Protest songs

At the end of August, “The Ongoing History of Protest Music” website had a blog post titled “A Month of Protest.” The first song they featured was “Black AF,” by Crystal Axis, an Afropunk band from Kenya. (Before you crank up the sound be aware that, like a lot of punk rock, “Black AF” is Not Safe For Work.)

I didn’t even know that leftist punk rock still existed. But Crystal Axis are keeping the tradition alive with some really hard-hitting songs. As I started listening to their music, I was particularly struck by their 2017 song “Leopold,” an anti-colonialist song about King Leopold of Belgium. Leopold led Belgium in the brutal exploitation of the Congo, and Crystal Axis’s lyrics provide a concise summary of the king’s self-justification:

“I’m the king and it’s all mine
Under Force Publique and Christ
Your hands are mine tonight
Fingers up one time!”

Leopold was especially notorious for ordering the amputation of the hands of workers if work quotas were not met. Theologically he, like other Western colonial rulers, used the Christian religion both as a cover and as a justification for his crimes against humanity.

“Take the Throne,” a song they released last year, also has some leftist theological comment. First, the lyrics call out the injustice caused by gross economic inequality, where the rich are literally starving the rest of the world:

“You eat, we watch; a revolution’s born
We’ll tear down the walls and then we’ll take the throne”

Now comes their theological commentary:

“The voice of the people is the voice of God
Too many lies, deities we can’t applaud”

This is a theology in direct opposition to King Leopold’s theology. Leopold claimed his God gave him the power to do what he liked to those who had less power, less wealth, those who were not white. By contrast, Crystal Axis are saying that God is in the voice of ordinary people — which is pretty much what Jesus said when he pointed out how difficult it would be for rich people to get into heaven. This is also a theology that’s consistent with an African ethics that privileges the social over the individualistic.

As someone who loves punk rock, I really enjoyed hearing leftist theology in the context of topnotch music. For more, visit their website or their Facebook page.

What I did on my summer vacation

Back in July, Carol and I drove to the Cumberland County Fairgrounds in Maine.

We sang Sacred Harp, in a pulling shed, with forty other Sacred Harp singers. There were horses trotting around the race track next to the pulling shed.

Click on the image above to view the video on Youtube

The pandemic shut down in person singing for a long time. It felt really good to sing with other people in person.

I was glad to see that someone posted videos of us singing, so I could be reminded of one of the highlights of my summer vacation.

Going to have to work for peace

Peace is not the absence of war,
it is the absence of the rumors of war and the panic for war and the preparations for war.

Peace is not the absence of war,
it is the absence of the threats of war and the rumors of war and the preparations for war.

There’ll be no freedom without peace.

— Gil Scott-Heron, “Work for Peace” (2001)

Nine more copyright free hymns

Nine more copyright-free hymns. Yes, you can use these hymns online without having copyright trolls harass you. They’re in this Google Drive folder, along with 91 others — making a total of 100 copyright-free hymns in that folder.

Of interest in this batch of copyright-free hymns:

There are 3 hymn tunes by Thomas Commuck, the first Native American composer to publish his music. In two cases, I found texts in a current UU hymnal with copyright-protected music, and substituted one of Commucks’ tunes instead. In the third case, I found a lovely text by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, the African American Unitarian poet from the mid-19th century, and paired it with a Commuck tune. These three hymns will be of interest if you’d like to include an Indigenous composer in your worship music.

For “Hush, Somebody’s Calling My Name,” I found a 1923 arrangement by J. B. Herbert, based on melodies provided by Rev. Turner Henderson Wiseman (1881-1939). T. H. Wiseman was a charismatic African American minister of the early twentieth century. On Feb. 7, 1914, the Kansas City (Mo.) Sun called him “a brilliant young minister,” adding: “Perhaps there is no young man in the ministry of the African Methodist Episcopal Church who has made such an enviable reputation as Rev. T. H. Wiseman…. Rev. Wiseman is not only a pleasing and intellectual preacher of the Gospel, but is one of the most accomplished and sweetest singers of the race.” He made a number of recordings in the 1920s, many of which you can find online. His quartet’s recording of “Hush” is online at the Internet Archive, and is well worth listening to. In the notes to this hymn (see below), I discuss what Wiseman’s contribution to this song might have been.

(Researching these nine hymns was painful. My brain hurts. I need to take a break from this copyright-free hymn project.)

Notes to all nine new hymns below the fold.

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Still more copyright-free hymns

Five more copyright-free hymns added to this Google Drive folder. Full info about these newly added hymns below the fold. There are now 91 copyright-free hymns in the Google Drive folder.

66 of these are copyright-free versions (tune, text, and arrangement) of hymns from one of the two current Unitarian Universalist hymnals.

For the hymns not in the hymnals, I’ve tried to increase racial and gender diversity: 8 are from the African American tradition; 4 by women authors; 1 by a woman composer; and there’s 1 South African freedom song. I’ve also tried to add a little theological diversity: 1 Buddhist hymn; 1 Jewish hymn; 1 Neo-Pagan chant.

In the future, I’m planning to add tunes by Native composer Thomas Commuck, who was the first Native American to publish composed music. I’m also planning to add another 34 copyright-free versions of hymns from the current UU hymnals, bringing the total to 100 (plus the 25 hymns not from the current hymnals). Eventually, all these hymns will be gathered together on a static webpage. (But I don’t know when I’ll finish all these tasks, since we’re moving in a few weeks.)

Info for the newly-added hymns is below the fold.

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More ambiguous copyright status

Here’s yet another example of a hymn in a current UU hymnal, with an ambiguous copyright status.

The lyrics to “This Old World Is Full of Sorrow” — no. 315 in Singing the Living Tradition — apparently first appeared in print in 1983 in New American Songster, ed. Charles W. Darling (Univ. Press, 1983). Darling provides the following source for the lyrics:

“Howie Mitchell learned the words to ‘This Old World’ from Bernie Lourie while attending Cornell University. Its message is universal. Test: Golden Ring, Folk-Legacy FSJ-16 (used by permission of Folk-Legacy Records, Sharon, CT).”

The album Golden Ring was first released in 1964, and is still available from the Smithsonian Institute (which bought out Folkways Records). You can still purchase the individual track for “This Old World” on the Folkways website. I can’t find any earlier publication.

My guess is that these lyrics are a product of one or more anonymous authors during the Folk Revival of the 1950s and early 1960s. Given the spirit of sharing during the Folk Revival, and given that they resemble other folk lyrics, the authors/redactors of the texts doubtless considered them to be in the public domain. From a legal standpoint, Folkways Records slapped a copyright on the recording, although they really didn’t have the right to do so. During the Folk Revival, this was standard practice: companies slapped copyright notices on public domain tunes and lyrics, often to prevent other companies from claiming copyright on public domain material. However it would be difficult to enforce any copyright claim, and it’s unlikely the Smithsonian Institute, current holder of the putative copyright, would even try.

Regardless, the attribution in Singing the Living Tradition should be changed. Instead of “Words: American folk tune, adapt.” (which doesn’t even make sense), a better attribution would be “Words: probably U.S. Folk Revival, 1945-1964.”

Here are the words as they appear in New American Songster:

This old world is full of sorrow,
Full of sickness, weak and sore.
If you love your neighbor truly,
Love will come to you the more.

We’re all children of one Father,
We’re all brothers and sisters too.
If you cherish one another
Love and pity will come to you.

This old world is full of sorrow,
Full of sickness, weak and sore.
If you love your neighbor truly,
Love will come to you the more.

So what about the other two verses printed in Singing the Living Tradition? It’s a good bet they were written by the compilers of the hymnal. (They certainly don’t sound like folk lyrics, or even composed lyrics from the Folk Revival.) So Unitarian Universalist congregations can safely use the last two verses in Singing the Living Tradition. But if you use them for any other purpose, assume they’re copyright-protected.

As for the music provide from hymn no. 315, it’s adapted from The Southern Harmony. There are enough changes in the arrangement that it may be protected by copyright. Again, it’s probably fine for Unitarian Universalist congregations to use, but for any other purpose assume that there’s a copyright.

Post-pandemic singing

Dr. Anthony Fauci has declared that we are now “out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase” of COVID. This doesn’t mean that COVID is gone. It just means that “we’ve now decelerated and transitioned into more of a controlled phase,” according to Fauci.

This tallies with my own observations. COVID is still a threat, but not as dire a threat as it was a few months ago. So over the weekend, I decided to go to a group singing event that would require proof of vaccination for entry.

There were perhaps forty people at this Sacred Harp singing. I found it a little bit scary to be with so many people. (Though I was far more scared walking through airports when we flew to visit Carol’s father back in March — there were many more people in the airports, and anyone who was eating or drinking had their masks off.)

While I did find it to be a little bit scary, I also found it to be exhilarating. I’ve been too isolated during the pandemic. And I’ve done almost no in-person singing — no singing in choirs, no folk music jam sessions, no singing with a quartet, very little Sacred Harp singing. I’m not a particularly good singer, but before the pandemic, singing was my primary social outlet. Saturday’s singing event was definitely good for my mental health.

In this phase of the pandemic — this “more controlled phase,” to use Fauci’s words — we’re going to be balancing the threats from COVID against the threat that isolation poses to our mental health. It’s going to be a difficult balance to strike.

I’ll put a photo of the singing below the fold. But if you get triggered by seeing a bunch of people singing indoors at this point in the pandemic, don’t click through.

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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. Besides, as an ehtical issue, we should respect the moral rights of composers and authors.

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.

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