EDITOR’S NOTE: Four years ago, Bradley Kauffman ’96 — who studied music education at Goshen — and the 13 other members of the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee (including Goshen College alums Katie Graber ’99, Emily Grimes ’14, SaeJin Lee ’11 and Adam Tice ’02, text editor) began work on compiling and editing a new resource for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. This fall, the print, digital and audio resources called Voices Together are being released by MennoMedia, where Amy Gingerich ’99 gave oversight to the project as the editorial director. The last time such a denominational endeavor was completed was in 1992, as Bradley began studying at Goshen College. This seemed like an opportune moment to interview Bradley about how music connects to our faith development and binds communities together. Find out more about this once-in-a-generation project at voicestogetherhymnal.org.
How did your Goshen College experience help shape your understandings about the power of music?
“My Goshen College experience dovetailed with the advent of Hymnal: A Worship Book. I began my first year in the fall of 1992, the same year this new hymnal arrived in congregations. There was a lot of enthusiasm and momentum around adopting and celebrating this new volume. One of my earliest memories from that fall is of a Kratz Hall floormate inviting me to come along to a Sunday evening hymn sing at College Mennonite Church (if memory serves, Mary Oyer ’45 led this one). Takeaway: hymn singing was a campus event. I was so excited that my peers were showing up for this.
“As a Goshen student, I did choral conducting. I found the opportunity intoxicating to bring voices together and to lead people in shaping a group sound. My dad (Byron Kauffman ’60) is also a choral conductor, so I grew up with this, but I didn’t know it was a direction I wanted to go until I was a Goshen student.”
How have you observed or experienced music helping connect people and communities?
“We all desire to know and be known. Music is a thing that expresses this, and reveals to each of us whether or not we belong. Voices Together has been curated with a desire that everyone in the church — regardless of whether or not one worships with a hymnal — can see themselves somewhere within its pages. We wanted Voices Together to amplify diverse stories, diverse expressions of faith and community. This project is expansive and celebrates the presence of God that is evoked when we raise our voices together.”
What role do you believe music plays in faith formation?
“We internalize what we intone; the songs, words and theology that we repeat do form us. Personally, for me, I feel like music is such a part of my Christian formation and can recall songs from different periods of my life and development. Some of my first memories in life are of church music.
“When we began the process and had our first committee meeting, we sent notes of gratitude to the people who formed [prior Mennonite worship resources and hymnals]. It was important to me to name how much we were formed by these collections and how much the collections that have gone before were so responsible for any of us being at this table now and doing this work going forward.”
As you reflect on your experience with this project, what is a favorite memory?
“In looking for a song written in Navajo, we got in touch with Mennonite pastor, Daniel Smiley, who has an original song with over 100,000 views on YouTube. Communicating over email, telephone and text, we learned that Daniel was open to sharing this (previously unpublished) song in Voices Together. And Daniel agreed to collaborate on making an English translation. Several email and text exchanges later, we had a draft translation. One evening I received an email: ‘Hey, Brother, I just got through singing the song for a crowd of young Navajos, there are tears and lots of joy! Wow, the song has come together very well, I am satisfied with the translation. Very close to what it says in Navajo… thank you for your help…'”
What is your favorite hymn?
“My favorite hymn is whatever story I feel most connected to in a given moment.”