portrait of woman in black holding oboe

Charlyn Bethell, Music Director

When I think of my identity and sense of belonging in the world, it all centers around music. There is no question that music moves my spirit and that music is essential to my life. Music has sustained me through the good times and the challenging ones. I basically think of myself as a musician and sharing music with others gives me a sense of belonging in my world. Additionally, I love helping to bring music to our church community. The sense of belonging musically to our very musical congregation is just right for me!

What I tend to remember about a piece of music is it’s sound: the instruments or voices, the harmonies, its style, the melody. The speed and dynamics help fuel the color of the sound and the articulations and phrase shaping of the music move it toward an effect that is fulfilling. The lyrics also drive the message of the music and they are most effective when the they are musical too, as from a poem. Merging the words with the music is what choral composers do, and when they do that well, the music is memorable. If music is to be transformational and thus worthy to be at a worship service, it needs to tell our collective stories through all the tools mentioned above. It needs to reach us on an emotional level that recreates our joy and our struggle at the same time.

I need to quote Darrick Jackson, our former intern minister, from an article he wrote for the UU World, fall of 2017: Othering and Belonging. In this powerful window into Darrick’s spiritual life, we see how music lifted him up. Darrick speaks of the music from his early days in the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) church: “music that makes my heart soar, that brings the divine into the room during worship……music that is grounded in and speaks to my black identity….a message of hope that is grounded in an understanding of struggle.” His vision of a music ministry is for music to “elicit joy and give (me) a sense of peace and a reminder of hope.” He gives us a blueprint for what we can be as UU musicians and the bar is set very high!

There are three ways that we infuse music into worship: hymns, choir anthems, and instrumental music. Ideally, our hymns become part of us. With our recent idea of having a “Hymn of the Month”, we want to focus on one hymn to become especially familiar to the youth of our congregation. But it is much more than that! It can be grounding, memorable, and energizing to members of the congregation. The song can live in our hearts and minds throughout the week. It will help you take the message from our church service with you as you leave the church community to go out into your lives for the week. Choir anthems are important to be shared but also become sustaining to the choir members singing them. Instrumental music is beauty unto itself. Additionally, it is placed strategically between readings, so it can act as a transition to help us absorb the messages being presented. The composite power of all three becomes worship that transforms us.

Choir anthems that our choir will sing on March 1st are: Hush! Somebody’s Callin’ My Name and Something of Love. Both further our theme this month of identity and belonging. I am taking Darrick Jackson’s words to heart in leading this music to be as close to the high quality of his early religious experience: filled with life and energy and hope for any struggle ahead.

As part of being open to a worship experience, let’s lose ourselves in the music of the moment, so that we are fully engaged with energy and filled with peace, empowerment, and hope. Our music will sustain us as we go out to create a better world.

Here is a link to Darrick Jackson’s article, Othering and Belonging.

What to expect musically in February:
February 16th: Laurie Wadsworth will be playing some Bach on her oboe.
February 23rd: There will be some special music TBA.
Choir rehearsals are on February 20th and 27th as we prepare to sing on March 1st. We will not rehearse March 5th and there will be a special workshop for choir members on March 12th given by a body-mapping expert, Jill Dreeben.

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.