Six more copyright free hymns

Clearing a backlog of copyright-free hymns from my music files.

I’ve just uploaded PDFs of 6 more copyright-free hymns to this Google Drive folder: “The Growing Light,” “A Hundred Years Hence,” “Peace, the Perfect Word,” “Prayer for This House,” “There Are Numerous Strings in Your Lute,” and “Turn Back.” Most of these hymns have appeared in UU hymnals.

Why copyright-free hymns? Because you don’t need a license, which smaller congregations may not be able to afford. Because you can do anything you want with them, including recording them, altering them, projecting lyrics and/or music, etc., etc. In this multiplatform age, we need more copyright-free hymns.

Of this batch of copyright-free hymns, you may be most interested in “There Are Numerous Strings in Your Lute.” Lovely words by Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel prize winning author who was associated with the Brahmo Samaj, a South Asian spiritual movement which both was influenced by Anglo-American Unitarianism, and which had a powerful influence on Anglo-American Unitarianism. The music supplied for this text in Singing the Living Tradition is pleasant, but I don’t know anyone who’s ever actually sung it in congregational worship — it comes across as more of a choir anthem. I found two 19th century shape-note tunes that fit Tagore’s text reasonably well. I hope these two easy-to-sing tunes make it more likely that this lovely text is actually sung in worship.

Of the other hymns included here, “A Hundred Years Hence” is a feminist hymn; and both “Peace, the Perfect Word” and “Turn Back” are peace songs. Full information about tunes and texts is below the fold.

Now online: 87 total hymns, including 61 from the two current UU hymnals.

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Five more copyright free hymns

I’ve just uploaded PDFs of 5 more copyright-free hymns to this Google Drive folder: “Come By Here” (a.k.a. “Kumbayah”), “Many Thousand Gone,” “Nobody Know the Trouble I’ve Seen,” “Siyahamba,” and “Transience.” All these hymns have appeared in UU hymnals.

Why copyright-free hymns? Because you don’t need a license, which smaller congregations may not be able to afford. Because you can do anything you want with them, including recording them, altering them, projecting lyrics and/or music, etc., etc. In this multiplatform age, we need more copyright-free hymns.

Of the hymns I just uploaded, you might be most interested in “Come By Here.” This is often assumed to be a copyrighted song composed by Marvin Frey. My research shows that this is, in fact, a public domain song. In addition, most of us are sick of the usual, sing-around-the-campfire “Kumbayah,” which can sound a bit dreary. I found alternate public domain tune and lyrics that are more lively, more fun to sing.

“Transience” is also worthy of your attention. It’s one of the songs that got dropped in the transition from the 1964 Songs for the Celebration of Life hymnal to the 1993 Singing the Living Tradition hymnal. The text is by South Asian poet Sarojini Naidu. Not only is it a pretty good poem, but we need more hymns by Asian and Asian American authors and composers.

Information for the five songs is below the fold.

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Reopening

Here in Palo Alto, it feels like people are starting to return to church. It’s not like the pandemic has gone away. Here in Palo Alto, the Omicron surge has died down, but now we’re seeing a slight uptick in cases, probably caused by BA.2. Or caused by the lifting of indoors restrictions on masks. Or caused by hundreds of other random variables that we’re not aware of.

At the same time, we’re also becoming more aware of another public health problem — an increase in mental health issues among teens and children. Teen mental health problems began rising around 2009, but the pandemic prompted even more teen mental health issues. One probable cause: a rise in screen time. More screen time leads to more mental health problems. And the pandemic led to even more screen time.

I feel that our congregations are in a balancing act right now. On the one hand, we want to help control the virus, and we also want to remain accessible to people who are vulnerable to the virus. On the other hand, we know that our in-person programming can support positive mental health outcomes in children and teens. So we need to reopen to support good mental health, and we also need to promote COVID safety.

Right now, the Palo Alto congregation where I serve is reopening as fast as we can, while staying safe. We just figured out how to start offering child care for infants and toddlers once again. As the weather warms up, we’re seeing more preschoolers show up for outdoor play time — we had six preschoolers on campus this past Sunday, the first time we’ve had more than two since the pandemic began. We’re still not up to pre-pandemic attendance, but we’re getting there. And we’re still offering most of our programming outdoors, or in large rooms with small numbers of kids.

Reopening is a lot of work. But I don’t mind. It feels great having more people showing up in person again.

Where we are now with COVID and congregations

I’m watching the case rates in Santa Clara County, where the Palo Alto congregation is located. The 7-day rolling average is over 4,000 — yikes, that’s high. On the other hand, preliminary figures for mortality seem to show a low death rate — probably due in part to the fact that 82.8% of county residents have been fully vaccinated (thought only 58.2% of eligible residents have received boosters). But on the other other hand (that’s three hands, if you’re keeping track), anecdotal evidence from health care professionals says that ICU beds are getting full again, and elective surgeries and procedures that require an overnight stay in the hospital are being postponed.

Obviously, this is not where we hoped to be. But rather than feeling discouraged, I suggest we consider this as another problem in planning. So, how do we plan for next steps in our congregations?

First, just to say the obvious — any plan we make has to be flexible, to account for changing circumstances.

Second, to say something else that’s obvious — we’ve discovered that the big thing that draws many people to UU congregations is the community. Sure, we like the theology, but the big draw is a chance to be a part of a community with shared values. And many people want to get a regular dose of UU community in person.

Third, something else that’s obvious — we’re gaining a pretty good sense of what’s safest, and less safe. It’s safest to do in-person gatherings that are outdoors, distanced (or small groups), and masked. It’s less safe to do indoors events, but some indoors events are still possible in some circumstances. Instead of saying, “Oh we can’t do what we used to do, waaah!” we probably need to start saying, “Gee, what are our present options for fun and engaging communal events?”

So here’s one obvious thing I believe we should be doing: we should be planning outdoors events. Whatever that might be: outdoors worship services, outdoors small group meetings, outdoors classes. (And I know what those of you are going to say who live where winters are really cold — you’re going to say this doesn’t apply to you. Well, my-sister-the-children’s-librarian, who lives and works in Massachusetts, is doing outdoors story time for kids in the winter; sure, her attendance is lower, but people still show up.) It’s true that not everyone in your congregation is going to come to outdoors events, but I suspect enough people are hungry for in-person interaction that it’s worth doing.

Another thing I believe we have to do: start planning like COVID is not going away. I would love it if COVID suddenly decided to go away next month. But it now looks like there’s a good chance that COVID is going to become endemic. If it has become endemic, then we’re going to have to learn to live with it. So maybe we should start thinking about one or more of the following: requiring proof of vaccination; think about shorter indoor worship services (e.g., 45 min., to limit time spent indoors); adding more worship services (so you can have more smaller indoors services); creating permanent spaces for outdoor programs where possible; improving ventilation in indoor spaces; and/or many other things.

Another obvious thing we should do: for our online offerings, keep improving community interaction. I’ve been noticing that many people are getting better at participating in online events — video conferencing is a learned skill. Similarly, I believe many of us are getting better at facilitating online communal interactions. In my own case, I’ve become much better at teaching online, and at facilitating online meetings — again, these are learned skills. As we continue to get better at participating in and leading online events, one of our goals should be improving community interaction.

One final thing I believe we should be doing: we should go easy on ourselves. Yes, the pandemic is probably going to kill off some UU congregations; but if you start thinking that way, you’re liable to either get tense and stressed out, or sad and filled with grief, neither of which is going to help keep your congregation going. Of course, getting overwhelmed and doing nothing is also not helpful; my point here is that we do need to do something, we just don’t need to be overachievers. My primary rule for congregational life has always been: if it’s not fun, let’s not do it. This still holds true during the pandemic!

I’m actually feeling pretty positive about congregational life in the immediate future. Yes it’s different from what I’m used to, and yes it’s hard to let go of a lifetime of past expectations, and yes change is annoying and difficult. But new possibilities are opening up, and I’m actually feeling quite positive about the future of our congregations.

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.

The UU year in review: 2021

Wow. It’s been a year of change. As 2021 winds down, I’ll briefly summarize the changes I’ve seen in Unitarian Universalist congregations — some positive, some not so positive, some neutral.

Not-so-positive

(A) Enrollments of children and teens appear to be falling precipitously. We don’t yet have official numbers from the year-end certification count, but I’m estimating declines of 33% to 100% across the board.

(B) Adult membership also appears to be falling in most congregations, though the declines are not as steep.

(C) There appear to be many fewer newcomers in most congregations. The lack of newcomers probably accounts for about half of the decline in adult membership. Most Unitarian Universalist congregations have an annual turnover rate of 10-25% (due to moving away, death, lack of interest, etc.), and depend on a steady stream of newcomers to maintain stable membership.

(D) From what I can tell, most congregations saw a decline in revenues this year. The decline can be attributed to the general decline in membership, loss of other revenue streams such as rentals, and the end of the federal Payroll Protection Plan.

(E) I’d say that more peripheral people have gotten out of the habit of occasional participation in the life of the congregation. It’s still too soon to know if they’ll ever come back, but I’m not hopeful.

(F) This past year saw an epidemic of clergy resignations. In the spring, the Unitarian Universalist Association was begging ministers to come out of retirement to fill all the interim ministry positions. By all accounts, this past year saw a shortage of ministers.

Neutral

(G) I expected more resignations by other (non-clergy) paid staffers in UU congregations this past year. But so far I’m not seeing evidence that that happened. This may be because so many other paid staffers are part timers, meaning they weren’t exposed to as much stress as full-time ministers. Or it could be that the resignations happened, but they’ve been less visible than minister resignations.

Positive

(H) Online adult religious education classes have proved to be more popular than in-person classes in some congregations. The convenience of attending a class while sitting comfortably at home turns out to be quite attractive to many.

(I) Moving online apparently has worked for many (not all) support groups, again due to the convenience.

(J) Congregations have adopted digital giving tools, to the pleasure of most people under the age of 50.

(K) Most Unitarian Universalist congregations have developed good to excellent online services. Online services have proved so successful that most of the congregations I know of plan to continue multi-platform services (i.e., combined online and in-person services) after the pandemic is over.

(L) Online does not work for everything. And most Unitarian Universalist congregations have developed safe ways of having at least some in-person programs.

Summary

In a time of great change, it’s easy to get despondent, just because change can be so disorienting. But I have to say I’m feeling mostly optimistic. In a follow-up post, I’ll have more to say about how I believe we can address the not-so-positive changes productively.

But the positive aspects of this year of change are very positive. Even though our primary “product” continues to be in-person connections, it’s also good to be able to expand the ways we can connect with our congregations, by adding multi-platform services, online classes, and digital giving.

Scrooge would have loved omicron

Scrooge famously said: “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart!”

The omicron strain of COVID-19 is acting like Scrooge. If you go wish your family ‘Merry Christmas’ in person, you could wind up with omicron in your lungs. Bah humbug.

A month ago, we started planning in-person services for Christmas Eve. But as of today, it looks like we’re going to be moving to online-only for Christmas Eve. Omicron is present here in Santa Clara County. Omicron doubles every 2-4 days (depending on who you listen to). Vaccinated and boostered people are getting omicron. Everyone is expecting a major surge by mid-January. So in-person indoors meetings are most definitely Not A Good Idea. Bah humbug indeed.

I had been looking forward to seeing people in person on Christmas Eve — especially college students, many of whom come home for winter breaks. But honestly I’m relieved that we’re not going to have in-person services. I admit it — I don’t like the looks of omicron.

So — see you online….

“Rigid methodologically”

In a 2004 interview with Christian Century magazine, progressive evangelical Brian McLaren compared conservative evangelical Christians with more progressive Christians:

“[Religious] conservatives tend to be rigid theologically and promiscuous pragmatically and [religious] liberals tend to be rigid methodologically and a lot more free theologically ….”

Although McLaren wasn’t talking about Unitarian Universalists (he probably doesn’t know we exist), what he says applies to us: we are indeed free theologically, but rigid methodologically. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be a little more “pragmatically promiscuous”….

Institutionalism

I sometimes like to say that I’m religious but not spiritual, because I associate “religion” with institutions, and “spirituality” with individualism. I’ve come to really dislike the hyper-individualism of the U.S. today, and for me institutionalism lies at the very heart of my religion. So to better express my religious values, I just added an article on institutionalism to my static website.

Your comments are welcome, but you’ll have to comment here or send me emial.

Responsive reading

Last week, I posted a responsive reading with words by the Universalist minister Eliza Tupper Wilkes, that’s copyright-free so you can use it freely in online worship. Now here’s a copyright-free poem by Unitarian poet Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, arranged as a responsive reading and available under a copyright-free CC0 license.

Our twenty-first century eyes might find Frances Harper’s nineteenth century rhythms and rhyme schemes a little trite. But I think when read out loud, responsively, our twenty-first century ears will enjoy this poem.

Songs for the People

Let us make songs for the people
Songs for the old and young;

Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.

Not for the clashing of sabres,
For carnage, nor for strife;

But songs to thrill the hearts of all
With more abundant life.

Our world, so worn and weary,
Needs music, pure and strong,

To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.

Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crimes shall cease,

And human hearts grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.

Arranged from “Songs for the People,” Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (Unitarian) CC0

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, public domain image from the Library of Congress