“A little bit of yeast makes the whole dough rise . . . you do your part; I’ll do mine,” sings Bryan Moyer Suderman, using his body as a percussion instrument. But instead of singing at a concert or a worship service, the itinerant musician is at home singing into an iPad propped up on a stack of books, doing his part to practise physical distancing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The health crisis hasn’t stopped him from using music to connect people. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the foreseeable future, Moyer Suderman takes to Facebook Live for a 10- to 15-minute singalong. With just his voice, and sometimes one of his instruments, he shares a few of his singable songs of faith. Whoever joins him online can watch and listen, sing and dance along, and type comments. It’s a small, simple ministry he can do while staying home.
In one of his first online sets he demonstrates how to use his catchy tune, “God’s Love is for Everybody” as a hand-washing song! Another song reminds listeners that in these anxious times “there is enough for all if we can learn to share.” He makes sure to sing a birthday blessing for anyone with a birthday.
For Moyer Suderman, offering an online singalong doesn’t feel all that different from what he normally does through SmallTall Ministries as a self-employed singer/songwriter and Bible teacher. He aims to find creative ways “to engage all ages in the scriptural drama of God’s love for the world.”
He built up a considerable repertoire of engaging and interactive songs over the past 25 years, recording them on eight CDs. As the reality of physical distancing sank in, Moyer Suderman mused about how to share his music with families at home who were looking for resources during the pandemic. He thought of mailing out the extra CDs in his closet, but that was logistically challenging.
Then Julie, his wife, suggested that he could sing the songs online using Facebook Live. The first singalong was a bit of an experiment, but he got positive feedback and encouragement to do it again.
It is an exercise that thrives on simplicity. The time—1:23 p.m. EDT every Monday, Wednesday and Friday—was chosen to make it easy to remember. It is a regular event that families can look forward to on their otherwise empty calendars. Sessions are short, and songs are simple and singable. Moyer Suderman says that the point is to “keep it simple. Don’t try to do too much . . . offer what you can offer, and let God do the rest.”
He assures the children watching that “such simple things” like washing hands and staying home are “expressions of love for other people,” and singing together can “brighten these days for each other.”
Impromptu musical offerings all over the world are demonstrating what Moyer Suderman knows to be the power of music to connect. He hopes his singalongs can offer encouragement, help people grieve together, and express things they don’t know how to say.
He led “You’re Not Alone,” in response to a request. The lyrics, “We are part of one body . . . your time of suffering is our suffering too,” seemed especially fitting under the circumstances.
Moyer Suderman is described as having a “gift for writing songs that are deeply scriptural, musically memorable and readily singable—songs that are at once simple, catchy, profound and fun.”
But his songwriting process takes time. He jokes that “for a guy who writes short, simple songs, it takes me a long time to say anything.”
Writing songs for the community of faith means being immersed in Scripture and prayer, and paying attention to life in the community and the world, he says. He distils his ideas to one page, and then to a paragraph, to a sentence, to a phrase, and finally to a word.
“It forces me to be concise,” he says, adding, “Once that work has been done, a song expresses something that can be drawn on in all kinds of ways.”
Similar to the function of Scripture, he says, songs are portable and adaptable. “They keep speaking with different messages for different times and circumstances.”
Moyer Suderman hopes his music will help people both small and tall to “[get] through these days together.”
This article appears in the April 13, 2020 print issue, with the headline “‘You’re Not Alone.’” Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Eastern Canada? Send it to Janet Bauman at email@example.com.
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