Two hymns not in the public domain

I believe the UUA’s “Copyright & Permissions for Hymn and Reading Use in UU Worship” may incorrectly lists two hymns as public domain or fair use.

Jubilate Deo, hymn #393 — words and music are stated to be “fair use or public domain.” The words clearly are in the public domain. However, the music is covered by copyright. Hymnary.org lists Jacques Berthier as arranger, and shows a scan of a page from a recent hymnal, Ritual Song (2016), that give the following copyright information: “Taizé Community, 1990, © 1978, 1990, Les Presses do Taizé, GIA Publications, Inc., agent.” I think it’s pretty clear that this song should not be used in recordings without permission from the Taizé community.

Rise Up O Flame, hymn #362 — words and music are stated to be “fair use or public domain.” The earliest reference I can find of this song is in the book Sing Together published by the Girl Scouts in the U.S. in 1936; there, the song is “used by permission” and credited to the Kent County Song Book from 1934, which was printed in England for the Girl Guides. Sing Together credits the music to Christoph Praetorius, and it’s quite possible the music is by Christoph Praetorius, or more likely was arranged by someone else from his work. However, the English-language words are surely a translation or adaptation, and may be protected by copyright.

Both these songs have been widely reprinted and recorded, including by major publishers, so you can probably get away with including them in recordings of your congregation’s worship services. But if you want to record “Jubilate Deo,” you really should get permission from the Taizé community. As for “Rise Up, O Flame,” it seems that it was copyrighted at one point, but it’s not clear if the copyright applied to the U.S., and if so, whether the copyright was renewed; proceed at your own risk.

This shows that there are indeed errors in the UUA’s “Copyright & Permissions for Hymn and Reading Use in UU Worship.” You have been warned.

We shall overcome burdensome copyright restrictions

I recently learned that the song “We Shall Overcome” is now in the public domain, due to a 2017 court ruling and a 2018 settlement. A lawyer tells the whole story in some detail here.

The short version: In 2017, a federal court ruled that the tune, arrangement, and first verse of “We Shall Overcome” are in the public domain (We Shall Overcome Foundation v. The Richmond Organization, Inc., 2017 WL 3981311 [S.D.N.Y. Sept. 8, 2017]). In addition to the court ruling, the defendant and plaintiff subsequently entered into a settlement agreement which said, in part, that TRO would not “claim copyright in the melody or lyrics of any verse of the song ‘We Shall Overcome’”; furthermore, TRO agreed that all verses of the song were “hereafter dedicated to the public domain” (We Shall Overcome Foundation v. The Richmond Org., 330 F. Supp. 3d 960 [S.D.N.Y. 2018]).

This is very good news indeed. Sure, now the song can be used in all sorts of horrible advertising. At the same time, now you cannot be slapped with a royalty fee for using “We Shall Overcome” in your worship service, in the video that you made of some rally or demonstration, or in the audio recording of you singing at a coffeehouse.

Of course, just about all the piano or choral arrangements out there are copyright protected, including the one in the current UU hymnal. So here’s a very basic arrangement of “We Shall Overcome” which I’m releasing into the public domain; and hey, if you don’t like my version, it’s a public domain song so you can write your own! (I’ve changed a couple of the usual verses so they’re less ableist.)

Click the image above for sheet music.

By the way, I’m finding that it’s a good song to sing around the house now that we’re hunkered down because of the Omicron surge.

More copyright-free hymns

I just uploaded another batch of 26 copyright-free hymns onto Google Drive.

This collection of copyright-free hymns now includes a total of 63 hymns, with 38 copyright-free versions of hymns in the two current Unitarian Universalist hymnals, along with 24 other hymns and songs (including classics like “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore,” which really should be in our hymnals anyway). Not only are tune, text, and arrangement copyright-free, but the typesetting is as well, so you can project these or place them in online orders of service without a problem.

The “ReadMe” file in the Google Drive folder gives some information about each hymn, and also gives the corresponding number if there’s a version of the hymn in one of the UU hymnals.

In several cases, hymn texts now offer degenderized lyrics, for those who prefer to move away from binary gender options (e.g, for “The Earth is our mother,” the alternative “The Earth is our parent” is suggested). Eventually, I’ll offer degenderized options for all lyrics, but it takes — so — much — time to produce quality music typesetting that I can’t promise when I’ll get to it.

Whether you use these in your congregation’s online worship services, or at home, or around a campfire, I think you’ll find lots of fun and uplifting music here. I’d love it if you’d let me know where and how and if you use this music!

Update, 1/18/2022: Now up to 71 total hymns and spiritual songs, with 44 of them being copyright-free versions of hymns from the two current UU hymnals. List of hymns (with references to hymnal numbers, and notes on copyright status) below the fold.

Continue reading “More copyright-free hymns”

Another not-Emerson hymn?

Where do the words for the hymn “We Sing of Golden Mornings” come from? This hymn appears in the 1955 American Ethical Union hymnal We Sing of Life, and in the 1993 Unitarian Universalist hymnal Singing the Living Tradition. In the latter hymanl, the words are attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “recast 1925, 1950, 1990.”

But a quick web search shows that the phrase “golden mornings” does not appear anywhere in Emerson’s poetry. The same is true of several other distinctive phrases in the hymn: “flashing sunshine,” “heart courageous,” “earth’s great splendor,” etc. I can’t even figure out from which of Emerson’s poems this hymn might have been derived.

Eunice Boardman (Exploring Music, vol. 4, Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston, 1971, p. 26) attributes this as “words by Vincent Silliman from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson.” Well, maybe. But I can’t find any Emerson poem that even vaguely resembles this. Clarence Burley, in an essay “Emerson the Lyricist” (Emerson Society Papers, vol. 8, no. 1, spring, 1997, p. 5), says that as this poem “does not appear in the Library of America edition [of Emerson’s complete poems], I don’t know the extent of recasting and revising.” That’s a nice, polite way of stating my conclusion — that this hymn is Not Emerson.

(Oh, and to complicate matters more, the music attribution is also wrong. The tune is in fact from William Walker’s Southern Harmony, only slightly modified. But the harmonization in Singing the Living Tradition is most definitely not by William Walker, which raises the question: Who wrote the harmonization?)

(Click here for more Not Emerson.)

Winter holiday songs

A few years ago, I started working on a book of songs and carols for winter holidays, pitched for medium voices (most Christmas carols are pitched for sopranos and tenors), arranged on simple lead sheets. I had to abandon the project because life got in the way. Someday maybe I’ll finish the book, but in the mean time to help you celebrate Yule and Christmas, here are three of the completed lead sheets: “Children, Go Where I Send Thee,” transcribed from a 1942 Library of Congress recording; “A Christmas Caroll” by Thomas Ravenscroft; and “The Cutty Wren,” one of those songs about the weird winter tradition of the hunting of the wren.

Yeah, I know it’s still unsafe to sing in large groups, but you can sing these at home.

Gender-balanced kids’ book of Bible stories

An interesting new children’s book of Bible stories is being funded on Kickstarter. The goal: a kid’s book that’s gender-balanced. Why? Because for the majority of children’s Bible story books, “female characters are vastly underrepresented in both the stories and the illustrations.” The illustrations are also going to show racially diverse characters. Admirable, and I look forward to seeing the book — which sadly won’t be published till 2023.

The old Unitarian Universalist “Timeless Themes” stories, while not completely gender-balanced, had pretty good representation of women. It would be fun to update that with some multi-racial illustrations. And wouldn’t it be nice if we had a UU children’s book of Bible stories that recognizes that God is non-binary gender? Uh huh, that’s what it says in Genesis 1:27: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Ignore the pronouns (nobody remembers ask ask God what their pronouns are), and it’s pretty clear that all genders are created in God’s image.

What doesn’t kill you….

Sometimes when I’m talking to someone who has just been through a major life disaster, they will say, “Well, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ right?” They find it comforting to think that life will turn out all right in the end.

When I’m doing pastoral counseling, my job is mostly to listen, and maybe to help people find at least a little hope in their lives. If the phrase “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”gives them hope, then of course I agree with them.

But I can’t help thinking about all the people who have suffered through one of life’s disasters, and come out of the other end weaker, rather than stronger. And I think to myself: “What doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you.” That can still be an expression of hope, just maybe a little more true to more people’s actual experiences.

So I was pleased to read about Kate Bowler’s new book, No Cure for Being Human (and Other Truths I Needed To Hear). Bowler’s earlier book, Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) gently showed up the mistakes of the Prosperity Gospel, that strange vaguely Christian theology which interprets any misfortune as some kind of personal failing that has invoked God’s disfavor.

Bowler’s new book continues in the same vein. Religion News Service says the book “is a broadside against a culture obsessed with the power of positive thinking.” Bowler is a professor at Duke University who has written academic studies of the Prosperity Gospel. And she survived stage 4 colon cancer while in her thirties, and “her health is fragile and will likely remain so.” So she is someone who can see just how damaging the prosperity gospel can be. And she’s out to provide a popular, friendly, optimistic alternative.

And boy, do we need an alternative to the Prosperity Gospel. Because it’s not just Christians who believe in the Prosperity Gospel. I have atheist friends who think this is the best of all possible worlds, that you can improve your life by making more money and “taking care of yourself,” that if anything goes wrong in your life it’s your own fault. I have Buddhist friends who believe that you wouldn’t suffer if you’d just meditate more, so if you feel bad it’s your own fault. And I have Pagan friends who are convinced that it’s negative thinking that causes life’s problems, meaning if you have any problems, it’s your own fault.

But of course it isn’t your fault. When bad things happen to you, more often than not it just means that bad things have happened to you. (Of course, if you do something foolish like storming the Capitol building and you find yourself in jail, then yes it actually is your fault.) I’m glad there are people like Kate Bowler who are willing to point out that the Prosperity Gospel in any form — Christian, atheist, Buddhist, Pagan — is wrong. There’s a better way: learn to live with life as it is, and instead of manufacturing fake hope, find real hope instead.

Step by Step

I got curious about the song “Step by Step,” a song that Waldemar Hille and Pete Seeger put together — it’s hymn number 157 in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal. Hille found a poem in the “Constitution and Laws for the Government and Guidance of the American Miners’ Association” (1864), and he and Seeger made a song out of it. But Seeger said they changed some of the words, so I got curious about the original wording. I found a digitized copy of the poem online, and it reads like this:

Step by step, the longest march
Can be won, can be won,
Single stones will form an arch
One by one, one by one,
And by union, what we will
Can be all accomplished still.
Drops of water turn a mill—
Singly none, singly none.

I decided I liked the original words better than Hille and Seeger’s rewrite — the original second stanza feels more positive to me. Then I realized I’ve always disliked Hille and Seeger’s tune; it sounds like a dirge, better suited to a funeral than to a union marching song.

Worst of all, Hille and Seeger slapped a copyright on their song. Maybe while they were alive they would have given permission to use it freely, but they’re both dead now. Besides, who wants to have to write for permission to sing the song?

So here’s my version of this grand old union song. It has the original public domain words, paired with a tune licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License:

Click on the image above for a PDF.

Solving the Silicon Valley housing crisis four people at a time

The title of a recent San Francisco Chronicle article says it all:

He wanted to let homeless neighbors sleep in cars outside his church. It launched a two-year battle.

The “he” in the title is my new UU hero, Chris Kan. Chris grew up in San Francisco, and after a stint teaching at UC Santa Cruz, moved to Silicon Valley to do cancer research. He also joined the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto (UUCPA), where he got involved in an effort to allow car dwellers to park safely in the church parking lot. I’m proud to say that UUCPA is my congregation, too, and I’m proud that many of us supported Chris in this two year battle — showing up at City Council meetings, working behind the scenes with community stakeholders, coordinating with Move Mountain View, a local nonprofit, to provide support services, arranging to have a Porta-Potty on site, making sure we could provide free wifi to car dwellers, and on and on — but Chris was the one who provided clear and steady leadership through this agonizing two-year process.

Sadly, we all knew that UUCPA’s permit application would take forever to get through the city of Palo Alto. The city is notorious for its torturous permitting process. And during the application process we suspected we’d hear comments like, “We don’t want those people living near us.” Those are the things you have to expect when you propose any solution to Silicon Valley’s housing crisis: the city government will take forever to approve the project, and some city residents will talk about “those people.”

Admittedly, we were a little surprised when Stevenson House, the subsidized elderly housing project next door to our church, filed a last minute appeal to block our permit this summer. But it all turned out all right in the end. You can read about the appeal in this news article — the reporter quotes Grace Mah, president of the Stevenson House Board, as saying the Board wanted background checks. True, some safe parking programs do require background checks, but our local county opposes background checks because they raise another barrier to housing. Fortunately, the Stevenson House Board quickly changed its mind, and the next time they met they voted to drop the appeal. (That installment of the story is reported here.) I’m a big supporter of Stevenson House’s mission, and I appreciate the fact that their board, after doing their due diligence, ultimately supported our safe parking program. We’re grateful to have a good neighbor like Stevenson House, a group that’s also committed to solving the Silicon Valley housing crisis.

The big problem is how badly local city governments are handling any proposed solution to the Silicon Valley housing crisis. As Chris Kan told the Chronicle reporter: “They basically treated [the safe parking program] the same way you would if I was building a condo building…. [but] it’s literally a parking lot with a trash can.” I suppose you could do some incisive social analysis of why local city governments throw up barriers to any solution to the Silicon Valley housing crisis. However, I’ve given up on incisive social analysis, preferring to pour my energy into supporting people like Chris Kan, who are actually out there solving the problem. As I said, Chris is my new UU hero.

Update: NBC Bay Area covers this story here. Here’s an excerpt from their story — I particularly like Amber Stine’s comment at the end:

“A board member at the senior living facility next door [i.e., Grace Mah of Stevenson House] asked for a review…. She eventually dropped the request after Kan and other church members explained the program…. ‘The pushback is fine. Some of it is necessary. It creates conversation. I think it’s the outcome that matters more than anything,’ said Amber Stime, executive director of Move Mountain View.”

Conspiracy theories and religion

In the latest podcast at the Religious Studies Project, Carmen Celestini, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre on Hate, Bias, and Extremism, talks about her research into conspiracy theories. She begins by offering one of the best definitions I’ve ever heard of what a conspiracy theory actually is:

“A conspiracy theory is usually some articulation of fear and trying to find an answer to what’s causing the fear or causing sustained sense of disaster. It’s an explanation when some of the things that you would normally turn to aren’t providing the answers you’re looking for.”

Then she offers a fascinating overview of conspiracy theories in North America, from the Know-Nothings in the 19th century, to the John Birch Society in the 20th century, to QAnon in the 21st century. She covers a bunch of topics that I’m currently fascinated with, including the resurgence of the John Birch Society in recent years, “Blue Beam,” “White Lives Matter,” the Council for National Policy, and the role of religion among people who refuse to get vaccinated.

She concludes by saying that it’s not helpful to merely dismiss conspiracy theories, because they’re not going to simply disappear:

“Possibly when people get back to work and the pandemic is over and people start engaging with social groups again, [the prevalence of conspiracy theories] might lessen a little bit, but those ideas of distrust are not going to simply go away. Those ideas of distressing the media or government are not going to go away. And it is something that the government and media and all of us have to articulate. We have to be out there in our public intellectualism talking about these things and not dismissing people but engaging and trying to understand.”

This is useful advice for religious liberals who may be inclined to dismiss conspiracy theories, and the religious impulses associated with them. Instead of dismissing them, we’d be better off using our skills in interfaith and cross-cultural understanding. The distrust underlying conspiracy theories is real, and it behooves us to try to understand.