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SPIRITUALITY: Dana Brown-How Can I Keep from Singing?
by AMY MATHENY
2005-03-01

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Music is a powerful thing. An expression of the spirit. With most faiths the use of the voice—whether chanting, singing or speaking incantations—is essential to worship, meditation, and prayer.

Dana Brown is a devoted Minister of Music. Through his direction of his choirs and through his selection of hymns and songs each week, he gives of his 'spirit' and shares an empowering voice. His congregation in the heart of Lakeview includes many GLBT members and weekly GLBT visitors trying to find a 'church home.'

His music fills that home.

Dana Brown:

How Can I Keep from Singing?

I grew up in a home filled with music, as my parents were musicians and teachers. Our home was also filled with church, which was the backdrop for the way our week progressed and how we treated each other. This doesn't mean that I loved church! I sat in the choir as a high school student and loved singing, and the music, but not much else. Perhaps it was my repressed gayness, but I felt set apart from it all.

Fast forward 10 years and I'm the music director at a small Presbyterian Church on the South Side of Chicago, directing a choir of 15-20 hearty souls. It was still my perception that if I brought my talent, but not my gayness to church, everything was fine. Bringing my boyfriend to church sure got the coffee hour going —but it also felt like we were the poster children for 'something different'.

In September 1998, I was hired as the director of music at Broadway United Methodist Church in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, where Gregory Dell is the Pastor. Greg was brought up on charges of defying church law by marrying two men in a ceremony which took place one week after I'd started my employment. Nothing in life prepared me for the next six months: the impending trial brought a level of intensity—as well as motivation—that I'd never experienced before in a church setting. Those six months included three visits from [ anti-gay activist ] Fred Phelps, massive media attention, a lot of heartache, and finally a trial in which the guilty verdict turned into a one-year suspension from official ministry.

I was interviewed the day after the verdict by Channel 5; my comment to the interviewer, fighting back tears, was my sorrow at all those people—gay, straight or otherwise—who would not be able to benefit from Greg's ministry while he was suspended. I muttered, stupefied, the words to a song which had suddenly taken on new meaning: 'if love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?'

One of the great pleasures of my life is directing the Broadway Choir, a group of 40-plus singers who rehearse on Thursdays and sing most Sundays at Broadway. We've sung at two Annual Conferences of the UMC, the Lakeview Action Coalition Convention, the Human Rights Campaign Annual Dinner with John Kerry as keynote speaker, and various other appearances outside of the church. We sing to the glory of God, with our full diversity on display. For our first CD release, Sing and Be Not Silent, I wrote a song 'Until the Table Extends to Us All', a reaction to the Boy Scout decision of 2000, the UMC General Conference decision to start defining its language toward sexual orientation more exclusively ( redefined again in 2004 ) , and my outrage toward the church for banning Pastor Dell from ministry.

'Until the table extends to us all, until the night knows no darkness to fall, until the privilege of freedom includes mine, until religion is sanctioned by love, until justice rolls down from above, until dignity's restored to every soul, I will sing my song'.

I would never try to preach to those not ready to hear it, but I meet a lot of gay people who are 'allergic' to church.

My belief in God has been the result of many experiences, most notably being able to recover from my parents' death at a relatively young age, and the belief that God celebrates me for who I am as a gay man, musician, lover, human being and citizen of the world.

There are many ways in which music defines my spirituality: at the same time, music can be mystic, spiritual, primitive, transcendental, joyous, ecstatic and uplifting. I try to find all of those elements in my music choices. Hopefully, within the pursuit of doing this music together as a choir and presenting it to others, we start reflecting that diversity of music, love and emotion to each other as we reach for a common goal: to experience God within each other. 'If love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?'

Dana Brown is the Assistant Professor of Opera and Vocal Coaching at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, and the Director of Music at Broadway United Methodist Church, 3344. N. Broadway Street, Chicago, brdwyumc.org . E-mail danabrownchurch@sbcglobal.net .


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