Thursday, March 22, 2012

Singing in Georgia

I have just spent an exciting and interesting three days at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta attending a conference with the cool--yet oddly familiar--title "The Singing Church: Current Practices and Emerging Trends in Congregational Song.”  I will be processing all I learned heard and sung for many weeks and months to come and my thoughts stimulated by this conference will spill out on this blog. 

One of the highlights for me was the session led by John Bell from the Iona community. I read his book The Singing Thing: a case for congregational singing several years ago -- many of the ideas in his book have percolated into my own attempts at leading singing. I was pleased to discover that the sequel, The Singing Thing too was on the GIA bookstall. In this book Bell gives a practical guide to teaching congregations to sing. In his workshop on the Tuesday night he gave a demonstration of his skills -- particularly teaching songs without using written notation (an unusual experience for western white churches). Instead, as he teaches he signs the pitches in the air with his hands. It takes him several pages in his book to describe this technique. It helps to see him in action. You can see how quickly he teaches a congregation a short song in three parts in this video:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Singing in Mississippi

Dee Thomas-Bomer working with the altos
I have just spent a remarkable weekend in Oxford, Mississippi catching up with old friends and singing. Oxford is the home of the University of Mississippi and I first arrived there in 1997 with a guitar and a suitcase seeking my fame and fortune – or that is what I jokingly tell people these days.

I went back this year to attend the Music of the South Symposium and also the Black Alumni Reunion Weekend. The symposium was organized by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and I was asked to speak on a couple of panels. To prepare for the “Music, Religion and Creativity” panel I reread the master’s thesis I wrote 13 years ago. The thesis--Singing a New Song--was on the University of Mississippi Gospel Choir (UMGC) and sitting on the flight to Memphis I read this: