“Resonate! A Philosophy for Communal Music-Making,” by Larry E. Schultz, composer, hymnwriter, teacher, minister

Larry E. Schultz

For almost twenty years I’ve had the joy of collaborating with Rev. Larry E. Schultz on inclusive hymnbooks, anthems, a children’s musical, and a children’s song and activity book. His story is included on my blog and in my book She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World, and a longer version in Changing Church: Stories of Liberating Ministers.

The story of our collaboration began at the 2001 Alliance of Baptists Gathering in Atlanta, Georgia. I preached a sermon titled “A Still More Excellent Way in Worship,” emphasizing ways in which balanced female and male names and images for the Divine contribute to justice and peace. That evening the congregation also sang two of the inclusive hymns I’d written to familiar hymn tunes. Several months later I received an email from Larry. He had been at the Gathering, but we hadn’t met. Larry wrote that he was minister of music at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, and that he’d like permission for the church to use my hymns that were sung at the Gathering. A little while later came another email from Larry, telling me that he was also a composer and asking if I had any texts without music that I might want to send him. Until then, I’d been writing words to traditional hymn tunes, with one exception. I’d written a hymn trying to express the theodicy questions I asked and heard others voice in my ministry as chaplain. Can the Creator be both benevolent and powerful with so much suffering and evil in the world? The hymn text came to me in the form of a child’s questions. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Larry opened my email in which I’d sent the hymn text, “Are You Good and Are You Strong?” He later told me of the cathartic experience it was for him, after the horrors of 9/11, to take these words and compose a children’s anthem and a hymn tune.

Larry and I have continued collaborating on songs for all age groups, songs that include male and female divine names and images so that all will know that we are all created equally in the divine image. Our hope is that our music inspires transformation through an expansive theology and an ethic of equality and justice. One of our early collaborations is the hymn “Sister Spirit, Brother Spirit,” that comes at the beginning of our first hymnbook, Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians. Sister-Brother Spirit has been the divine image that Larry and I have seen as important in our creative collaboration.

Larry has recently created a website and a blog. In his first blogpost he writes about his philosophy of communal music-making. I’m delighted to introduce you to Larry’s new website and to include his first blogpost here.

Welcome to LarryESchultz.com and Resonate! – a site offering downloadable and published music for faith, school and community groups, and a blog that offers notes on the music and other items of interest related to communal music and music-making.

I describe my work as “communal,” because both my ministry and compositions seek to assist groups (choirs, congregations, orchestras, bands) whose individual participants make music together. I also use the word “communal” to communicate that all persons are musicians and are welcomed into the experience of music-making. It is a part of what makes us human, and is not an exclusive opportunity for the “trained.”

A seminary course on “The Philosophy of Music Ministry,” taught by gifted educator, Milburn Price, instilled within me the importance of developing and communicating a philosophy that supports and meaningfully directs my work. Though my initial philosophy of music ministry was bound to church history, church tradition and the Hebrew/Christian scriptures, it has evolved through the years to include more.

Ever since reading John Shelby Spong’s “A New Christianity for a New World,” I have been on a quest to provide a music ministry and creative works that break down religious and social barriers. Spong encourages all to walk so deeply in their own tradition that the tribalistic boundaries fall away. We then discover our connections with other people, and the oneness of all.

Like the efforts of present-day scientists who are seeking a “theory of everything,” I’ve been seeking such a theory related to communal music-making, and have borrowed three words that I hope for now succinctly state my ideas: Resonance, Transcendence and Relevance.  So far, I find that these three words encompass the goals and outcomes of communal music-making, whether it be in church, other faith groups, school or community settings. (Though sometimes needed for clarity, I hesitate to use the words “sacred” or “secular” as I find them to be inadequate descriptions that can bring further division.) I’ll speak to Transcendence and Relevance in another blog article, but want to briefly express my thinking on Resonance (and therefore, the name of this blog: Resonate!). 

Though science cannot yet empirically prove it, “String Theory” as posited by quantum physicists is a beautiful description that I think can pertain to a philosophy of music-making and music ministry. String Theory suggests that the smallest elements of literally everything are tiny vibrating “strings.” Smaller than other sub-atomic particles, these vibrations make up all that is – from the computer keyboard on which I am typing to my own human cells. These vibrating strings may indeed turn out to be the common denominator of all things.

Not only are the smallest elements of life thought to be vibrations, but in 2003, astronomers discovered that a supermassive black hole in space was producing sound waves that created the deepest note yet detected from any object in the known universe!

Human biology and anthropology come in next. We humans have evolved with lungs to fill with air and a larynx through which to pass that air causing vibrations of sound. As humanity grew, we developed language out of that sound – words that convey meaning.

After considering all of this, I then am in awe, and wonder as I think: “If the tiniest quantum element as well as one of the largest known objects both vibrate with sound (music), and if humans ‘in the middle,’ also have the capacity to resonate sound…then there must be something very formational and primal to the experience of music-making. It must be foundational to our humanity, it must connect us with ‘everything,’ and there must then be benefits to music therapy, music ministry and communal music-making of any kind!”

I’m not alone in these scientific ponderings. I know of at least two other hymn writers, Brian Wren and Jann Aldredge-Clanton, who have included the specific idea of String Theory in hymns, and others like Shirley Murray and Thomas Troeger express ideas from science in their hymn poetry. I have connected scientific reality with faith-language metaphor in my hymn, Spirit of God, Spark of Creation.  

When groups gather to make music, sound waves from one individual are produced and carried through the air until they are detected in the ear cells of other individuals. There is then an instant and physical connection! Music-making literally unifies and connects individuals into one community – a good foundation on which to build a more peaceful world. (For choral expressions that connect to this idea, see my compositions: Where Two or Three, May a Song RemainGathered Here to Share Our Music, Tear Down the Walls and others.)

And so, the name of this blog, Resonate!, refers to our human capacity to make music with all that is, and the exclamation point reminds us to do so with joy and energy. The name also reminds us that when we add words to our music, we can give emphasis and meaning to important ideas and philosophies with which we “resonate.” (Several congregational hymns I hope assist progressive communities in resonating their ideas are: We Are a People on a Journey, From Wisdom Emerging, and A Stranger, Starving on the Street).

Not all of the words to every composition I’ve written are as progressive as I’d desire them to be, but even these creations represent a part of my journey and can reveal an ever-evolving progression – one that continues and is life-long. I hope on this site you find a choral anthem, congregational hymn or instrumental selection that is useful in your community, and I look forward to offering additional works in the days to come.

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