Charlyn Bethell, Music Director

This month is an exciting one for the First Parish Choir!  We are in the home stretch getting prepared for Music Sunday, which will be Sunday, March 3rd this year.  (Our usual time for Music Sunday is the first part of May.)  I remember feeling this way last year as we were almost ready for our Holiday Madrigal Concert.  It was something we had never done before, so we didn’t know HOW or even IF it would work.  And then, it was amazing!  Maybe because of that, I predict success and I hope that you will be there to bear witness to how we can expand ourselves and together embrace a transcendent, potentially transformational service.

What you will hear on March 3rd is an approximately 37 voice choir singing selected parts of Missa Gaia/Earth Mass by Paul Winter.  Singers from the Waltham First Parish choir will be with us. Accompanying instruments will include percussion, drum set, soprano saxophone, cello, piano, organ, oboe, English Horn, and bass guitar.  Recordings of musicians from the animal kingdom will include solo female timber wolf, humpback whale and low-whale groans, musical wren and woodthrush, harp seals, and a trilogy of loon, wolf and whale.  The text is either from St. Francis of Assisi, Book of Job (“Speak to the earth and it shall teach thee.”) and F.S. Pierpont (adapted by Paul Winter) or traditional Latin Text from a Mass or Greek: 3rd Century.  The piece is dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology. 

The original idea for this piece happened after Paul Winter attended the funeral of Duke Ellington in the spring of 1974.  Much collaboration transpired before its premier in 1981.  Some essential questions were:  Could a Mass celebrate the whole earth as a sacred place? Could the voices of our animal musician “colleagues” be interwoven in the music?  Could the music for the Mass texts be based on seed-themes from the whale and the wolf?  The answers will be in the hearing of the music on Music Sunday. 

You, the congregation, will be included in this experience!  Part of the service will include one of our most beloved hymns, Blue-Green Hills of Earth or For the Earth Forever Turning by Kim Oler, who originally wrote it for Missa Gaia.  In addition, there is a portion of the final movement, Let Us Depart in Peace, that asks the congregation to sing along, and it will be our closing hymn.  I will teach this to you during the service.

Our choir will be at the Waltham Music Sunday prior to our Music Sunday.  This collaboration only furthers our UU values by reaching out to find a wonderful music community right next door.  We are speaking the common language of music and our collective efforts are making a singular voice and statement.   I believe that the way to change the world is to start locally with community.  And so it begins.  I also know that our church, specifically our RE program, will be focusing on our environment in March and April.  I am heartened that we are on the same page and working toward the same goals.  Music Sunday will just be a beginning. 

I continue to be inspired by the hard work of our choir members who bring their best selves to this project.  Their positive energy radiates throughout. 

With gratitude, I will see you in church.


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.