Music for Liberal Religious Worship
Of course you may perform any song you like as part of worship! This guide is just to make your job a wee bit easier.
Music for Weekly Worship
Be Grateful, My Soul – Moderately Easy
The poetic lyrics of this song are from Unitarian minister Norbert Capek’s last letter from a Nazi prison, shortly before his death. It is written for SSSAA choir, but never fear; it is essentially just a 5-part canon with a short intro and conclusion.
Cherish Your Doubt – Medium
I conceived “Cherish Your Doubt” as a “praise choir song” for an oft-forgotten but essential component of faith: doubt. To pull this off you’ll need a soulful soloist, a pianist who can groove, and an enthusiastic choir. You can add a bass player if you like!
Chosen People – Moderately Advanced
“Chosen People” is the individual movement from my cantata “Kindling” which addresses the spiritual heritage of Judaism and Christianity. It may be performed with piano accompaniment, or with a chamber ensemble. The rich piano part is rewarding for a skilled and sensitive player.
Do Not Leave Your Cares at the Door – Moderately Easy
A call to worship, welcome and acceptance for all people, this is one of my “surest bet” pieces for small or large choirs. This ain’t “Minnesota Lutheran style” music, so don’t be afraid to get your twang on!
Faith is the bird that feels the light – Medium
There are dozens of sweet YouTube videos of this song, but I keep coming back to this trio’s rendition. A favorite of treble high school choirs, this song is within reach for most church choirs.
Fighting Over What We Believe – Medium
This song is several years old now, but unfortunately it just gets more and more relevant. It’s designed to use quite a few soloists, each one singing about the divisiveness they see in the world. Alternatively, the solos can be sung by small groups.
Go Out! – Medium
Even though we now know that John Murray didn’t actually write the famous passage “give them not hell but give them hope,” this “anti-hellfire-and-brimstone” message still rings true. Because it specifically calls us to preach a gospel of love, this has become a favorite for ordinations and building dedications.
Grace (solo song or SSA choir) – Moderately Easy
A reflection on grace, that profound force of forgiveness and acceptance that transcends all transgressions, prejudices and religious beliefs. If this sounds like a really big idea, well it is. At the same time, this is one of the most intimate and personal songs I’ve ever written.
Holy One, Source of Radiance and Reason – Moderately Easy
My church’s minister, Rob Eller-Isaacs, begins his congregational prayers with this invocation. I love it because it describes the Holy One not only as a source of RADIANCE (mystery, wonder, faith…) but also as a source of REASON (observation, logic, science…) My musical setting of this invocation consists of a canon (which can be sung by any combination of voice types) as well as an SATB anthem arrangement.
NEW FOR 2018! Infant Holy, Infant Lowly – Moderately Easy
Twenty years after publishing a “classical chorale” treble arrangement of this carol, I completely rewrote it, giving it a sweet nudge towards Appalachia. The new publication includes both the original version and the “soulful close harmony” version, as well as a third verse which speaks to the miracle of all births.
Immortal Love – Moderately Easy
A plaintive, modal setting of a John Greenleaf Whittier poem which describes an eternal love beyond all understanding. Although the song consists of SATB contrapuntal a cappella writing, each of the four verses are literal repeats of one another, making this a very doable piece by an amateur choir.
NEW FOR 2017! – Let it Matter – Medium
“Let it Matter” is a call to listen deeply to each other’s stories, allowing them to change our minds and hearts. It was important to me not to sugarcoat this call, and to acknowledge how hard listening can be.
Love is the Spirit of this Church – Medium
This “Old-Time Gospel” arrangement of Rev. Tony Larsen’s rousing song is a full-fledged 6-minute worship experience. It pulls out all the stops! If you have a strong pianist, a charismatic soloist, and a church actively engaged in social justice, this might be the song for you. (Auxiliary instruments are welcome, too.)
No Other People’s Children – Easy
This song was designed to be sung by ANY choir, and by that I mean ANY. Or a soloist. And there’s a congregation part too, if you wish. (Its official voicing is “1-4 part choir.”) That’s because this song is about offering everyone the promise of forgiveness and right relationship. And that means EVERYONE.
One More Redeemer – Moderately Easy
This short Southern gospel anthem affirms of the divine spark in each child, and is frequently sung at baptism and child dedication services. It also finds its way onto quite a few Christmas programs! Because it’s fairly short, it’s also doable by choirs short on rehearsal time.
Pages – Medium
One of the easier individual movements from Kindling. This movementhonors the “words and deeds of prophetic women and men,” but I chose to cast it as a call to action for ourselves. It may be performed with piano accompaniment, or with a chamber ensemble.
Song of Kabir – MediumA fluid setting of the 15th century mystic Kabir, revered by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs alike. There are a few challenging harmonic passages, so encourage your singers to listen to the stellar YouTube recordings on the Music for Liberal Religious Worship playlist.
Song of the Five Thousand – Easy
A “table grace canon” that links of abundance, gratitude and generosity. I wanted everyone at the table to be able to sing this together, so it’s very easy!
The Gospel Isn’t Written in the Bible Alone – Medium
This vocal solo honors the wisdom of our sacred books AND the wisdom of our world. (Including science.) That’s right; it’s not a competition!
The Chalice of Our Hearts – Easy
The easiest individual movement from the cantata “Kindling,” affirming that exploring a wide variety of religious sources serves to enrich our personal faith practices. This is essentially a straightforward canon which, because of the accompaniment, becomes an anthem! It may be performed with piano accompaniment, or with a chamber ensemble.
When the Song of the Angels is Stilled – Medium
A lively setting of my favorite Christmas reading ever, Howard Thurman’s “The Work of Christmas.” Unlike many of my choral pieces, this one contains a fair amount of repetition, which can be helpful when preparing an entire holiday program! (SATB, SSAA or TTBB)
Where there is Light in the Soul – Moderately Easy
Every so often I write a song that works for just about any choir, right out of the box. This is one of them! Not only are there SATB, SSA and TBB arrangements, but there is also an SAB arrangement appropriate for younger or less accomplished choirs. The text is a Chinese proverb about the interdependence of five ideals: Light, Beauty, Harmony, Honor and Peace.
Go Out! (concert-length work) – Various Difficulties
(Flexible solo and choral forces)
A concert-length work in words and song that recasts the prophetic words of poets, preachers, reformers and sages as art songs, ballads, blues and spirited choral pieces. And yes, it includes the title track, Go Out! The production parameters of this work are quite flexible, with several songs that are optional or available as vocal solos, duets, or small ensemble pieces. It’s all explained on the webpage for the concert-length work, and in the Narration and Guide to Production.
Kindling: Small Reflections on a Limitless Faith – Moderately Advanced
(SATB & piano OR SATB & chamber ensemble)
A 7-movement, 30-minute work based on Unitarian Universalism’s Six Sources of Religion. Yeah, I know it sounds like dry and theological stuff, but it’s not. (As the composer, I was as relieved as you are to discover that!) Five of the movements are designed to stand on their own, so your choir can sing one or more of them as anthems before putting the whole work together for a special occasion.
Nature Creature – Moderately advaced
(Vocal solo with piano and optional cello)
My newest large work for solo voice is less a “song cycle” than it is a “jazz-folk-classical set.” It’s 45-minutes of joy and pain and wonder, vulnerably exploring the beauty and complexity of what it is to be alive on the earth. It has killer texts by Louise Erdrich, George Ella Lyon, A. R. Ammons, Lilian Moore, David Ignatow, Nancy White and Daniel Ladinsky. Listen to tracks from the CD/mp3 recording featuring Ruth MacKenzie, Jacqueline Ultan and myself.