Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, invited me to write a hymn celebrating Larry E. Schultz on the occasion of his 20th anniversary as minister of music of the church. I was delighted to write this hymn, along with notes on the text and tunes and a tribute to Larry, my collaborator and friend for more than 20 years.
Come Together, Celebrate
Come together, celebrate, rejoice on this most glorious day;
raise your voices, clap your hands, let orchestra and organ play.
Sing in gratitude for one who leads in making music ring,
filling halls and sanctuaries, lifting hearts to soar on wings.
Celebrate creative talents, overflowing into light,
hymns and anthems, words and music; he composes day and night.
Sister-Brother Spirit guiding, filling him with energy,
he creates abundant beauty, opening new reality.
Always teaching, always learning, he inspires both young and old,
blending talents, skills, expression, repetition, visions bold;
gifts unfold, increase, and blossom, stirring everyone who hears;
he excels as educator, bringing joy for many years.
Celebrate prophetic calling, minister of justice-love,
all-including, all-affirming, led by holy Heavenly Dove.
Still expanding ever forward, he uplifts all gifts to thrive,
joined with cosmic strings in sounding music flowing through all life.
Words © 2021 Jann Aldredge-Clanton.
Music © 2001 Larry E. Schultz SPIRIT DANCE (HYMN TO JOY)
Tribute to Larry/Notes on the Hymn
In 2001, Larry and I began our collaboration. In April of that year at the Alliance of Baptists Convocation, I preached a sermon titled “A Still More Excellent Way in Worship,” emphasizing ways divine names and images that include female and male and more 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 after the Convocation I received an email from Larry. He had been at the Convocation, but we hadn’t met. Larry wrote that he was minister of music at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, and that he’d like permission for Pullen to use my hymns that were sung at the Convocation. Also, he asked about composing new music for these hymns. “Sister Spirit, Brother Spirit” is one of these first collaborations. Sister-Brother Spirit has been the divine image that Larry and I have found important in our creative collaboration.
Since then we have collaborated on four hymn collections, a children’s musical, a children’s song and activity book, and anthems for children and adults. Currently, we are working on a fifth hymnbook. I have profound gratitude for our creative collaboration. Also, I am indeed grateful to Pullen Memorial Baptist Church for encouraging and supporting Larry’s creative work and for affirming our collaborative works. It’s rewarding to collaborate with such a multitalented person as Larry. Not only is Larry an accomplished, award-winning music composer, but he is also an excellent text writer who can offer suggestions for improving my lyrics. And when I’ve written lyrics to a traditional tune I like but discover that the tune or the arrangement is still under copyright, he composes beautiful new music better than the original.
Also, I deeply appreciate Larry’s belief in expansive language—including female, as well as male and more, names and images for the Divine. Not only does he believe this expansive language contributes to justice, equity, and peace, but he also resonates with this language to deepen his own and other people’s spiritual experience. There are not many ministers of music who believe in the importance of inclusive language, and fewer still who take risks to practice it in their choirs and congregations. Our hymns, anthems, and all our collaborations use expansive language. A few years after we began our collaboration, Larry invited me to write lyrics for Imagine God! A Children’s Musical Exploring and Expressing Images of God, so that children will grow up experiencing inclusive language and know they are all created in the divine image.
The Hymn’s Tunes:
SPIRIT DANCE: Larry composed the tune SPIRIT DANCE for one of our first collaborations, “Sister Spirit, Brother Spirit.” His vibrant tune expresses the lyrics better than the original traditional tune I had used. I chose Larry’s joyful, soaring tune SPIRIT DANCE to aptly express the lyrics I wrote for “Come Together, Celebrate” and to honor Larry as a gifted composer.
HYMN TO JOY: Also, I chose the tune HYMN TO JOY for the celebratory words of “Come, Together, Celebrate.” It’s effective for “Come Together, Celebrate” to be sung to both SPIRIT DANCE and HYMN TO JOY at different places in a worship service and by different groups.
The Hymn’s Text:
Stanza 1 celebrates Larry as a music conductor. He is a gifted, versatile conductor who leads congregations and choirs of adults and children with piano, organ, and orchestra. Larry directs with energy and vivacity, inspiring the best in everyone. He conducts groups in various settings, including sanctuaries, banquet halls, and outdoor festivals. Worship services and other events are enlivened and enhanced by Larry’s conducting. The final phrase in stanza 1, “soar on wings” is reminiscent of “Mother Eagle, Teach Us to Fly” in Imagine God! A Children’s Musical Exploring and Expressing Images of God. I remember how amazed I was when Larry conducted the premiere of the musical with more than 100 children from various churches in a rousing performance with only a short practice time.
Stanza 2 celebrates Larry as a composer. He is a prolific creator of hymns, anthems for children and adults, and musicals. Larry is a talented, award-winning composer of both music and words. Pullen Memorial Baptist Church has encouraged and affirmed his creative work, and churches around the country have greatly benefited from his compositions. The line “he composes day and night” refers to Larry’s energy as a composer, inspired in darkness and in light, working long hours and often sending me a new tune or arrangement late at night. The reference to “Sister-Brother Spirit” is in many of our hymns, including one of our first collaborations, and is a divine image that Larry and I have seen as guiding our creative partnership.
Stanza 3 celebrates Larry’s ministry as an educator. He teaches children and adults in choirs and other groups. Also, Larry teaches piano and voice lessons to people within and outside Pullen. Larry models lifelong learning, participating in workshops at Hymn Society conferences and honing his skills as a composer and conductor in many other ways. Those who have experienced Larry as a teacher will attest to his emphasis not only on talents and vision, but on developing skills and musical expression through repetitive practice. Larry’s excellence as an educator has enriched the lives of those he has taught and of many churches.
Stanza 4 celebrates Larry as a prophetic minister. For more than 135 years Pullen Memorial Baptist Church has been a prophetic faith community. Based on the theological foundation that all people are created in the image of the Divine, Pullen includes, affirms, and welcomes all people. Pullen is a progressive congregation, “committed to love and laboring for justice.” Because this mission resonates with Larry, he accepted the call to Pullen, and has contributed his abundant gifts to fulfilling this mission. I have deep gratitude for Larry’s prophetic ministry of justice-love, peace, equity and inclusiveness. Larry’s theology and ministry continue to expand as he explores words and music to be more inclusive of all races, all genders, and all faiths, so the gifts of all people can thrive. The final line in the hymn, “joined with cosmic strings in sounding music flowing through all life,” refers to string theory in physics. Larry talked with me about new possibilities for music ministry from this theory of all the particles of life as vibrating strings. He reflected, “If we discovered what it means for us all to be musical beings, vibrating sound waves, how would that connect us with all life in the universe?”
It was my joy to create this text for the people of Pullen to sing their celebration of Larry’s music ministry on the occasion of his 20th anniversary with the church. It is my prayer that many other churches will sing this hymn, changing “he” to “she” or “they” to fit the minister of music they’re celebrating. Also, I pray that many churches will be inspired by Larry’s ministry to sing vibrant, expansive music that includes and affirms all people.