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New songbook will offer contemporary, diverse mix

New songbook will offer contemporary, diverse mix

Written: 8/22/2005

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - A songbook that captures the essence of 21st century worship in the African-American church is one step closer to reality, and Sept. 30 is the deadline for submitting music for possible inclusion.

Zion Still Sings! For Every Generation is the title of the new resource, which will become available in January 2007 from the United Methodist Publishing House. The book will provide congregations with a resource for corporate singing with a black church flare, according to the editorial committee, which met Aug. 17-19 in Nashville.

The title represents a continuation of the theme of the Songs of Zion songbook, created in 1981 by the Publishing House. The committee's goal is to create a songbook that captures the ever-changing musical heritage of the African-American church, said the Rev. Myron McCoy, songbook editor and president of United Methodist-related Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo.

The 11-member songbook editorial committee is intergenerational and multiethnic, and some members served on the design team for the Songs of Zion.

Zion Still Sings! will emphasize new contemporary songs of praise as well as songs for worship. It will feature diverse genres of music styles for congregational singing, including service music, seasonal music, neosoul (new soul) and hip-hop. 

Like its predecessor, the new songbook's appeal is designed to be ecumenical and racially diverse, and congregations of all backgrounds and geographies throughout the world will be able to use it, McCoy said. "It is not strictly for African Americans. It is open to a wide range of people."

By calling Zion Still Sings! a continuation of the original Zion book, the committee "sees this as a resource that bridges the ages within our congregations and bridges the church and the folk not yet in the church," he said.

One of the committee's challenges is including the full scope of songs representing the future and the past into a songbook of a manageable size, according to McCoy.

The committee wants to include music written since the release of Songs of Zion as well as other music that congregations will use in the future, said Bishop Woodie White, committee chairperson and bishop in residence at United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.

The book will contain about 250 songs, of which 75 percent will be new music, including pieces commissioned specifically for it. Some songs from Songs of Zion, The African American Heritage Hymnal and The Faith We Sing will also be included.

"This resource is an attempt to capture what the current 21st century worship phenomenon is doing," said the Rev. Cynthia Wilson, tune chairperson for the songbook. "We are hoping that we can have a wonderful cross section of genres of hymns that are traditional and contemporary and those in long meter, which are historic to the black church and jubilees." The songbook also will reflect the value and prominence of the spiritual in worship, she added.  

According to Dean McIntyre, director of music resources at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship in Nashville, singing and worship in both the United Methodist Church today and white ecumenical congregations "is dead and sterile, and we don't know how to fix it." This new songbook, he said, is a resource that will find "tremendous acceptance" in the white church.

"We recognize that it is in the black church that there is so much spirit, joy, energy, life and vitality that have been missing for so many years in the white church," he said. "I would think that this resource would immediately gain acceptance and great use in the white church. I find that exciting for the future."

The committee is inviting submissions through Sept. 30. They may be in the form of songs already set to music, texts that do not yet have a tune or music, and music from other cultures. The committee seeks music that relates to all parts of the church experience, including music for the special days common in the black church experience, such as men's and women's day, choir day, children's day, Watch Night, and liberation and justice days.

The committee is trying to capture the song styles of the younger generation, said Wilson, also a music minister at United Methodist-related Bethune Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla. "The inclusion of neosoul and hip-hop sets this resource apart more than any other resource that exists for local church worship." 

Zion Still Sings! For Every Generation represents the bridging of cultures and generations, said Mark Miller, director of music and instructor of sacred music at Drew Theological School, Madison, N.J., and director of the gospel and youth choirs at Marble Collegiate Church in New York. "The inclusion of music such as neosoul and hip-hop is not in a vacuum," he said.

"That music exists because it is connected to the spirituals, because it is connected to our traditional hymnody and the more contemporary gospel," he said. "It is seen in a spectrum of music that makes all music important, and we need to embrace all music for what worship needs to be." The new Zion is taking the best of what the culture offers and using it as an evangelistic tool for those who have not found what God's love means in their lives, he said.

The new songbook also evokes the biblical injunction to sing the Lord's songs in a strange land, according to the Rev. Gennifer Brooks, an instructor in homiletics at United Methodist-related Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. How do the people of Zion continue to sing in all kinds of forms? she asked. Young people today are grasping and trying to sing in the "strange lands" in which they live, she said.

"Those lands are not of America, but lands of hurt and harm, quick death, drugs and AIDS. But yet, in the midst of these strange lands in which they live, they are called to sing the Lord's songs, and they find ways to sing. This resource is speaking to that culture that says that no matter what strange land you are in, you are still the people of Zion, and you are still called to sing the Lord's songs, and we are going to help you to sing those songs." 

The new songbook also aims to "intentionally reach the unchurched and the dechurched," said the Rev. William B. McClain, a professor of preaching and worship at United Methodist-related Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington. He coordinated the Songs of Zion efforts, beginning in 1973.

Anyone interested in submitting a piece of music-it must be contemporary congregational music and can come from any genre-should provide:

  • An actual photocopy of the song if it is in print, or a manuscript if never published; 
  • A list of source information (composer, copyright information, what collection it appears in, etc.); 
  • Any other relevant information, such as historical background.

Interested people may submit songs by mail to Charlene Johnson Ugwu, project manager of the African American Songbook Project, United Methodist Publishing House, 201 Eighth Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37203, or by e-mail to Cugwu@umpublishing.org. For more information, call (615) 749-6493.

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