portrait of woman in black holding oboe

Charlyn Bethell, Music Director

Sometimes Deep Listening for me is to hear something new in a piece of music each time I listen to it.  To do that, the music has to be first and foremost the only thing I am thinking about.  Music at our house is seldom in the “background”.  Years ago, as a college student and music major, I took it upon myself to listen over and over to a piano piece by Charles Ives, the Concord Sonata.  These pieces are abstract, certainly an acquired taste;  one does not walk away from hearing Ives humming.  There is a connection to transcendentalists, as each movement describes Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and the Alcotts.  I have not listened to them recently but they are imprinted upon my musical brain.  What did I hear from them?  I heard simplicity and honesty and beauty and difficulty.  I heard two or more parts that sounded like they did not belong together.  I heard many voices trying to dominate and then softer ones that were less obvious.  There were so many voices that I could be overwhelmed and need to take a break.  I think that listening to this piece is not different from thinking about our world today.  It is hard to hear all that needs to be heard.  It is hard to respond to all that requires our attention.  Deep listening is a commitment to hearing what is loud and obvious along with what is soft and subtle.

Finding music that fits our world and helps us make sense of all that is happening, even in one week, is like listening to Ives.  Musical multi-tasking.  I hope that learning about the Hymn of the Month will create a focus for us all. 

We’re Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table, hymn #407, is a spiritual that was sung by enslaved people who longed for a life equal to those around them, a world where no race is superior to another.  I long to sit at that table!  I am sad that we are still on our way to including all people at our tables.  The lyrics from our UU hymnal include: 

Verse 1:  We’re gonna sit at the welcome table.

Verse 2:  All kinds of people around the table.

Verse 3:  No fancy style at the welcome table.

I hope I am extending our experience of this hymn with these authentic lyrics instead of the ones in our hymnal:

Verse 1:  We’re gonna sit at the welcome table.

Verse 2:  I’m gonna taste some milk and honey.

Verse 3:  I’m gonna tell God how you treat me.

Verse 4:  We’re gonna sit at the welcome table.

Other verses I have heard or seen printed include:

I’m gonna eat off the welcome table.

I’m gonna ride in the chariot wid Jesus.

I’m gonna shout and not be weary.

This is a song of resistance that reminds us that Black Lives Matter.

Sometime this month, you will hear our First Parish choir sing an anthem done virtually called Lux Aeterna (Eternal Light).  It is such a treat to hear people singing together.  Yet, none of them are actually singing together!  They sing into their phones or into a microphone by themselves.  They then send their recording to Guy, who mixes them together.  All of us would rather be together to sing for all the reasons that we sing together:  community, blending our voices, sharing our musical vision of the piece, singing as one, sharing our space and our voices.  As we continue to hunker down to stay safe and well, we will remember that sometime, not soon enough, we will be together again (in the same room!) to sing and rejoice.  Meanwhile, we do what we can.

Stay safe, Stay well!

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.