2017 United Church of Christ Musicians Association Conference

"Clang, clang, clang went the trolley," and the 2017 United Church of Christ Musicians Association Boston conference was off and running. Following an unofficial opening with a Sunday afternoon reading session of choral music selected by four members of the UCCMA board of directors, including myself, the 125 registrants boarded trolley cars for a short, scenic ride around Boston in the early evening before heading to the official beginning at United Parish of Brookline for the opening worship service.
 
The highlight of the pre-service concert was an arrangement of "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" from Gustav Holst's The Planets. This was arranged for organ and trombone choir by the evening's guest organist, Peter Sykes, and was the grand finale to a concert presented by The Boston University Trombone Choir. A wonderful worship service followed the concert, which featured several of the week's presenters and liturgists: Rev. Kent French, Rev. Mary Luti, and composer and conductor Nick Page. A festival choir, made up of choir members from the planning committee's home churches presented a portion of Maurice Duruflé's Requiem, and "The Promise of Living" by Aaron Copland.
 
The conference went into full swing following Monday morning's worship service. A variety of workshops were offered during three different time slots throughout the day. Each session of workshops included a variety of offerings, making sure that there was always something of interest for everyone. The very first morning session I wanted to attend all four offerings, but being only able to choose one I ventured to a session entitled "Shape Note Music of the Past and Present: Singing Practices and Resources" led by presenter Megan Henderson. This was an informative hour and fifteen minutes spent exploring the music and learning about the practices. Other offerings included sessions on African drumming, choral conducting, children's choirs, handbells, polyphony, hospice singing, alternative worship music styles, aging singers, practical music for the church choir, arranging, and empowering song: an artistic blueprint for social change.
 
Other highlights included daily rehearsals for the Conference Choir and the Conference Handbell Choir. I chose to sing in the Conference Choir. It was a wonderful experience watching director Betsy Burleigh put into practice all of the tips and advice that she had shared in her workshops presented during the Conference. I only wished I had also been able to attend the Organ Class and the handbell rehearsals as well to see what they were up to in those sessions. 
  
The evening worship services were each very different experiences. Monday evening, we all journeyed to First Church in Cambridge to attend Night Song. "Night Song" is First Church's term for the Office of Compline, which they offer every Sunday evening. It was a special evening to just sit in the dark and let the sound of Beneficia lucis, a 15-voice men's choir, wash over us. It was a lovely, peaceful way to end a busy day.
 
Tuesday evening, everyone made their own way to the famous Old North Church for an evening of shape note singing. Even a very hot Boston evening couldn't dampen the enthusiasm of 130 or so people singing four-part harmony a cappella. Wednesday began with breakfast, followed by a communion service led by Rev. Kent French and Jodi Hitzhusen. This was followed by the final workshop sessions of the conference and rehearsals for the conference choirs. A lunch for all of the conference attendees and a business meeting of the UCCMA membership and board followed.The business meeting included reports from each of the board members regarding their responsibilities, a short announcement of the 2019 conference location, and a raffle offering one free registration to the 2019 conference in Madison, Wisconsin was also awarded. 
  
The closing night festival worship service was held at the historic Old South Church on Copley Square. Worship began with a prelude of pieces presented by members of Old South's Gospel Choir and Jazz Worship Ministries. Following this, the service began with the Conference Choir, directed by Betsy Burleigh. This was worship filled with music under the direction of Betsy Burleigh and Griff Gall, who was the handbell clinician for the week. Several highlights of this service included the singing of a beautiful anthem, "Elegy," by Horace Lorenzo Trim and Daniel Elder, dedicated to the memory of Harry Huff, long-time minister of music for Old South Church who died unexpectedly last fall. One of the most moving moments of the service was the individual blessing of the hands of each of the musicians present. 
  
As I have been a member of the Board of Directors of UCCMA for a little over two years now, I, along with the rest of the board, arrived in Boston a day early to help with final arrangements, get hosting assignments for the four days of the conference, etc. In addition, the board held a six-hour meeting on Thursday to review the conference's success, give suggestions for the next conference, and attend to regular board business as we do during our monthly telephone conference calls.
 
It was a fun, joyous, worshipful experience spending six days in Boston with other (mostly) UCC musicians. I heard A LOT of useful information, got a lot of useful advice, and watched everything very closely since First Congregational, Madison will be hosting the next national conference of the UCC Musicians Association in June, 2019.
~ Don DeBruin
 

Posted on August 8, 2017 at 10:37 am in Featured Content.

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