Our congregation is looking for its next music director, and we had a really interesting music stakeholders’ meeting last week. As we brainstormed wild-eyed dreams and wishes, one that came up was a desire for more variety in our music. Most of our music is classical–including some fresh off the press, thanks to our current music director’s being a highly accomplished composer–or folk.

When brave souls suggest that we use more contemporary music, the names that come up tend to be the Beatles and Bob Dylan. To be fair, Bob is still chugging away, but believe me, we aren’t talking about any of his albums from the ’00s, ’90s, or ’80s. Or probably ’70s. This is understandable, because studies suggest most people seldom listen to any popular music that came out since they were in high school or a little older. I’m an unadventurous music listener, myself, mostly listening to stuff that’s as old as I am or older. (When I was in high school, the airwaves were dominated by Michael Jackson and Madonna, neither of whom inspired me to buy their CDs, or as we still called them then, albums. Feh.) But “Blowin’ in the Wind,” while deservedly classic and even potentially useful in worship, is not contemporary. Heck, it had stopped being contemporary before the escalation of the Vietnam War.

One woman in the meeting talked about a song she knew, a pop or rock song I think it was, that seemed very spiritual to her. I bet most of us can think of some songs just like this, if we listen to any contemporary popular music.

I don’t think newer or more varied music can be counted on to bring hordes of young people to our churches (or African-American or Latino or working-class people, or whatever underrepresented-in-our-congregation population we’re aiming for). What I think is that it is meaningful for people to hear their music, and more diversity in music means this happens for more of our people, just as it’s meaningful for us each to hear our own theology and so our congregations use a range of theological language. So without making any claims of musical messianism, I’d still like to hear your suggestions for music appropriate in Unitarian Universalist worship that:

  1. was written in the last 10 years,
  2. is in some popular genre, and
  3. isn’t already in a UU hymnal.

Dropping a verse or changing pronouns are time-honored ways to adapt music to worship, so don’t be shy about that.  E.g., change “Rainmaker” by Keb’ Mo’ from 3rd person to 2nd and it is suddenly less a love song about a woman than a paean addressed to God, or your congregation, or something.  I can’t use that one, though, since it’s from 1998.

My first nominees are “One Voice” by the Wailin’ Jennys (from the CD 40 Days) and (oh dear, the only new music I seem to listen to is kids’ music) “Extraordinary,” “What a Ride!” and “How Big” by Eric Herman (all from What a Ride!).  Your turn!

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