March conference will study hymns, church music

Published 12:00am Saturday, January 2, 2010

For most southern Christians, the hymnal is almost as important to worship as the Bible.

This March, several experts on religious music and congregational song will hold an academic conference that explores liturgical music and its cultural and spiritual significance to the South.

“Our Story, Our Song: Celebrating Our Heritage of Hymns,” will be held Thurs., March 4, through Sat., March 6, in Andalusia, with concerts and lectures scheduled for city hall and several local churches.

“The aim of this conference is to explore the heritage of hymns, especially in Southern churches,” said Dr. Steve Hubbard, Lurleen B. Wallace Community College English instructor and conference director. “It’s ecumenical in its focus and we’re going to cover a large spectrum of hymns and look at both the academic and practical side of singing.”

The conference will include four academic lectures, each led by a noted expert in the field of religious music. Randall Bradley, director of the church music program at Baylor (Texas) University, is a Covington County native who will lead the first lecture, “A Joyful Sound: The Church Music of Covington County, Alabama” at 8:30 a.m. at city hall on March 4.

“It should be a good combination,” said Bradley, who grew up in the Red Oak community and attended Florala High School. “There will be some scholarly components, but there will also be a practical component where there will be some training for people who want to be more involved in their church’s music. Also, it’s just an opportunity for people to come and hear some nice performances.”

In addition to the lectures, the conference will also include workshops and concerts. Locations for conference events include city hall, First United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church and First Baptist Church on Whatley Street.

“We wanted this to be an all-inclusive conference and also contacted other churches for their input into this event,” Hubbard said. “Some of the choices for locations were made with historical context in mind — for example, we’re having the psalm festival at the Presbyterian Church because that denomination has historically placed a special emphasis on the psalms.”

Other academics that will join Bradley for the lectures include Mary Louise Bringle, president of the Hymn Society and professor at Brevard (N.C.) College; James Abbington, associate professor of church music and worship at Emory (Ga.) University; Michael Morgan, seminary musician at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.; and Stanley Smith, a Master Sacred Harp singer and teacher in the Cooper Book tradition.

Subjects in the conference include “Writing Hymn Texts” (a class led by Bringle), “Unsung Hymns by Black and Unknown Bards” (a lecture led by Abbington), and “The Sacred Harp” (a class led by Smith). On Sat., March 6, there will be a panel discussion featuring Bringle, Abbington, Morgan and Bradley at 9:45 a.m. at FUMC.

Hubbard said there will be a registration fee to attend the conference, but it has not been set yet. He expects the fee to be between $25-30; college and high school choral students who participate in the concerts will attend free. For more information on registering, e-mail Hubbard at shubbard@lbwcc.edu.

The conference is being made possible, in part, by grants from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Alabama Humanities Foundation, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Those who wish to also help contribute to the conference’s success are welcome to make a tax-deductible donation. Please mail a check, payable to Lurleen B. Wallace Community College and marked “hymn conference,” to Cynthia Donaldson, Assistant Chief Financial Officer, LBW Community College, P.O. Box 1418, Andalusia, AL 36420.

For more information on the conference, call or e-mail Hubbard at 334-881-2255 or shubbard@lbwcc.edu.

Tentative conference schedule

Thurs., March 4

8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. — Lecture: “A Joyful Sound: The Church Music of Covington County, Alabama” by Randall Bradley at Andalusia City Hall auditorium.

9:45 a.m. to 11 a.m. — Classes: “Writing Hymn Texts — Part I” by Mary Bringle at FUMC Fellowship Hall; or “The Seven Shaped-Note Gospel Tradition in Alabama” by Steve Grauberger at FUMC.

11:15 a .m. to 12:30 a.m. — Classes: “The Psalter in Christian Worship: Reformation to Watts” by Michael Morgan at FUMC Fellowship Hall; or “Lyrics in the Palm of My Hand: Benjamin Lloyd’s Primitive Hymns and the Variety of Music Drawn from its Pages” by Joyce Cauthen at FUMC.

2 p.m. to 3 p.m. — Lecture: “Unsung Hymns by Black and Unknown Bards” by James Abbington at Andalusia City Hall auditorium.

3:30 to 4:45 p.m. — Classes: “The Sacred Harp” by Stanley Smith at FUMC Fellowship Hall; or “Adult Choral Workshop I” by Abbington and Bradley at FUMC Sanctuary.

7 p.m. — Psalm festival at First Presbyterian Church.

Fri., March 5

8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. — Lecture: “Hymns Come Down to Earth: Theological Trends in Hymn Texts of the Past Forty Years” by Mary Bringle at Andalusia City Hall auditorium.

9:45 a.m. to 11 a.m. — Classes: “Writing Hymn Texts — Part II” by Bringle at FUMC Fellowship Hall; or “High School Choral Workshop” by Bradley and Abbington at FUMC Sanctuary.

11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. — Classes: “The Psalter in Christian Worship: Watts to the Present” by Morgan at FUMC Fellowship Hall; or “High School Choral Workshop (continued) by Bradley and Abbington at FUMC Sanctuary.

1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. — High school chorus sing at FUMC Sanctuary.

2:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. — Classes: “The Sacred Harp, Part II” by Smith at FUMC Fellowship Hall; or “Adult Choral Workshop II” by Bradley and Abbington at FUMC Sanctuary.

5 p.m. — Covered dish supper (tentative) at First Baptist Church on Whatley Street.

7 p.m. — Hymn festival at First Baptist Church on Whatley Street.

Sat., March 6

8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. — Lecture: “They Love to Tell the Story: Hymn Texts in Southern Fiction” by Bringle at FUMC.

9:45 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. — Panel discussion with Bringle, Abbington, Morgan and Bradley at FUMC.

11 a.m. to noon — Organ concert featuring Morgan and Abbington at FUMC.

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