Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Okay, here's what I've found out...

about "Go Now in Peace".

I have written to and received answers from two people I consider authoritative about the origins of the song and the preferences of its composer, the late Natalie Sleeth, as well as commentary from others who have heard stories or made surmises about her wishes.

There is definite evidence, from Mark Belletini of the Hymnal Commission, that she refused to allow the song to be published with adapted words. Without her permission, to publish different words to the song would be a copyright violation. That means that we can't legally or ethically put the adapted words in any Order of Service or temporary songbook until the song is in the public domain, many many years from now.

There is no conclusive evidence that I have found which indicates that Ms. Sleeth publicly requested that nobody ever change the words of her song when they are singing it. There are legends, there are heartfelt suggestions that she would not want her song adapted. But there is, at least as far as I can discover, no evidence other than hearsay that she made this request. I am certainly willing to listen to firsthand testimony from someone who knows this for sure, but at present there is none that I have found.

I checked with my friend Keith Arnold, president of the UU Musicians Network, and he does not have any firsthand information about her preferences. He too has heard the stories but has seen no evidence. The UUMN policy is to respect the work of composers and musicians but does not specifically recommend anything around this song.

So.....we are going to continue to sing Go Now In Peace until the music committee/worship committee decide to change it. If I can remember (which I haven't so far) I will sing the original words. However, I'm not going to make a big deal about it in church, despite what I said earlier.

I respect those who have given the stories so much credence that they substituted another song to sing the kids off to their classes. They were acting in good faith and some lovely new songs have been written to substitute. But this beautiful little melody and words are getting short shrift because of legends, not because of an actual human request---as far as I can discover.

It is perfectly acceptable---and legal--- to sing whatever words we like to any song we want to change; this is the human creative spirit in action. It is NOT acceptable and legal to publish adapted words to a copyrighted song without the express permission of the composer.

Now, if a Sleeth heir contacts me with firsthand information that changes the situation, I will let you all know. In the meantime, go now in peace.

4 comments:

Dan Harper said...

Thanks for doing the research. This is well worth knowing.

ms. kitty said...

You're welcome, Dan. It seemed well worth doing!

A Religious Humanist said...

Indeed, this question arises from time to time among members of the UUMN e-mail list, and there are those with varying opinions.

And, in fact, regardless of Sleeth's opinion on the new words, it would be wrong to print any new words. But I like the fact that you stress the "human creative spirit." I've known congregants who, in every single song they sing, will replace "God" with "love" or "light".

Worship music is a living, breathing, changing thing, and if we want it to speak to individuals in the deepest way possible, we have to allow for this kind of freedom and evolution.

ms. kitty said...

I very much agree, ARH. Thanks for your thoughts.