Sacred Arts: Session Sixteen – Singing and the Art of Discernment

Email to Participants

Our next session is on [date]. Back in the fall, we listened to music with an ear toward composition: why composers choose the harmonies and dissonances, and what can they teach us about being in harmony and working together.

In our next session, we’ll return to music and consider what it means to sing together, and what our choices mean. When do we choose songs primarily for their message? How do we use our song choices to influence listeners?

Readings and Videos

Where You Go (Shoshana Jedwab)
The Heart Is (Lisa G. Littlebird)
We Shall Be Known (Karisha Longaker, sung by the Thrive Bay Choir)
A Cleansing Rage (Jason Shelton)

Exercises

  • Pick a hymn from one of our hymnals (either Singing the Living Tradition or Singing the Journey) that you’d like us to sing together; consider what the message of the song is. Make sure it’s one you know and can lead without accompaniment or you have a recording, often available online (“Hymnary” and “Small Church Music” are two useful sites for tunes), to play as we sing along. As you consider your choice, ask questions of the hymn: Why is this my choice? What are my memories of singing this? Who does this hymn include? Who does it exclude? What is the theology of the hymn?
  • Engage and encounter a song from another religious tradition (YouTube is a terrific resource) – remember to follow the process:
    • Observe in silence. Listen with your heart, mind, body
    • Initial impressions. Note what you have heard?
    • Learning: learn about the composer, musicians, style and the context in which it was created.
    • Sharing: reflect in your journal on the impact, meaning, and connections you are making with this piece of music.

Questions for Reflection

  • Ysaye Barnwell tells us we all can sing. Where in your body do you feel it when we sing in community rather than for performance?
  • Farrar asks us to carefully consider the lyrics as well as the context of our singing. How do you identify misappropriation in a song? Do you generally pay attention to the lyrics? What do you do when a song either feels misappropriated or outside of your theology?
  • Reflect on your responses as you heard some of the newer songs we listen to in our congregations. What is similar in your response to older hymns? Different?
  • Did Debus’ essay on “We’ll Build a Land” lead you to wonder about other favorite hymns? Would you be willing to give up a favorite hymn if you learned it had a meaning you missed? What does it mean for us as a movement to reject beloved songs because they now do harm?

As a Reminder

Our shared observation during our last session was the Forty Part Motet installation by Janet Cardiff. Here are some links for more information:

One More Thing

In preparation for Session 17, Theater and the Art of Empathy, please arrange to see some live theater. It can be at any level, from high school productions to professional shows, and it can be a musical or a play. You can decide to go as a group or individually.

If this is difficult for you to arrange, there are some wonderful films of staged plays available – please be sure, however, to select one that is not a film adaptation (for example, the staged version of Into the Woods with Bernadette Peters as the Witch is appropriate; the film adaptation with Meryl Streep as the Witch is not). If you are still in search, there is a wonderful staged version of Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare on YouTube: watch Part One • watch Part Two.

I look forward to being with you!

In faith,

Session Plan

Gathering (5 minutes)

Note for Facilitators:

Allow for some chatter, settling in, and other busy-ness;be gentle but firm as you call people in to listen to the reading and check in.

Chalice Lighting, Opening Reading, and Check In (25 minutes)

Our opening reading is “Cutting Loose” by William Stafford:

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose from
all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.

Arbitrary, sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell you where it is, and you
can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path – but that’s when
you get going best, glad to be
lost, learning how real it is
here on the earth, again and again.

.
(found in the book Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems – edited by Roger Housden)

What are you carrying in your heart tonight? How is your spiritual practice going?  Your work with your spiritual director? Do you have anything to share from your creative work- either something you’ve observed or something you’re working on?

Covenant Review (2-5 minutes)

Note to Facilitators:

Use whatever process your group has established to stay current with the covenant, including reading it out loud together at each session.

Is there anything about the covenant that we should address?

Shared Observation/Exercise (50 minutes)

Note to Facilitators:

Make sure there are enough copies of both hymnals available for participants.

In the exercises, you were invited to pick a hymn from one of our hymnals that you’d like us to sing together. We’ll use a modified version of our shared observation process to experience each song:

  • One at a time, participants will lead, or play a recording of a hymn. Those singing along should consider their own experience in singing this hymn.
  • After a pause for silence, as singers you will share a word or phrase that springs to mind.
  • The songleader will then share a bit about why this song was chosen, what they think the theology is. Encouraging sharing about who’s included and excluded in the hymn.
  • All, as moved, continue for a few minutes to share insights and memories.

Depending on the number of people present, you will have about 6-8 minutes per song.

When all of the songs have been explored, invite final reflections on the experience.

All, as so moved, note ideas in your journal that might inspire your creative work or spiritual wrestling.

Reflections (40 min):

Note to Facilitators:

Invite participants to choose the prework observation, reading, or reflection question that most intrigued them. (Participants often reflect that the readings inform their observations and experiences but don’t necessarily lead them into deeper discussion; often, they set the stage for the individual and shared observations or their own creativity.)

  • In the prework, you were asked to observe to listen closely to music. What piece caught your attention? What did you notice?
  • How do you connect with the music?
  • How do you connect with this art form? Are you a practitioner, spectator, first timer? How does that affect your approach to this art?
  • What lessons might this form teach you?
  • Turning to the music you heard, what moved you or piqued your interest?
  • if you are a singer or composer, how is your expression of song impacted?
  • Barnwell tells us we all can sing. Where in your body do you feel it when we sing in community rather than for performance?
  • Farrar asks us to carefully consider the lyrics as well as the context of our singing. How do you identify misappropriation in a song? Do you generally pay attention to the lyrics? What do you do when a song either feels misappropriated or outside of your theology?
    Reflect on your responses as you heard some of the newer songs we listen to in our congregations. What is similar in your response to older hymns? Different?
  • Did Debus’ essay on “We’ll Build a Land” lead you to wonder about other favorite hymns? Would you be willing to give up a favorite hymn if you learned it had a meaning you missed? What does it mean for us as a movement to reject beloved songs because they now do harm?

So What? (10 minutes)

How does this reflection relate to your spiritual journey? Your creative work? What are you inspired or challenged to do next?

Gratitude and Closing (5 minutes)

As you prepare to pack up and clean up, each person, as moved, says one or two words about something from this session for which they are grateful or how they are feeling in this moment. After everyone has said a word, close with a brief statement of thanks and appreciation, and clean up art supplies as needed.

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