by Benjie Messer, UUCP Music Director

I just got back from the annual conference of the Association for Unitarian Universalist Music Ministries in Denver. It was a treat to spend a week with musicians from UU congregations. This was my third year arriving two days early to participate in the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Music Leadership Certification Program, which has given me some close colleagues around the country. I really appreciate the congregation (that’s you all) encouraging and funding my attendance at this workshop each year. (Even during last year’s financial crisis, Rev. Margret was able to reimburse my fee to attend, and I stayed at a friend’s house, so I only paid for my plane flight.)

This conference tried a few new things. The first was called the Songleaders Convergence. During each time slot, there was at least one excellent workshop about songleading – how to introduce and lead songs, how to integrate songs with preaching, songleading at rallies, vocal basics, etc. During our choral reading sessions, there were song swaps where folks simply taught each other songs. As part of this program, over 75 new people attended this year, including many youth, ministers, and religious education directors.

The conference also went paperless this year for the first time. All of the workshop materials were only available electronically, schedules were posted rather than handed out, and our choral reading sessions were done from tablet computers. The conference had rented tablets for anyone who requested one. There were grumblings and technology problems, but it was exciting to try something new to reduce our environmental impact.

I was also proud of the anti-oppression work at this conference. Three prominent panel discussions focused on disability liberation in church music programs, the history of the oppression of transgender folks, and the intersection of racism and changing lyrics, respectively. All three were led by people who are targeted by the relevant oppressions. This was a big improvement over previous years, and it was good to see us getting better at this work.

My own personal leadership this year was to help coordinate a dance band that played after the Friday night variety show. That went well, and I expect I’ll be asked to do it again next year. I also got along well with our choral clinician, Mark Miller. This is a photo we took together on the last morning, and I look forward to teaching our choir some of his music.