SINGING FOR QUAKER WORSHIP

A few thoughts have come to me recently and have combined into a prompting.  I have shared this with my Local Meeting in Wales (Britain) and now I would like to share it further.

Quakers in Britain adhere to silent worship, with occasional vocal contributions (spoken ministry).  This is a minority position in the Quaker world.

Within my home country, Wales, I am continually impressed by the high standard of music playing and in particular of singing (solo, duet, choir, etc) at our Eisteddfodau (multi-aspect cultural meetings and competitions).  This reflects the time and effort put in, the value attached to it, and the tradition.

I have been thinking about the stewardship of a two hundred year old Meeting House in our Area: both Meeting and Meeting House need support, especially as the number of Friends is small and the building is in need of much attention.  It may well prove necessary (and desirable) to elicit the support of the local community, to raise awareness and interest, to generate wider use of the Meeting House, and indeed, to generate funds. Could music play a part here?

I have recently listened to a BBC Radio 3 programme (recorded and put aside for later listening) about the work of the Hungarian composer and teacher, Zoltán Kodály. He believed that everybody can sing; and he devised techniques to bring this about; and his influence is widespread.

In my work as a social worker, I have often remarked how useful and powerful music is in communication with, and stimulation of, people suffering from dementia.

I note that in my own lifetime, and during my long association with Friends, the arts have been warmly embraced, in various ways.  (This has been a cultural shift.)  Examples of our achievements are the Quaker Tapestry and the work of the Leaveners, among many others.

I wonder whether, in the seventeenth century, Friends in Britain missed a trick, as they turned their back on music and concentrated on silent waiting in Meeting for Worship.  I love the silence (and the vocal ministry, of course); and our tradition must be retained and suffer no infringement.  But to outsiders our form of worship must appear austere and off-putting.

Music is a part of all cultures on the planet.  All peoples sing.

I think that as Friends we should think about using music and particularly organised singing.  It has connected purposes: therapy, community generation, the understanding of our message, the conveying of our message to others, and (potentially) bringing new people in to sing with us.

Preaching in a public space is one thing; but singing is quite another – engaging and not threatening.

I envisage local groups of Friends (volunteers) practising singing together and getting better. (If they already exist, let’s have more.)  This may involve training, and it may mean payment.  But I see this as an investment.

I see this as a singing movement.  I foresee unaccompanied singing, at an early stage, but instrumentalists can be drawn in.

The material?  We have Quaker songs.  There are peace songs.  We can also have new songs and lyrics composed and written for us.

We have many singers and musicians among us.  Where do they perform now?  Surely, not much in Quaker contexts.

I would like us to sing out our message to the world, wherever and whenever we can.

 

David Harries

Member of Bridgend Local Meeting, South Wales Area Meeting

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