History of the Music at UUFN--A Peek

by Bev Topp

Plato: “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything”.

As we paged through the 50 year history of services here at UUFN we soon realized that, although the founders of UUFN were small in number, the presence of a few music enthusiasts was quite evident.  

The first mention of music was just one month after starting the church when, in the April Easter Sunday service they celebrated "The rites of spring and the enduring significance of Easter in words, music and song."

That was followed in November with "We Speak to Life" a narrative sermon in word and song with Joan Wolf, Frank and Joy Wolf's daughter, playing guitar.

There is an old joke that says: UU people have a hard time singing their hymns because they are too busy looking ahead to see whether or not they agree with the words. Now, our founders actually solved that problem with a lot of foresight. They bought their hymnals called "Hymns for the Celebration of Life" in the fall of their first year, 1966. The books arrived in December but were not used until people were asked to "look over and express your likes and dislikes loud and clear" AND make recommendations on which songs from the book to use. They, then, scheduled a service called "A Sunday for Open Opinion, An examination of our hymns as selected by the membership for singing and discussion." Are you getting the picture? No slouches these people. With hymns properly vetted, the need to read ahead was totally eliminated and I'll bet those songs on Sunday mornings rocked with approval and joy. 

Of course, traditional carols enjoyed a regular presence at each Christmas celebration through the years. But music was also a reflection of the intellectual influence of our founders. There is a quote from Heinrich Heine: “When words leave off, music begins.”

I’m not sure our founders would have agreed with that order when  

they created services like “Johann Sebastian Bach, excerpts and, of course, discussion. Or “We Speak of Life", a program of music for the liberal church; and: "Who Are We?, an impressionistic answer in song, verse, and pictures. Even "Existentialism" was visited in verse and song! Don’t you wish you could have been there?

But our young church just could not escape the strong influence of the 60's and 70's music scene and it didn't take long for these to be represented in Sunday themes. "Folk Music" a program of contemporary folk songs about social issues and protest followed "Soul on Ice" and it was followed by "A Commentary on Our Time", songs and verse to mourn the sixties and contemplate the seventies.

"The Beatles, All the Lonely People", "Little Boxes" and "Parker Street Revisited" by Malvina Reynolds, and Jesus Christ Superstar were all featured here by the early 70's before, it seems, the church slipped into a hiatus that found music mostly being featured at Christmas and Easter holidays. This pattern continued until, in the very late 90's, a trio of new members breathed new life into the music of the church. These three people were: Anne Vogelwede, an accomplished pianist, Suzannah Ciernia, an enthusiastic singer of all genres, and Bill McGrath, guitar player and master of almost all songs from the 60's, 70's, and 80's. They joined forces on "A Great Day of Singing” in April of 1999 and this, then, led to the regular occurrence of annual Music Sundays.

The Cabaret last Saturday night, which was well attended and greatly enjoyed by both the audience AND the performers, was an outgrowth of the first Cabaret held at the Arts Guild location in Nov. of 1999. Anne Vogelwede and Brian Carlson Barnes were prime movers of this new addition to UUFN programming.

And deserving special mention is the January 2000 service led by Bruce and Lois Burnes, celebrating the folk songs of Pete Seeger, a favorite of UU’s, it seems. It was highly commended by all who were there that day.

In 2002, we added preludes, offertories, and postludes to our service and began to feel like an official church! Do you think there were varied opinions on that?

In the fall of 2002 a new tradition was also started here when "Sister" a local group of 3 talented sisters, performed at a special service we held at Carleton Skinner Chapel. To this day, we have hosted many special guests at Carleton OR here, who have brought to us great music and the celebration of diversity. To mention a few:Julianna Schmidt, The Gospel Twins, Tim Cheesebrow, Ann Reed, Can Canbolat, Sara McGlaughlin, Barbara McAfee, and David Lauth,

All who remember the music of the UU Country Gentlemen, Bill McGrath, Ed Frost, and Randy remember the look and sound of music reminiscent of Willie Nelson and Hank Williams. Their program "I Left My Heart in Country Music" was encouraged by Ted Tollefson, just before he left for River Falls UU in 2005.

Right around the same time, a few others and I started UUFN’s first choir. Most of us left churches that enjoyed this historical tradition and, of course, we wanted to sing more!   We endured our early efforts to congeal as a bonafide choral sound and learned, laughed and sang our way into cohesiveness. We still enjoy enhancing the Sunday message a couple of Sundays a month and hope you mark your calendars for April 17th, when we celebrate our history in song.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all the dedicated and talented pianists who have been “the glue” for our music here at UUFN. It seems sometimes, they are taken for granted, as, I believe, happens too often in churches of all kinds. These people, on Sundays, represent years of training and hours of practice that would be daunting to most of us. Doris Stelle, Anne Vogelwede, Jay Lindfors, Nancy Huppert, Jeanne Agee, David Miller, and Jared Miller are the most recent “heros of hymns” and other music here. And how grateful we are for them all.

What started as a small group of dedicated people who needed "meeting space" to define their own unfettered search for the truth and meaning of life, has evolved into a coherent place that is enhanced by the presence of music as ministry and joy at UUFN. We hope it has enhanced your experience here. I would like to end with this quote from Ray Charles:

“I was born with music inside me. Music was one of my parts. Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart. Like my blood. It was a force already within me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me - like food or water.” Ray Charles

Or sometimes, this quote by George Thorogood will suffice:

“I guess a good song is a good is a good song, ya know?”