahead and composes something. Bless him for that gift.

Anyway. The piece as Jason envisioned it is as follows, interleaving with each stanza of the Fahs poem:

Each night a child is born is a holy night:
A time for singing,
A time for wondering,
A time for worshipping,
Each night a child is born is a holy night.

For so the children come
And so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they come
born of the seed of man and woman.


No angels herald their beginnings.
No prophets predict their future courses.
No wise men see a star to show where to find
the babe that will save humankind.



Yet each night a child is born is a holy night.
Fathers and mothers–
sitting beside their children’s cribs
feel glory in the sight of a new life beginning.
They ask, “Where and how will this new life end?


And when you sing it with the congregation, that’s perfect.

However, the first time I used it, in December 2005 at my home congregation, we didn’t yet have a full complement of STJ, nor did the minister think we had time to teach the congregation a new piece for Christmas Eve. So I involved the choir… and yes, I innovated. I imagined an a capella setting, with the choir singing parts as written in STJ, and then landing on a hum to underscore the reader. Here’s how I have done it:

Choir (singing):
Each night a child is born is a holy night –
A time for singing,
A time for wondering,
A time for worshipping.
Each night a child is born is a holy night.
(hum final chord under reader – don’t do bass tag)

For so the children come
And so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they come
born of the seed of man and woman.

Choir (singing):
Back to beginning of song)
Each night a child is born is a holy night…
(hum landing chord under reader)

No angels herald their beginnings.
No prophets predict their future courses.
No wise men see a star to show where to find
the babe that will save humankind.

Choir (singing):
A time for singing,
A time for wondering,
A time for worshipping.
(hum landing chord under reader)

Yet each night a child is born is a holy night.
Fathers and mothers–
sitting beside their children’s cribs
feel glory in the sight of a new life beginning.
They ask, “Where and how will this new life end?
Or will it ever end?”

Choir (singing)
(back to full chorus)
Each night a child is born is a holy night –
A time for singing,
A time for wondering,
A time for worshipping.
Each night a child is born is a holy night.
(include bass tag)

It goes a little faster, for sure. It also lines out the song so the next time the congregation encounters it, it’s a bit more familiar. But mostly, it helps introduce Jason’s innovation in an innovative way.

Yes, there’s a gender binary issue here – many change “fathers and mothers” to “loving parents” or some variation.  I don’t think it changes the meaning or sentiment to ensure all are included here. It’s worth making that expansive change, because this is a gorgeous piece – whether read as a poem, as a responsive reading, or with some variation on the sung response.

I have no idea who this baby is – it’s just a great photo from Pixabay.



This might be, as the hymnal suggests, a spiritual from the time of American slavery. This might also be, as some online sources suggest, a traditional blues tune.

I hate when the search for information in inconclusive.

Because I don’t know whether to talk about the use of 19th century spirituals in our predominantly white congregations, or if we talk about the rich blend of traditions that occurred in the American south, as sounds from Africa, Europe, and the Americas all found themselves woven together into new music.

This is, however, an easy song to learn and lead, and I can see why it’s popular. Although if my searches are evidence of anything, it’s that a song like this can’t be tied down to one particular arrangement or melody – so I caution against the rigidity that other hymns may demand.

Come and go with me to that land,
Come and go with me to that land,
Come and go with me to that land
where I’m bound.  (2x)

There’ll be freedom in that land…

There’ll be justice in that land…

There’ll be singin’ in that land…

The truth is, I prefer how the song sounds in other versions, with variations on the melody we know, and with different patterns of call and response. I’ll leave you with this first known recording of the song, from Blind Willie Johnson with backing vocals by Willie B. Harris:

Callou, callay! O frabjous day!

Yes, this joyful song leads me to quote Lewis Carroll – because there is in both a pure celebration of the moment. As arranged here by the always delightful Susan Peck, Wendy Luella Perkins’ song has energy and life. And because of the STJ commission’s commitment to good singing, Peck has added a harmony line. Her choral arrangement adds even more harmonies and rhythms that bring the song as close to Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” without going full-on funk.

It’s a great piece. And…this isn’t the whole song.

Oh, we give thanks for this precious day,
For all gather’d here, and those far away;
For this time (food) we share with love and care,
Oh, we give thanks for this precious day.

I know this because I asked.

From 2009-2013 (and picking up again this year), I was the coordinator for our cluster-wide joint services – four (now five) congregations coming together to worship and connect. In our first year, it was about building bridges between our congregation; our second year was then about seeing ourselves not just as individual congregations but as one larger body in the Capital Region. We wanted to open joyfully with this song, but it didn’t quite do all we wanted it to do – including give time for a processional. The committee talked about other songs but kept coming back to this one, and finally I said I’d contact the composer to see if she had other verses.

Which she did – and happily gave us permission to use:

Oh, we give thanks for the old and young,
For a time of wonder, joy, and fun
For all we give as we grow and live,
Oh, we give thanks for the old and young.

This gave us a generational connection even as we were making other, broader connections. And it gave us another verse to sing, deepening the meaning of all that we were giving thanks for on that day.

We give thanks for this precious song.

I was talking to friend and colleague Diana McLean yesterday about the moment I am fast approaching – the moment when I sing the last of the hymns in Singing the Living Tradition, and begin a 75-day trip through Singing the Journey. I remarked on the growth of this practice, and how it has shifted from purely my experience of singing to something of a resource.

But it’s more than that. What I realize is that in singing through this hymnal – lovingly assembled 24 years ago with a broad charge (make it more inclusive) – I have had the opportunity to see the shifts in our theologies, our congregational life, our work of justice. Twenty five years ago, the Cold War had just ended and a new, uncertain world lay ahead. The specter of the 21st century and the 50th anniversary of the Unitarian Universalist consolidation loomed in the distance. Thus, song choices to meet the moment might feel to us, well, not quite right (I think I need a good German word here because the English ones aren’t working).

But more, what I recognize is that when we hold STLT in our hands, we are holding evidence of the moral arc of the universe bending toward justice. Issues that come up for us now when we sing songs like Sit at the Welcome Table and Dear Mother-Father of Us All, and even Singing for Our Lives are evidence that we are growing, changing, becoming more and more expansive and seeking more and more justice. Sure, we have a long way to go, but wow, look how far we’ve come in such a short time.

And musically too, we’ve come far. Since STLT was published, a young UU Musicians Network has grown, encouraging new and vibrant hymns and other music; it has developed a credentialing program for music professionals; it has educated not only musicians but also clergy and lay people on the role of music in our faith. And, as I have often asserted, they have been writing our living theology. And thus, our music is shifting from being that which we inherited from our Protestant roots or the folk movement to being organically and authentically ours, reflecting who we are and who we want to be.

It’s amazing. And I don’t know that I would have gotten that had I not engaged this practice. It’s not done, of course, but it’ll be interesting to enter Singing the Journey with this in mind.

So… what about today’s hymn?

Not much, really. It’s a sweet recessional by Vincent Silliman, set to a tune from a Bach chorale. It’s light, but not quite as simple as one might expect. For me, a change to a different tune would make sense – I’d set it to Tom Benjamin’s Woodland (Down the Ages We Have Trod, among others). But that’s me. I think, given my discourse above, taking it off Bach and setting it on one of our own makes sense.

As we leave this friendly place,
love give light to ev’ry face;
may the kindness which we learn
light our hearts till we return.

Tomorrow, we sing the last song of this grey hymnal. Already. Finally.

The photo is of my well-worn hymnals, complete with bookmarks.

A dozen years ago, I sat in a workshop at a UU Musicians Network conference talking about music as pastoral care.

The leader (whose name escapes me now) talked about her prison ministry. She told us that she goes to a women’s prison, and one of the first thing she has them do is sing “The Water Is Wide.” She lines it out, with them repeating each line back. The women start singing the first verse…

The water is wide, I cannot get o’er
Neither have I wings to fly
Give me a boat that can carry two
And both shall cross my true love and I

…and the women stiffen up a bit, because the last thing they need is a happy love song. But she makes sure they know the melody, and then has them sing the second verse…

I lean’d my back against an oak
Thinking it was a mighty tree
But first it bent and then it broke
So did my love prove false to me

…and they begin to soften, and feel, and by the time they finish the song (which continues in the same vein) they are ready to talk, and share their hard, heartbreaking stories, and begin to heal.

I tell you this story because “The Water Is Wide” – the Anglicized version of “O Waly Waly”, is the tune upon which our lyrics today are set.

A happy, joyous, love-eternal sort of lyric.

Set to a he-done-me-wrong song.

Look at these lyrics, knowing the song’s origins:

Surprised by joy no song can tell,
no thought can compass, here we stand
to celebrate eternal love,
to reach for one another’s hand.

Beyond all other gifts is this,
best gift, alone to mortals given;
the love of parent, lover, friend
attunes our hearts to bliss of heaven.

Faith, hope, and love here come alive; life’s deepest treasure is made known when in forgiving, giving all, insep’rably, two are as one.

Doesn’t sing the same, does it?

In other hymnals, this lyric – by Erik Routley – is set to the Melcombe tune, a more rigid, less folky tune. I suspect there are even better melodies in that this could be set to. I don’t have a hymnal handy at the moment as I’m sitting in an Oneonta, NY, coffee shop, but I bet one or more of you will find more suitable tunes before I get home.

I think the lyrics are fine – and I suspect if I ever did a wedding and the couple wanted a hymn, I’d steer them in this direction.

But I’d definitely change it up.

Last night, friend and colleague Peggy Clarke told me this practice is “a source of insight.” Which is funny to me this morning, as I have absolutely nothing interesting to say about today’s hymn. No insight. No brilliant analysis. Not even a good joke… dang.

Anyway, this hymn. It’s a decent Brian Wren lyric, set to a tune commissioned for STLT from composer Alan Hovhaness. It’s in a tricky 3+4/4 rhythm that probably flows if I had accompaniment.

And the truth is, while I have attended many child dedications, I have never heard this sung or played, so I wonder if its trickiness is what puts people off, or if it’s something else? Anyway, here are the lyrics:

Wonder of wonders, life is beginning,
fragile as blossom, strong as the earth.
Shaped in a person, love has new meaning,
parents and people sing at their birth.

Now with rejoicing, make celebration;
joy full of promise, laughter through tears,
naming and blessing, bring dedication,
humble in purpose over the years.

Yay, babies.

Sorry I have nothing more…except, wait, if you want a different setting to Wren’s lyrics (including the third verse, which goes like this – “Lord of creation,  Dying and living / Father and Mother,  Partner and Friend / Lover of children,  Lift all our loving / Into your kingdom,  World without end”) check out this recording by David Haas.

Update: The brilliant Michael Tino offered this brilliant suggestion: you could also sing this to Morning Has Broken (tune: Bunessan). As he rightly notes, it “seems a fitting tune.”

This photo was taken at a simply lovely child dedication held during Professional Days (just prior to General Assembly) in Providence, RI, 2014. Yay, babies!

I was about to write something quick about this quick little song, and then go on with my day.

I was going to write something like “how sweet and familiar this is” and something else about how some congregations accept the offering by singing this.

And then I was going to add a quick note about the composers, Joseph and Nathan Segal, and be done with it.

Until I started learning more. And found not only a heartbreaking story but also something interesting about the version we sing.

First, the heartbreak: the Segal brothers are rabbis – singing rabbis, in fact – who trace their lineage as singing rabbis back 12 generations. They performed a spiritual and often humorous show for decades, until a car accident in Jamaica in 1988 left Joseph critically injured; eight years after the accident, it was news that he would join his brother Nathan at the congregation Nathan served. Since then, it appears Nathan has continued his work as a spiritual leader, healer, and musician – sadly, nothing on his website says anything about Joseph other than providing MP3s of the songs they recorded together. In fact, along with those recordings, there is just one video of them together from a concert they did in Woodstock in the late 1960s.

But it was from watching a clip from that where I learned we aren’t singing the song correctly. Listening to the MP3 reveals the same. Now I suspect the hymnal commission didn’t have benefit of these recordings at the time and learned the song by rote, but it’s interesting that not only do we have a different version, but apparently Nathan himself sang it differently over time, based on a later solo recording.

From you I receive,
to you I give,
together we share,
and from this we live.

So this brings up the question around folk music: is it necessary to sing it in an original fashion, or is it okay to change it as we learn it? I think about the Facebook discussion around The Earth, Water, Fire, Air – a song that many of us learned very differently yet seems to be connected to the same origins as the one in our hymnal. Is it the same song? Different now because of the changes? Is it like languages that have the same root but a thousand years goes by and suddenly the guy from Paris can’t understand the gal from Barcelona?

I don’t know. But I’d like to relearn the song in 4/4 time with a different final phrase and see what happens.

Art by Nathan Segal.

It’s been all about the tune for me this morning.

I know this lyric as a choral piece by composer and music director Michael Harrison – a beautiful setting of these lyrics that evoke the hope of the lyrics (the cascading voice thing that happens on “peace, good will” is gorgeous and the intricacies of parts on “bright as paradise” is simply glorious. I wish there was a recording of it; I own a copy of the sheet music and if you’re interested, I can see if Michael will let me share with you on an individual basis.

But I digress. My point is that I opened the hymnal, saw the title, started singing Michael’s version, and realized there was a very different tune in front of me – a plainsong chant called Adoro Te Devote. Now it does work from a mood perspective, but the pattern in each phrase is harder to pick up and felt somewhat plodding to me.

As I looked for other tunes in similar meter, my first stop was our hymnal. And guess what tune this fits?

Cranham – the one we know as In the Bleak Midwinter. Go ahead, sing a bit of it now.

In the lonely midnight, on the wintry hill,
shepherds heard the angels singing, “Peace, good will.”
Listen, O ye weary, to the angels’ song,
unto you the tidings of great joy belong.

Though in David’s city angels sing no more,
love makes angel music on earth’s farthest shore.
Though no heavenly glory meet your wondering eyes,
love can make your dwelling bright as paradise.

Though the child of Mary, heralded on high,
in his manger cradle may no longer lie,
love will reign forever, though the proud world scorn;
if you truly seek peace, Christ for you is born.

Works, doesn’t it? Beautifully, I might add. I suspect our lyricist, Unitarian minister Thomas Chickering WIlliams (who served All Souls NYC from 1883-1896), had that tune in mind as well.

Now you can do what you like, but I know that if I want a choir to sing these words, I’ll use Michael Harrison’s arrangement. And if I want a congregation to sing these words, I’ll have them sing it to Cranham.

And you can be I want these lyrics to be sung on Christmas. They honor the story, honor the awe and wonder, honor the expansiveness of our theologies. It’s gorgeous and glorious.

Kinda like the moment they describe.


Here is another beautiful prayer – and when I first read the lyrics, I thought “why do I not use this more often?” And then I sang it.

Now don’t get me wrong: I love the Tallis Canon. It’s particularly beautiful when done in three parts in a big echo-y chapel so that the bell tones resonate and last a few moments after the voices cease their singing. Plus, I’m a fan of 16th century English sacred music, especially since writing a paper on 16th century English sacred music for a class entitled Anglican Devotional Poetry and Literature 1550-1650, and having listened to and fallen in love with a fair bit of the music in the process. Yes, in case it wasn’t perfectly clear already, I am a geek.

My problem with the Tallis Canon for these 19th century lyrics by Matthew Arnold is that, once again, it doesn’t really fit. Here’s this soulful, contemplative lyric:

Calm soul of all things, make it mine
to feel, amid the city’s jar,
that there abides a peace of thine
I did not make, and cannot mar.

The will to neither strive nor cry,
the power to feel with others, give.
Calm, calm me more; nor let me die
before I have begun to live.

And it’s set to a reasonably jolly tune. Now don’t get me wrong, there are jollier tunes in the hymnal for sure, but this is meant to be a calm, meditative plea of the heart. This tune just doesn’t cut it for me.

What would I suggest in its place? Truth From Above – used in 289, Creative Love, Our Thanks We Give. That tune has a soulfulness that I think is called for here. It’s not quite as familiar, but it feels like the kind of thing we’d gather around candles at dusk to sing, or maybe hear wafting from within the cloister walls, or perhaps hauntingly sung by Lorena McKennitt or Enya.

I do know that I need this prayer today, despite sitting in the quiet of my sister’s house in a small Victorian village on this snowy Friday between the holidays. So much is jarring right now – and so I pray for the peace and calm, even if for a moment.