Charlyn Bethell, Music Director

This is the time of year when we reflect on the highlights of the fall, winter and now spring. I have just written the Annual Report for Music, and I would like to share some of that with you now.

In the fall, with the current chair of the Worship committee (this year it is Carole Berney) and Mark Harris, we create goals for the music program. We revisit these goals in the spring in an evaluative way. I suppose I am being proactive in sharing them now, as next month Carole, Mark, and I will be doing just that. Please keep these goals in mind as you read this annual report:

  1. Maintain the flow of music in the life of the church which includes managing the choir, arranging guest musicians, overseeing the music budget, assisting in weekly worship services as needed, participating in church staff meetings, and writing a column for the monthly Arbella.
  2. Manage or assist with special events the include the pageant and Music Sunday.
  3. Update the Music portion of the First Parish of Watertown website with help from the minister, webmaster, and accompanist.
  4. Attend, as needed, Worship committee meetings and assist with upcoming services.
  5. Be a resource for music in children’s events.

Since the church year starts in April, Music Sunday for 2018 was the first Sunday in May. That was a time to look back and celebrate ten years of serving as music director. The choir sang some of our favorites and choir members spoke about their experience of being in the choir. I loved this service and I loved the opportunity to share my appreciation of the steadfast and spiritual journey that being in the choir is. I think of the choir as a beacon of light during church services.

Guy and I were at the UUMN conference in Portland, OR last summer, which is always a time to take in new music and be inspired to bring the very best music to our congregations. I was most inspired by a session Jason Sheldon led about staying true to our Sources as we plan choir music for services. This helped me to bring a goal to our choir of being mindful of what our music actually means to each of us.

The change in lighting at in church sanctuary presented a challenge for the choir in the fall. With the very best of intentions, the lighting was upgraded to be more energy-efficient. It created a problem that was two-fold—the lights caused migraines for some choir members and the switches only worked sporadically. At one rehearsal, the lights turned themselves off and on! We decided that if we cannot all be comfortable at a choir rehearsal, none of us will be singing. We waited until the problem was improved to start rehearsing again. I have to say that I am still learning how to turn the lights on and off!

For Music Sunday this year, I wanted to do parts of Missa Gaia, which we had done in 2014 as a concert. This time around, I wanted it to be a worship service. Most choir members were a part of that earlier concert and their recall of the music was amazing. Going back to Jason Sheldon’s ideas from last summer, I wanted something different that would include our finding more community. That would mean pairing with another church’s choir for Music Sunday. Our neighbors in Waltham decided to be part of this adventure with us! Their Music Sunday was planned for February 24th (ours is usually in May). With support and flexibility from Mark Harris, we were able to go to the Waltham church for their Music Sunday on February 24th. The Waltham choir then came to our Music Sunday for March 3rd. I was able to secure almost the same group of instrumentalists we had in 2014 to be a part of both services. And now we

have a strong connection to the Waltham church with their music director, Todor Stoinov and minister, Marc Fredette. What made for successful services was much behind-the-scenes planning and growth from all of us. Personally, it was thrilling to conduct such a large group of singers. I was affirmed when our sanctuary was filled with a congregation that was supportive of our efforts. I know that we will continue our connection with the Waltham church for future musical endeavors.

We have had some wonderful guest musicians this year: Frank Grimes on viola, Stephen Buck with his beautiful singing, David Piper and Jessica Green singing and playing together. Jean Meltaus was the musician that filled the gap when we were all at the Waltham Music Sunday. Musicians from our ranks that have stepped up include Izzy Tappan deFrees, Laurie Wadsworth and Kristin Bray, and Jean Gauthier. I am grateful to Carole Berney and Nick Woebcke for playing when Guy was unable to be there.

I was able to lead-by-singing some songs for the ICE vigil our church organized last month. That was one of the most meaningful moments of my musical life. I hope we are able to do more with this outreach.

Our very own rock n roll band remains an awesome force in our musical community. As I write this, they are preparing to play at our annual Talent Show. I know they will help lead our Flower Communion as our final service of the year.

This year is our final season with Mark Harris as our minister. It is a time to be happy for Mark as he transitions to a new stage of life. I will professionally and personally miss him greatly. All of the choir music we are doing this spring is to honor him. We just sang the Wild Mountain Thyme, which is one of his favorites done by the Byrds (our version was a bit different!). For Easter, we will do a newly composed piece, The Road Back and the spiritual by Harry Burleigh, Were You There? In June, we will sing Seasons of Love from Rent and a beautiful song by Zoltan Kodaly, Evening Song. Each one of us will be saying goodbye to Mark, and this music is chosen to help us do that.

At this time last year, I could not have imagined what this year has been! In spite of all my planning, the best part of the year has been that we were all open to each other and willing to take a leap of faith to go where we had never been. What will next year bring? I can only answer in community with our congregation and choir singers because there is no limit to the quantity and quality of what we do.

To quote a Holly Near song, “I am willing and I am open….So lift me up to the light of change”. I remain honored to be leading the music at First Parish!


Charlyn Bethell
Music Director | + posts

Charlyn’s professional training has followed two paths: as a professional oboist and as a music teacher and conductor. As Music Director at First Parish, she joins these two paths of her musical life, conducting the choir, coordinating guest musicians, and performing on oboe.