Musical Musings 01-15: A favorite hymn setting and music of Harry Chapin and Bill Evans with UUCC Pianist Karin Tooley

Music Notes – Sunday, January 15th

This week’s musician is UUCC Pianist Karin Tooley


Opening Hymn: #1008 When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place – Poley   

#1008 in our Singing the Journey hymnbook, “When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place” was written in 1996 by UU musician and composer Joyce Poley (b. 1941). This song “invites us to see ourselves in others. As we come to understand that all people have wisdom to share and stories to tell—regardless of culture, race, social status, or faith—we begin to realize how important our commonalities are, and how interwoven our lives. When we open ourselves to this sacred idea, then ‘our heart is in a holy place’.” (from


Centering Music: Improvisation on “Spirit of Life – McDade/Tooley

“Spirit of Life” is #123 in our Singing the Living Tradition hymnal and is a favorite hymn of many UUs. The composer of “Spirit of Life”, Carolyn McDade (b. 1935), describes herself as “a songwriter, spiritual feminist, and social activist” ( Originally, McDade was reluctant to see “Spirit of Life” included in our hymnal, as she thinks of her song as a personal and living prayer as opposed to a hymn. Despite her misgivings at the time, “Spirit of Life” has become the most frequently sung hymn within UU congregations around the world – many UUs know the words by heart, and some of our sister churches sing this song together every Sunday. At UUCC this week, you’ll hear a free improvisation around McDade’s familiar melody by UUCC Pianist Karin Tooley. 


Sung Meditation: #352 Find a Stillness – Seaburg 

#352 in our Singing the Living Tradition hymnal, “Find a Stillness” is based on a traditional Transylvanian hymn tune, with words by Carl G. Seaburg (1922-1998), a UU Minister and historian who spent several years as president of the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society and is responsible for seven of the hymns in Singing the Living Tradition, including #124 “Be That Guide” and #338 “I Seek the Spirit of a Child”. 


Offertory music: Circle – Chapin 

Award-winning American singer/songwriter, guitarist, and activist Harry Chapin (1942-1981) was successful and widely influential in both the folk and pop music scenes of the 1970s. Chapin had multiple albums certified platinum (over 1 million units sold) and is an inductee in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Chapin also played an important role in the creation of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger in 1977, and in 1987, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his humanitarian efforts. “Circle” was released on Chapin’s 1972 album Sniper and Other Love Songs. Although the song did not chart as a single, it was a favorite of Chapin’s fans and eventually became the unofficial “Chapin theme song”, appearing on multiple compilation albums and performed in nearly all of Chapin’s live concerts. 


Closing Hymn: #1026 If Every Woman in the World – McKay
#1026 in our Singing the Journey hymnbook, “If Every Woman in the World” is a country/folk style waltz written by American singer, songwriter and storyteller Karen Mackay (b. 1952) with additional lyrics by Nancy Nordlie (b. 1953). The song grew from Karen MacKay’s deep connection to the living tradition of West Virginia women’s music; a tradition that, in Karen’s hands and voice, continues to be the means for perpetuating the simple ancient wisdom of mountain women. In 1982, suffering harassment at work and unsure of her life’s direction, Karen spent a weekend with “Aunt Jenny” and received the wisdom that has guided her life and music ever since. “Just git out there and play yer banjo. Git out there and play yer music and give ‘em all you’ve got!” Two weeks later Karen had quit her job, and a year later she had written and recorded the songs on her first album, Annie Oakley Rides Again, which included “If Every Woman in the World”. Karen’s strong belief in the power of women to influence global culture and bring peace to the world found a deep expression in this song, and women all over the world have responded by passing it on from woman to woman, country to country. It has been sung at the 1985 International Women’s Conference in Nairobi, as well as at retreats and gatherings throughout Canada and the United States. The most important thing to remember when singing this music is to heed the simple wisdom of “Aunt Jenny” Wilson, “Just git out there…and give ‘em all you’ve got!” (includes material from and from Hot Wire Magazine, July 1985)


Postlude: Orbit (Unless It’s You) – Evans

Bill Evans (1929-1980) was a jazz pianist and composer, famously known as the leader of the Bill Evans Trio and for writing several standards, including “Waltz for Debby”, “Funkallero”, and “NYC’s No Lark”. Evans received 8 Grammy Awards, including a posthumous lifetime achievement award and is an inductee in the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame. Evans wrote and first performed “Orbit (Unless It’s You)” on his 1967 album A Simple Matter of Conviction. Evans may have named the song “Orbit” because of the extended chord progressions in the piece, which go so far afield from the original key that they could be considered to be in orbit.

                                         -Mike Carney, UUCC Music Director