Grebel Sings Bridges Gaps, Builds Community

At the beginning of the academic year, Grebel students, staff, and faculty took a deep breath and sang together—first in unison, and then in several different parts to build a new melody. The piece, called “We all Sing,” was written by Grebel Music Professor Karen Sunabacka and commissioned for the College’s 2018-19 integration initiative. This year marks the fourth year that Grebel has intentionally planned a year-long series of activities intended to offer meaningful ways for the different people and programs of Grebel to interact with one another, and with the University of Waterloo and the broader community.

Organized around the theme of “Grebel Sings,” the Grebel community will find and share their voices in song throughout the year while exploring issues of diversity, justice, hospitality, faith, and peace.

“Grebel is both a living and learning community, and we have much to learn from one another,” explained Director of Student Services Mary Brubaker-Zehr. “With the busyness of life, it’s easy to stay in our own corners of the College. All-college activities like Grebel Sings provide an opportunity to bring us together in intentional and meaningful ways. We are enriched when we come together, and we’re inspired when we rub shoulders with each other through song.”

Reflecting on the Grebel Sings idea, third-year psychology student Zoe Andres added that “singing can unite us as a community. No two people come from the exact same background, but singing is a way of bridging gaps and bringing people together over something that we can all share and take part in.”

“Singing together requires people to listen and cooperate,” explained Karen. “When we are singing, we are all working together towards a common goal. When many people sing together often, friendships and community are built!” The need for listening and cooperation was illustrated at Commencement as 200 Grebelites learned “We All Sing” by rote, layering line upon line in a canon to show the complexity and beauty of community.

The College is spending this year intentionally singing together as a way of building bridges. “We All Sing” was inspired by the Grebel Community. Students, staff, and faculty played a poetry game to form the text. Karen chose four lines to describe Grebel: Good food always cookies / I am full of music and peace and life / I cannot bypass beautiful bread, I can’t resist bread / Let us hear this heart of community, let us sing. Additional parts of the song include portions of the hymn “Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” to show Grebel’s faith connection to the Church. Lastly, the “foot” of the piece repeats Sing, sing, sing together. Portions of this piece will be learned on different occasions during the year and will be sung in its entirety at Grebel’s Lessons and Carols service in December.

As the year progresses, Grebel has planned four public musical events. Led by Grebel alumna Jane Ramseyer Miller, “Sing for Water” on October 25 focused on water, the environment, and Indigenous reconciliation, expressed through singing together. On November 17 and 18, the University of Waterloo Chamber Choir and Grand Philharmonic Chamber Choir performed “Considering Matthew Shepard,” a bold and transcendent work telling the story of a university student who was murdered in 1998 because of his sexuality. 

On March 8 and 9, celebrated scholar, composer, choral clinician, vocalist and former member of Sweet Honey in the Rock, Ysaÿe Barnwell, will offer the Sawatsky Lecture on “The Power of Music to Create Inclusive Communities,” followed by a workshop on “Building a Vocal Community: The Power of Song in Community.” And March 28-30 brings the Grebel Student Council-sponsored musical, “Beauty and the Beast,” showcasing the incredible talent of Grebel students.

One of the goals of Grebel Sings is to explore issues of diversity, justice, hospitality, faith, and peace through song, opening ears and imaginations in surprising ways. “Making music and using our voices unlocks our senses and our minds,” reflected Mary. “I think we become more vulnerable, more tender and more receptive when we sing, and thus more open to new ideas, challenge, possibility, and grace. When we sing together, we are more cognizant of the other and the beauty of our collective voices. Sometimes when we sing, our differences fade away and blend in beautiful harmony, while at other times our differences are highlighted and are celebrated as new tones are experienced.” 

Grebel Sings is helping the College to bring its mission to life, intentionally, creatively, and collectively.