Saturday, October 16, 2010

This seem to me to be an authoritative answer to the question of...

how do we deal with the ethics of singing the adapted words to "Go Now in Peace.

I wrote to Mark Belletini, chair of the Hymnal Commission which published our grey hymnal, and asked him for the backstory about "Go Now in Peace" and the concerns I expressed in the previous blog post. Mark was kind enough to give me his take on the topic and also his permission to reprint his reply here.

I feel comfortable now with the way I plan to approach the topic with my congregation, which is also explained in the previous blog post. I believe, after hearing from Mark, that it is not an ethical lapse to keep singing this song as adapted. I will stay open to being convinced otherwise if evidence emerges that she really did say she didn't want anybody changing her words when they sing it. However, I will sing the original words and invite my congregation to do the same, if they wish. And I may not say my piece just before we sing it but later in the service, to avoid worrying the kids.

From Mark:

Dear Kit, as far as I remember....(i did not keep the written records of course, they are tucked away somewhere at the UUA...
so if you want actual written authentication I cannot, sadly, help you there)
Natalie Sleeth simply did not give us permission to change her lyrics. She did not say why. Unless people who are surmising
the reason for a change i.e. "she was a conservative Christian" actually talked with her, they are being embarrassingly presumptive
since she was a member of a rather progressive and inclusive Methodist Church in Dallas (where Methodists are the liberals, most often.)
The use of the word God, I hope, has not now become a test for conservatism, but I suppose among some UU's, it probably is.

As I remember it, she told us she wrote of God in her song as she understood that word, and she did, quite understandably I think,
have a difficult time understanding why a word she felt to be so inclusive and welcoming was perceived to be so limiting by others,
especially because, she told us, she thought everyone brought their own meaning to that word. I know we did not argue with her.
I suppose some would have. We felt that what she said was sensible enough to feel good about putting the piece in for those
who wanted to sing it her way.

She was not alone of course in refusing to give us permission to change words.... We were told NO by many authors...
including decidedly progressive thinkers...including the estate of John Lennon, who forbid us to change Imagine's brotherhood of man. Pete Seeger said no to us about
changing a song of his to brother and sister where it would have made no scansion problem at all. He wanted the word brother repeated twice.
We said no to both songs, but said yes to Natalie Sleeth's because its a lovely little piece to send children forth,
and we understood that many UU's won't sing it as she wrote it. My suggestion always has been from the beginning: Sing something else. Its OK.
There are other great little songs in the book. There are often good composers in even the smallest congregations who can write simple departure chants.

We don't sing it here in Columbus because God language is not the usual idiom here, and I have no intention of changing the words,
but we do indeed use other music for that part of our celebration. It sounds as if you did that
(I just read your blog) and it didn't work. I think you way of dealing with it is respectful and intriguing and very UU in spirit.
I personally have no problem with people singing different words to the same melody, as in Amazing Grace, where some folks
just hated the sonics...NOT the theology mind you....of the ugly to sing word "wretch." So sing soul already.

Your sermon should be pretty amazing. Your action is worth reflecting on, I think.

I hope you will be able to find something suitable to use there in Whidbey. Hope your fall days are nurturing you. Mark B.


Joel said...

I got as far as "authoritative answer" on a UU blog and had to stop to chortle. :)

I can certainly understand the feelings of the songwriters who want their words left intact. Even if it does make them hard to adapt for a particular congregation.

Tom said...

Thanks for clearing this up. It makes sense that poets don't want to have words they didn't write printed over their names.

But that doesn't mean that singers can't change the words as they see fit. I've heard Pete Seeger do that often enough himself.

Anyway, thanks again

Sarah said...

It is in the tradition of songs and folksong singing that they morph and adapt to changes in the lives that are being lived. The story that we tell through song is a living story of alive and vibrant people. Sometimes that story is told through writing a new song, sometimes through adjusting an onld one. This changeability of songs makes historians tear their hair out when they seek original words for some reason, but their loss of hair is not a good enough reason to stop that beautiful process. It is only now, in our era of copyrights and lawsuits that the ancient process has been abrogated and people sink into the morass of trying to do the right thing. As usual, the right thing depends on your perspective and interpretation of what the problem actually is.

I respect Mark Belletini's work and response, and Tom's reiteration that there is a difference between wanting your name in print associated with a certain set of words is different that what a congregation sings in it's service is an important distinction.

It seems to me that the congregation has adapted the words to the song to suit it's story, which it has every right to do as it sings the song. The congregation doesn't have a right to print those words in a book. To force the congregation to lose the history and storytelling power of adapting songs to illustrate it's own story is, in my mind, a mistake. I know you don't feel as if your plan is "forcing" anyone, but given your position, it comes close to that. It will certainly confuse people who are not grappling with this issue. I'm sorry you intend to go forward with your plan, I don't think it's a good one.

ms. kitty said...

Sarah and Tom, thanks for chiming in. I'm still considering what I will do and am awaiting definitive info from the UU Musicians Network. It may not be necessary to do anything more at all.

Anonymous said...

My recommendation: UUs who object to singing the word 'God' in a children's benediction can just get over it and sing the damn song.

Humanists and other non-theists are a significant part of UU but they do not dictate the terms. We're committed to religious pluralism, not to expunging every word that could possibly have refer to Christianity.

Chalicechick said...

We tried to switch to "Go Now in Peace" at my church and the kids hated it. One kid said that it sounded like something that would get sung at a funeral. I don't know that I would have thought of it that way myself, but I totally get what the kid was talking about with the dirge-like way it is usually sung.

So we sing something else.

Anonymous said...

We tried an original song written by our music director. I thought it was quite good, but the congregation didn't manage to warm to it, so we went back to Go Now in Peace.

Note: I am not the same Anonymous as the one above. I'm the person who wrote in the previous thread (gets confusing, don't it?).

Steve Caldwell said...

Ms. Kitty,

When this topic came up on the UU-Leaders email list, the legal advice about "Go Now in Peace" that a congregation can sing modified lyrics that leave out the "God" word.

But a congregation cannot print these modified lyrics in the order of service or other printed works.

A live performance with modified lyrics is OK but the printed modification is an unauthorized derivative work created without the permission of the author.

ms. kitty said...

Anonymous does tend to be a popular name, doesn't it? Thanks for the comment.

ms. kitty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ms. kitty said...

That's how I understand it too, Steve. Thanks.

Mavis said...

Thank you Chalicechick. I've always thought it sounded like a dirge, too. And here's another bit of info. The gray hymnal states that Sleeth based the words on Luke 2:29. There are many translations, but according to St. Google the majority indicate the "go" is synonymous with "depart" as in "die". Puts a whole new perspective on it -- one I don't like. Why can't we sing #414? It's lovely -- As We Leave This Friendly Place. Written by a UNITARIAN to a tune by Bach. Can't go wrong with that!

Barbara said...

Thanks so much for sharing what you've learned.
Our kids didn't like it either. Now we sing them out to classes with the song, This Little Light of Mine. Everyone likes it.
My favorite use of Go Now in Peace has been at camp when we are done for the day, the fire is dying down and we're all heading off to bed. Then, this song is just perfect!

Joel said...

Barbara, This Little Light of Mine sounds perfect for the context.

Chalicechick said...

FWIW, "As we leave this friendly place" is what we sing in my church.


Anonymous said...

Much ado about nothing. The Great "I Am" must Smile if you don't!