This month’s Musically Speaking is contributed by Guy Urban.

Charlyn is officially the FPW Music Director, and I am officially the accompanist, although it’s probably pretty obvious that we work together on almost every aspect of music at FPW. For a long time after we were hired, I didn’t think much about how that collaboration actually functioned. Several things have made me think about it more: finally having an empty nest without our kids; both of us retiring from our full-time teaching jobs at the same time; and now, living and working together during pandemic quarantine. All of these things have brought our FPW Music activities increasingly to center stage in our lives, and I have been reflecting on how that process actually works.

Like many couples, we are very different from each other. Like the lucky ones, our differences complement each other. Charlyn is a “do-er”, and I am a “be-er”. Allow me to explain: Early in our marriage, we lived in a condo in an old Cambridge triple-decker, and decided to redo the walls, which were a mess. “What do you think of green for the bedroom walls?” Charlyn asked me. Color, I thought? I had no idea what that would look like. I was used to the dingy white it had always been. She didn’t understand why I couldn’t imagine something like that enough to say if I liked it. Around that same time, we were going through the Myers-Briggs personality quiz for fun. On the question “Do you feel better before a decision is made, or after?” I was definitely “before” and she was definitely “after”. This seemed to capture so much about our differences. Charlyn could envision what was not already there, and know with certainty what she wanted to create, and then go for it. I, on the other hand, would have no idea what I wanted, and mostly worry about making the wrong choice. But we realized this was actually OK…if I could be comfortable trusting her inner visions, I could help make them happen by doing a lot of the grunt work. Inevitably, once we had painted the walls green, or gone to New Orleans for a vacation, or decided to move to Watertown, I would be more than satisfied with the result, even though I might never have thought to do any of these things on my own.

All of this bears strongly on our work for FPW during the quarantine. Streaming the services online was a totally new challenge for us, as it has been for Wendy, Allison, Lauren, and the whole congregation. I feel very proud for all that the staff has created. Charlyn’s and my dynamic has worked very well for us! I was all set to explore audio and video editing software, virtual ensembles, etc., but I had absolutely no idea of what music we should do, who should do it, and how to reflect and address the anxiety of the unknown that was our new world. Charlyn had the vision!

Here are the things we are proud of: picking hymns that were familiar enough that everyone could sing along at home, but surprisingly relevant to the current situation; using songs for hymns that are familiar but not often done in church, like “Lean on Me,” “Honey in the Rock,” and “Somos el Barco” (this last item owed much of its success to inviting Michael Collins to create the foundation with his guitar and voice, and then adding new elements each week); inviting FPW members and friends to create wind bands and string bands for hymns and meditations. When Charlyn decided she wanted to do a Bach chorale for Music Sunday, I was doubtful. Bach’s music is challenging; how could we pull this off with no chance for rehearsal? I didn’t see how it could possibly work. She insisted, the choir met the challenge and came through beautifully, and the result was “A Mighty Fortress” in stirring images and sounds. She found new and creative music by UU musicians online, and used it for preludes and transitions (remember the sad ukulele music?) I take pride in being the engineer for most of these projects; but Charlyn was the “envisioner” in every case.

This is not an either/or relationship; I have sometimes been the visionary (our first virtual choir piece “Spirit of Life” was my choice) and Charlyn often helps with the technical details of adjusting synchronization and tuning in our virtual ensembles. But in the larger picture, these two complementing roles capture our working dynamic. The envisioner works behind the scenes, and the “grunt-worker” is out there in front of everyone. I am a grunt-worker who is extremely grateful to my wife and colleague…without her, none of this would have happened.

Guy Urban
Pianist | + posts