Music Workshop with Catherine Brown, Knox PC

Prodigal Part 1, Skit
Golden Rule Game

Adding sparkle to your hymns: Music workshop with Catherine Brown, Knox PC, Acton, Ont. Nov. 3/07.

Click on top photo for online photo album. Links to lots of short video clips are embedded in text.

Catherine Brown with Calypso Chorus


Catherine Brown jumpstarts her music workshop on this chilly fall morning with a song:

“Jesus’ love is a bubblin’ over,
Jesus’love bubbles in my soul.”

I read in the local paper that the theme for this workshop hosted by Knox PC in Acton is “adding sparkle to your hymns.” But I think adding a shot of caffeine may be slightly more accurate.

She teaches the group of 30 or so people the three parts to this song, and we all come off sounding like something from a Linnea Good CD.

She notes ‘Jesus loves me’ is the most commonly sung Christian song. She jazzes this up with some clapping and hand motions – but emphasizes teaching it the good old fashioned way first.

That’s before Catherine even sits down to the piano. Which she doesn’t do a whole lot in this session. True to her objective, she shows how we can add sparkle, not her.

She has the words “Surprise and delight” printed large on lecture paper in the very pretty sanctuary at Knox.

So she tosses out some ideas for opening and closing choruses, making sure we walk through them so that we can reproduce the music in our home churches with youth, Sunday school, WMS, men’s breakfast, any or all of the above. Many of the pieces are simply from the new Pres Church hymnal. She does make note of the new More Voices from the United Church of Canada. And she comes prepared with a goodly number of her own handouts.

She spices up one song with a djembe drum. Her church, First Presbyterian in Collingwood, where she is Director of Music Ministries, now has 10 djembes. The purchase of these was made possible through memorial donations when a longtime brilliant baritone in the choir, Harvey Underdown, passed away a few years ago.

Catherine’s home church, in which I also grew up – Catherine led a very musically rewarding youth singing group there when I was a teen – has a very vibrant musical life, with a wide variety of instruments, lots of musical diversity. Catherine points out it wasn’t always this way. She strongly advocates small steady steps toward change.

She adds a simple tambourine to one tune. Get a good tambourine, though, she says.

Where does she get all her stuff? She remains loyal to Empire Music in BC, which has supplied her quickly and reliably since her days as an elementary school teacher. However the djembes she picked up through Orion Drums.

Later she pounces on a request from a youth participant to use some clave sticks she has started clacking. So Catherine whips up a “Calypso Chorus” on claves, tom tom and shakers to punch up “May the God of hope.”
Here's a good clip. It starts out a bit dark, but is worth squinting at.

She passes around a couple of dozen from her private collection of Newfoundland spoons to come in on the chorus of “Lord of the Dance.” The nifty spoons she picked up from a guy called Dan on a trip somewhere. Catherine has Dan’s email in Newfoundland if you want to order some. She gets them at $10 a pop because she buys in bulk batches of 50. Another participant says she’s seen them at the Newfie store in Georgetown.

For a tune called “Oh be joyful” on handout, she notes it’s in the key of C, so goes well with a handbell choir.

Next it’s over to the beautiful grand piano for a bonding moment over two parts in “You are my all in all,” which is one of her suggestions for Advent.

That was apparently the warmup, because then we head downstairs where we can move around a bit more.

Here chairs have been set out in a circle, with representatives of Catherine’s considerable puppet collection under the chairs. Puppets stay put for the first piece, a Taize song, #206 in the new PC hymnal. It’s very pretty with a descant option on the facing page. That has captured the imagination of the resident flute player in my household. When we’ve finished the song, Catherine approaches an older lady sitting a few chairs away from me. The piece has rendered the participant very emotional.

The puppets come out for a rousing rendition of ‘Whole world in his hands.’ Catherine is right – puppets do break down barriers.

Catherine had told the youth in attendance earlier in the morning that they should learn signing. Catherine has taken her show on the road to many countries, including Malawi and Romania. She reintroduces signs for her closing song, "Love can build a bridge," by Naomi and Wynnona Judd. It’s very powerful in this clip. And this clip. See if you don’t agree!

To close, she urges the group to think about how to keep doing what’s good in their music ministry, and consider doing just one thing a little differently – like adding a new instrument – to provide surprise and delight.

Catherine passes around a new collection of Christmas tunes she picked up, approx $8.95, Lillenas Publishing. She and Knox organist Dave Mashinter banter about where they get their music (David – Canadian Choral, Winnipeg).

In his grace before lunch, Knox minister Pieter van Harten summed up how we all felt, I think, about Catherine’s workshop:

“Thank you for Catherine and the way she makes us stiff Presbyterians and United Church people move.”


Click here for a little movie of Catherine's workshop.

All original text 2004 - 2014, LD McKenzie

For a brief site ed's bio, click here:


Components of these lesson sets may be used for non-profit educational purposes, citing this author and site.

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