Detroit-area choirs gather for music, community

Every other year since 2003, the choirs of many Unitarian Universalist congregations in the Detroit, Michigan, area have come together for a music festival. The latest was March 9 at First UU Church of Detroit.

At the first festival there were eight choirs; this year there were choristers from ten congregations, with a total of about 130 singers.

“This is just an amazing experience every time we do it,” said Al Acker, a longtime choir member with First UU. “The thing I like most is that my own choir on a good Sunday will have only twelve or thirteen members. To sing with a group of more than 100 is just such a wonderful experience. Also, we get to work with the music directors of other congregations. And once we’ve learned these songs we can sing them at other services throughout the year.”

It’s a lot of music to learn, he acknowledged. “That’s why we only do this every other year.” The choirs practice the numbers at home then gather Saturday for practices and lunch. They come back Sunday for the performance.

Acker said most of the 80 to 90 members of First Unitarian contributed to the concert by singing, providing and serving the lunch, helping with parking, or ushering. The concert is held in a different location every year.

In addition to First Unitarian, the congregations that participated are First UU Church of Ann Arbor, Birmingham Unitarian Church, Emerson Church UU, New Hope UU Congregation, Northwest UU Church, Paint Creek UU Congregation, Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church, UU Church of Farmington, and the UU Church of Olinda, at Ruthven, Ontario.

The original idea for the concert came from Todd Ballou, music director at the Detroit congregation and Anna Speck, the then-music director at Grosse Pointe. “It’s become one of the rare opportunities to get people together from all the area congregations,” said Ballou.

Special guests sometimes appear. This year Naomi Long Madgett, the poet laureate of Detroit, read some of her poems. UU songwriter Carolyn McDade led some of the songs several years ago. “Sometimes we can’t decide if this is a church service with tons of music or a choir concert with some speaking parts. This year it was more of a concert,” said Ballou.

UU church offers music ministry internships

From June’s InterConnections feature story, now online at UUA.org:

Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO, has had a number of ministerial interns over the years. It’s also gone a step further, hiring three music ministry interns.

The first was in 2004, the second in 2009, and the third arrives in July. “With all of the conversation happening now about excellence in ministry, having music ministry interns is an interesting part of that discussion,” says Keith Arnold, Jefferson’s minister of music.

“It raises the question: Where do we find new religious professionals? Do we wait for them to show up, or do we recruit and train them?” He adds that many music schools don’t provide training on how to offer music in church settings.

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