midwesterner_clipart_-_music_stand_1.jpgThe charter graduating class of the Unitarian Universalist Musicians’ Network's (UUMN) Certification Program for Music Leaders will be recognized during the Service of the Living Tradition at this year’s General Assembly in Salt Lake City, Utah – and among those recognized will be the Central Midwest District’s own Ruben Piirainen, Director of Music for Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield, Wisconsin. To become certified through this program, Ruben completed three years of course work through professional conferences as well as writing papers, doing required reading and completed other requirements by working one-on-one with an advisor and in small groups with other candidates via phone or email.

Ruben says that the most valuable aspect of the entire Certification program was developing a personal statement of philosophy for his music ministry.  This philosophy allows him to articulate his particular vision and clarify his role as a music professional in a congregational setting. However, he feels that the entire certification program was extremely valuable, not only for his personal enrichment, but also for the congregation he serves as Director of Music. "After stepping into the role of music director three years ago, I figured this would be the best way to further my skills in this position," Ruben said.  As he was already quite skilled in music technique – having earned degrees in piano performance from the Conservatory of Music at Lawrence University and Bowling Green State University – the certification program allowed him to hone his skills as a professional in a Unitarian Univeralist congregational setting and enrich his calling to music ministry.

The Certification Program for Music Leaders was created to help music leaders in Unitarian Universalist congregations develop a foundational understanding of three main areas of knowledge: (1) Music Skills and Resources, (2) Unitarian Universalist Heritage and Values and (3) Leadership and Interpersonal Skills. The objectives of the program are to summon music leaders to their calling of music ministry, enhance their professional perspective of this ministry and develop professional skills thereby enriching their service to Unitarian Universalist congregations. The certification program is currently administered jointly by the Leadership Development Board (LDB) of the UU Musicians Network (UUMN) and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).

To complete this Certification program, candidates must complete six core courses:

  • Leadership and Accompaniment of Congregational Song – where the canidates explored ways of leading different types of songs (a capella, in rounds, etc).
  • Leading a Rehearsal – which examined score preparation, conducting, pacing, teaching a new piece, finessing a learned piece, working effectively with children, youth and adults.
  • Developing and Managing a Music Program – which involved administrative issues (budgeting, recruiting, marketing, etc) within running a congregational music program
  • Integrating Music and Worship within UU Musical Heritage – which focused upon collaboration with other professional staff, understanding the musical culture of Unitarian Universalist congregations as well as exploring the use of instrumental and vocal music, movement, and silence in sacred space.
  • Care and Ethics for the Music Leader – which examined ethical behavior, moral decision-making, implications of the UUMN Code of Professional Practice, maintaining boundaries, self-care, and nurturing a personal spiritual practice
  • Best Practices in Anti-racism, Anti-oppression, and Multicultural Competencies – which explored how music directors can aid and initiate efforts for our congregations to be more anti-racist, anti-oppressive, and culturally competent religious communities.

In addition to these required courses, candidates for the Certification Program for Music Leaders must complete one community service project in the area of their music ministry (such as a benefit concert, interfaith choir concert, leading a hymn sing, etc). At the culmination of all this prep work, candidates then submit a portfolio with documentation of all course work, completed assignments from those courses, sample orders of service or concert programs, and any CDs or DVDs of performance projects, a profile of music in the candidate’s home congregation and a written philosophy of music ministry as developed and honed over the three years of the certification program.

Most candidates can expect to complete the program in three to six years and they must have served a congregation as a professional music leader for at least one year prior to starting the program. Ruben says that this program was particularly relevant to him as a new music director and as a person relatively new to Unitarian Universalism, but the certification program can also be very valuable to experienced music directors who may use this opportunity of renewing their commitment to music ministry and discover just what this means to themselves and their congregations. For more on the certification program, see these Frequently Asked Questions.