Anglican musician Jane Best
Anglican musician Jane Best was a winner last June in a hymn competition centered on an unusual area – songs for congregation unaccompanied by instruments or choir.
In the world of church music, the big shots are usually the organist and choir, while the congregation rumbles along as best it can, peering at a hymnal or up at the lyrics projected on a wall or screen.
Pepperdine University, based in Malibu, Calif., chose to focus on congregational singing in a hymn competition organized in conjunction with a June 4-7 conference on a cappella (unaccompanied) church singing.
Eight winners were chosen from 192 entries, among them Ms. Best’s Walk in Newness of Life, inspired by a motto chosen by Bishop Ron Ferris for his diocese of Algoma, which stretches along the northern shore of the Great Lakes. One criterion for the competition entries was that “the average congregation with some practice or familiarity can sing (the hymn) with general success.”
“I wrote the song to support the motto and my congregation sang it, so I knew it worked in my congregation,” said Ms. Best in an interview. Based on Manitoulin Island, Ont., which is in the northern end of Lake Huron, she is music director at All Saints Anglican church in Gore Bay.
Being among the contest winners was “very exciting and a surprise, because it’s quite a simple song,” she said. The prize was an expenses-paid trip to the conference, called The Ascending Voice, held on Pepperdine’s scenic campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
“There were very, very inspiring sessions. We did Roman Catholic chant and Greek Byzantine chant. There was a quartet from Russia. Every a cappella worship tradition was represented,” said Ms. Best, estimating that a couple of hundred people attended the event, some from as far away as Italy, New Zealand and Great Britain. Ms. Best was the only Canadian among the competition winners, the rest of whom were American. In Canada, she said, she often attends the 38-year-old Summer Institute for Church Music, held in Whitby, Ont.
Music leaders sometimes don’t pay attention to congregational singing, but speakers and workshop leaders “said to go home and really respect your congregation and ask them to sing meaningfully, to get used to the sound of each others’ voices,” she said.
She also said she found the ecumenical aspect of the meeting to be inspiring. “There was a real sense of being in God’s presence – all these people trying to sing each other’s music. There were two sessions on Anglican liturgy and everybody really participated. It was very touching,” she said.
The winning hymns were sung at an evening concert. “There were about 300 people there. It was a big sound and it felt great,” she said.
More coverage of the conference is available on the Pepperdine University Web site.
In 2005, Ms. Best produced a CD of “spiritual songs” called You Are the One that includes a booklet with lyrics and chord markings. It is “intended to encourage worship, especially in small churches where it is hard to do new music,” according to her CD notes. Some are for soloist and small groups, but most can be sung by average churchgoers. More information is available on her Web site, www.bestsongs.ca.