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Music Makes Community


Author – Ginny Chilton Maxwell is Music Minister at Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as organist, choirmaster, and elementary music teacher.


While doing research for my previous blog posts this summer I came across a group called “Music that Makes Community.” If you’re reading this blog it’s possible you’ve already heard of them. They are a nonprofit that works on a number of things related to communal singing, and I highly suggest you check out their website, but what I wish to highlight here is that everything they do is based on the belief that singing together is particularly effective at building community. This is an idea that may feel foreign to us in 21st century America but, in the not-so-distant past, you needed other people in order to have any music in your life at all. Before recorded music, everyone played an instrument or at least sang. Nearly everyone could keep a steady beat and hold a pitch (You have to be able to do those things if you want to create music together!). Think of how much certain songs or bands shaped who you were at different times in your life. Now, imagine you lived before recording technology was made available, and you and your friends and family had to make all that music yourself. We would all be much better musicians, (Yay!), but I’m more struck by how much more time we would have spent face-to-face with one another. I can’t help but wonder what a difference that would make in terms of belonging and community building.



Church is one of the few places that people still gather to make music together en masse. Recorded music has become so ubiquitous that we rarely even listen to music with others, nevermind sing it together; we each have our own self-curated list of songs on our smartphones which we listen to with earbuds on, keeping us from being able to enjoy even listening to music together. I think it’s pretty awesome that we church folk are so proudly countercultural that we will still sing together each Sunday morning (and during the week, too!). When we sing together, we are closer to each other. When we are closer to each other we cultivate a sense of belonging, we can provide for each other’s needs, and we can better communicate with one another. In a society that feels increasingly polarized, you might say making music together can be one way to start solving our problems.


Knitting Hearts Together

Creating places where people feel close to one another, where people are known and feel like they belong, is some of the most important work of the church. Communal singing is not just a fun activity, it is a way of knitting hearts together over time. When we are close to someone, we are seeing Christ in them and we are being Christ to them. If you are involved in music at your church, whether formally or informally, you are doing what Jesus called you to do. That is sacred stuff.


For more blogs by this author and others, go to our main blog page.





We invite you to participate in SHARING THE SONG, a workshop for song leaders excited to nurture and sustain singing in their communities. Experience three days of learning, reflection, and skill building with Alice Parker and Paul Vasile, and grow in your ability to inspire others to make beautiful music with their voices!

Sharing the Song is designed for community song leaders seeking to strengthen and refine their skills so they can encourage beautiful music-making wherever they go!

Sharing the Song is generously supported by Melodious Accord, Music That Makes Community,  Eden Theological Seminary, and The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, as well as other corporate and private donors.


For more information about this event, go to:


Join us for a day of celebrating the power and importance of singing together. This event is one of the last of many events during our year long nationwide tour to celebrate the opening of The Center for Congregational Song. The leadership will include some of the most skilled and forward-thinking song leaders and composers from the San Francisco Bay area.


A Special thanks to our sponsor and partner for this event, Music That Makes Community.



Registration costs $20 and includes lunch. We are happy to accommodate any dietary restrictions you may have if you indicate those restrictions in your registration form.




The Hymn Society, Executive Committee, San Francisco

Eileen M. Johnson studied at Westminster Choir College (BMus) and Concordia University, River Forest (MCM), with further studies at Bethany Theological Seminary and Pacific School of Religion. Johnson holds the Colleague certification from the American Guild of Organists and is a former Executive Committee member of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. She was on the editorial team for the hymnal supplement Spirit Anew: Singing Prayer and Praise (WoodLake Books) and has written hymn performance columns and reviews of hymn-based music for The Hymn. Johnson is a contributor to the Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. She currently serves as Music Director at El Sobrante United Methodist Church, El Sobrante, California, where she plays organ and piano, directs an adult choir and handbell choir, and leads the Kairos Praise Band (while playing electric bass).

St. Gregory's of Nyssa, Singing, Music That Makes Community, San Francisco

Donald Schell’s forty plus years experience as an Episcopal priest has included work as a university chaplain (with a daily, sung liturgy), as vicar of small-town mission church in Idaho, and (with Rick Fabian) as founder and rector of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church, San Francisco. In all these settings Donald has found music essential to building liturgical community and touching people’s hearts for mission. Since beginning Music that Makes Community as a project of All Saints Company, Donald worked with a network of clergy and church musicians recovering and renewing community-based practices of learning and sharing singing. In 2007, just after launching Music that Makes Community as a project, Donald joined All Saints Company full time in order to consult, publish, and lead workshops on the discoveries made at St. Gregory’s and develop Music that Makes Community workshops and network. For the program year beginning September 2014, Donald is serving as Interim Rector of Christ Church (Episcopal), Portola Valley, California. Donald has written My Father, My Daughter: Pilgrims on the Road to Santiago and has contributed chapters to Searching for Sacred Space, to What Would Jesus Sing? and to Music By Heart: Paperless Songs for Evening Worship.

The Hymn Society, Fellow, FHS, San Francisco

Dan Damon is an internationally published writer of hymn texts and tunes, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Richmond, CA, and adjunct faculty in church music at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA. Dan plays piano in clubs in the San Francisco area
and studied piano and composition with Richard Hindman. Three collections of Dan’s hymns have been published, and his hymns can be found in many hymnals.

Rosa Cándida Ramírez is the worship Pastor of La Fuente Ministries, an intercultural, intergenerational bilingual ministry in Pasadena, California. As a second generation Latina, she is passionate about the role of language and culture in worship, and the creation of bilingual worship resources. During her time as a student, she worked with Fuller Theological Seminary’s All-Seminary Chapel in helping create intercultural worship and is currently working as a consultant with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

























































The Hymn Society’s Annual Conference, the premier congregational song conference each year in the U.S. and Canada, has opened registration. Speakers include Ysaye Barnwell (formally from the ensemble “Sweet Honey On The Rock”), David Bailey (founder of Arrabon), and Cuban hymnologist Amos Lopez. Hymn Festival leaders include Ysaye Barnwell, Paul Vasile (Executive Director of Music That Makes Community), Urban Doxology, and more! Check out the full conference website here:

Make sure to check out all our other events here!