We came to First Parish 20 years ago, after “sampling” UU churches around Middlesex County. In fact, we moved to Concord because of First Parish. We found a home here, before we found a house in Concord.
From our earliest days here, we loved hearing the music. Always there was music. Big holidays. Ordinary Sundays. There was really good music. We stayed. We made friends. We volunteered to teach RE. We served bouillon. And then we served on committees. And there was music. Weddings, funerals, child dedications… Always music. That magnificent organ needed to be restored. For two years it was silent, while it was being rebuilt. And still there was music. Adult choir, gospel choir, chalice choir, junior choir. Recitals, concerts, and Friday night sing-alongs. We adopted 3 children from Russia. And they sang in English before they understood English. Gary Smith led services that always included music. Jenny Rankin led services, and always, music. Gary left. Jenny left. And there was music.
Howard Dana became our minister. And at his calling – music. Always we had music. Our children grew up. YOUR children grew up. And the music here grew too. By Your Side Singers. “Chicken Man,” the musical. Missa Gaia. “Choose Your Ancestors”. We got great jobs, and our annual pledge went up. We lost those jobs, and our annual pledge went down. We got new jobs, and our annual pledge went up again. And the music never stopped. I joined the choir. And the bass section got louder. I joined the choir. And the alto section got blonder.
My father was a minister and a professional tenor. My father was a businessman who couldn’t carry a tune in his golf bag. My mother is a voice teacher, and sings in her church’s choir. She loves to come here for the music. Because there is always music. Anderson Manuel has led gospel choir for 12 years. Gail Carey has led children’s choirs for ten years and more, and created today’s amazing Contemporary Vocal Ensemble. Our congregation is blessed with gifted musicians like Rob Castillo, Siri Smedvig, Rob Hamilton, Anna Huckabee Tull, Nancy Ackerman, and so many more, who make music with us and for us all year long.
A gifted pianist and conductor named Grace Choi accompanies choir rehearsals on Wednesday nights. And of course, our gifted organist, Eric Hunneke, plays that beautifully rebuilt organ most Sundays, leading us into song. Here at First Parish, all of us have music to lead us into a new world of heart and spirit.
All this music is here because of Beth Henderson Norton, our Music Director, our Minister of music. For 22 years, Beth has led the music ministry of First Parish. Selecting hymns for each service. Finding anthems to fit each sermon. Rehearsing the choir. Guiding all the different music programs of the church. Leading music ministry at the UUA. Writing liner notes. Conducting. Composing music, like our beautiful Benediction. Beth knows that music gives more than pleasure. For the spiritual it is a doorway to the divine. For the humanist it celebrates the great human achievement of art. Music teaches adult and child the principals of our faith. It leads us toward social justice.
Music doesn’t happen by luck. Great music requires great dedication, great leadership and great support. And you can’t download that free from some web server. We have Beth, and we have music, because we the members of First Parish support music ministry with our pledges.
Next year’s budget, which we will all vote on at our Annual Meeting in June, will include a proposal for a new line item. For the first time in 22 years, we the congregation will vote for First Parish to sponsor a sabbatical for our music director. Long overdue. And richly deserved. Beth plans to use the sabbatical to study, to compose, and to consider new possibilities for music at First Parish. And the music won’t stop, not for a single service. She’s planning that now. Music was here, is here, and will be here because of Beth and her team. And Beth and her team are here because your annual support makes it possible for them to be here.
This year, we are increasing our annual pledge by a thousand dollars, and we’re doing it because of the music. And because of the hundred other ways First Parish supports us all. Whether the music here entertains you, energizes you, educates you, Or just gives you a way to sing out who and what you are, please raise your support as we have. So the music can continue.