General Synod music director invites attendees to join choir for this summer’s ‘homecoming’
For the last General Synod of the United Church of Christ, many elements were new for music director Bryan Johnson.
Due to COVID-19, Synod in 2021 was the first ever held virtually. And Johnson — newly appointed to lead its music — had to figure out how to create an experience in an unprecedented environment.
Now, he is preparing to lead Synod’s songs of praise once again in Indianapolis this summer. And it feels to him like coming home.
“You’re talking four years since the last live experience. So that’s a long time,” said Johnson, who heads the music department for Trinity UCC in Chicago. “I think it’s a reunion. I think it’s a homecoming. Many churches are coming back for the first time live, so I expect an energy of reunion and gratefulness that we have an opportunity to come back and worship together and fellowship together throughout all the arts.
“Because it’s not just about the music — it’s to preach word; it’s the art; it’s the dancing; it’s the prayers. So I think all facets of the worship liturgy, it’s going to be really important coming together.”
Join the choir
Johnson and the Rev. Cheryl Lindsay, UCC minister for worship and theology, have been planning all these components for worship at Synod. And one important part is the General Synod Choir. Any attendee interested can sign up to join the choir, which will perform during the closing worship service Tuesday, July 4 at 7:30 p.m.
“We’re not looking for professional singers,” Johnson said. “We don’t even have to have people who are in a choir; we just want people who love to sing and who want to share their voice.”
He stressed that being an active choir participant in a local church is not a prerequisite: “As long as they love to sing, love art, we want them to join.”
Volunteers for the choir will receive materials beginning in early June. Johnson explained that the singers will receive both sheet music and audio recordings of vocal parts ahead of time. And, during Synod, he’ll hold at least two rehearsals.
“I’m confident that we’ll have plenty of time to prepare the choir,” he said.
A different energy
For Johnson, the opportunity to be physically present provides a different dynamic to this year’s Synod compared to two years ago.
“It’s really the excitement to see people face to face,” he said. “Virtually, it had its challenges because you can’t see people’s smile, their faces, there’s no embrace. But when you’re with singers, live, there’s just an energy … and as much as we did our best job to keep everybody singing, including my role at Trinity United Church of Christ, I’m excited to finally come back to a live worship experience where we can actually see people, say hi to them, get immediate feedback.”
While Johnson’s approach to Synod’s music remains much the same — selecting pieces in a wide variety of styles and tastes that reflect the UCC’s inclusivity and diversity — the overall experience will have some differences.
“What changes is really the preparation to execute it,” Johnson said. “So if it’s online, you have to have studio musicians; you have to record the vocals; you have to have technology so people can hear.”
This time, when the choir comes together at Synod, it won’t be through screens on Zoom.
“Rehearsing is so much different live than online,” said Johnson. “Online, everybody had to stay muted; you couldn’t really hear their voices together. Here, you can hear everybody’s voices together, collectively. You can hear the instruments.”
He added that many people may livestream the Synod worship services, offering a sacred experience for both those on-site and those tuning in to watch.
A variety of styles
Music at Synod also will feature a handbell choir and a live band, including local Indiana musicians. Johnson hopes that the experience — regardless of being in-person versus virtual — will provide meaning to the whole gathering.
“The challenge, or opportunity, is to curate music that reflects everybody’s music taste, whether it’s traditional sacred music to gospel music to contemporary to inspirational,” he said. “We want to try to make sure we have something musically for everybody, along with making sure that we provide music that has great theological text, that’s inclusive of gender, social justice and very inviting to everybody.
“That’s always the vision: to create differing styles musically, and to make sure theologically it’s sound and it connects to everybody’s spirituality.”
That’s the goal, whatever background or traditions people have, and whether they are in Indianapolis or participating through livestream.
“I just think that the excitement is going to be just to hear music, a variety of things, up close,” Johnson said. “And I think the online congregation will also be able to enjoy it as well. We want them to sing along.”
Those wishing to join the General Synod Choir can sign up here.
“We want the choral experience to be very rich and inviting and fun,” Johnson said. “The more, the merrier.”
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