As I have said several times recently, I have been working this year to make Black Lives Matter an overarching theme for music at First Parish.  In thinking about how to do this, I have been reflecting on how UU thinking helps give guidance.  For example, one of our UU principals is: “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning”.  And then, from the Sources of the Living Tradition: “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life”.  Finally, our FPW theme for February is “Beloved Community”, a term coined by Martin Luther King, Jr., which is a vision of a world community in which our policies support human decency; racism and discrimination are replaced by a world that is all-inclusive.  What does all this have to do with Black Lives Matter, and with music in our church?

I believe that by diving deep into how music from the African American tradition expresses, embodies, and celebrates the inner lives of its creators, we can all expand our “renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life”.  In other words, I, for example, a white person, am enriched and empowered in my life by experiencing this emotional power, and through this process I can hope to transcend the limitations of my particular history and culture.

Many of the hymns I have chosen in the past year are African American spirituals, giving us the opportunity to be enriched by the history that they encompass.  A number of our choir anthems this season are rooted in music and literature from the African American experience.  In our weekly choir Zoom meetings, we are studying the evolution of the music of Black Americans.  These are not just Black History Month exercises, but rather a years-long journey towards expanding all of our musical horizons.

Let me give you an example.  New Orleans was a melting pot of cultures in America.  People lived next door to people whose ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds were not like theirs.  They learned from each other as they shared their lives.  One of the most influential results of this exchange has been jazz music.  Jazz is uniquely American and has become a music style that affirms the best of America.  Jazz is the ultimate communication, simple and complex, that demands the listener to participate by listening intently.  We would not have this music without the genius and artistry of Black Americans, and while it was rooted in African traditions brought over by enslaved people, it also required the particular American experiences of Black people in order to come to life.

I speak personally in saying that the Black Lives Matter movement has mandated that I search for ways to share our world more equitably with people of color.  Without Black Americans, we would not have Blues and Jazz, Spirituals and Gospel music.  I am frankly in awe of the music that was and still is created by people of color.  I am grateful to them for the music that has enriched my life.  It is time that we use what we learn about the lives of Black people in our country to change policies that will enable us to share our world and to leave our white privilege behind.  This is my vision of Beloved Community.

Channel 2, PBS, is airing a 4-hour program called “The Black Church” starting Feb. 16th.  There are also numerous other shows that support Black History Month in February on PBS.  I know that I will be listening and learning, following our UU teachings.  And, by the way, I will love all the music that will be part of it all!

“See” you in church!

Our choir Zoom meetings are every Thursday evening at 7 pm.  If you would like to attend with choir members, email me and I will send you the link.  


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.