Help Wanted: Creative Ideas for Children's Choirs

Help Wanted: Creative Ideas for Children’s Choirs

I thought this week was going to be nice and easy, leisurely paced. Wrong. (I’m just taking it as good transition back into school life, though.)  One of the main ways I’ve been spending my time is making contacts and conducting interview of music directors.

I’m writing an article for a denominational journal Call to Worship. For various complicated besides-the-point reasons, I’m now doing the project, and writing with a really tight deadline. So, of course, I thought the blogosphere might be of help.

So what do you know about the creative use of children’s choirs in worship?

Or, who do you know that I should talk to? (And, preferably, who responds quickly)

 

Basic concepts of the piece: When people think “Children’s Choir” they, perhaps sadly, tend to think of cute little kids singing a special anthem up front on Palm Sunday. That’s fine and dandy, totally cool, but how else can children’s choirs be used in worship?

Maybe a good way to put this: What are practical ways children’s choirs can contribute to the liturgy in forms other than solo anthems?

If you comment significantly, please leave your full name and email (only I see the email) so I can contact you for attribution information if I use your ideas in the article.

Did I mention I’m working with a short deadline? Any ideas would be greatly apprecited.

Comments

  1. Adam, our church doesn’t exactly operate a children’s choir, but we do have several creative expression groups. Sonshine Company is our song, dance, and drama group for elementary kids. They rehearse, perform, and present Chidren’s Christian musicals.

    The girls also have their own singing group called “Such is the Kingdom.” They sing modern Christian songs with a backing CD.

    Our kids, as young as five and up to eleven years in age, have sang solo and duet anthems all summer. This Sunday, two sisters, (5 & 7) will be singing a song for the anthem.

    This isn’t Children’s Choir as our parents knew it – it’s the current equivalent. You can check some of this out on our church website at http://www.erinpresbyterian.org

  2. Thanks for the info, stushie. I’m definitely interested in hearing what else is out there other than so-called “traditional children’s choirs” models. They may be good in some places, but I’m rarely for normative anything, especially when it comes to local church contexts.

    Keep it coming, folks.

  3. I have no idea how you would go about contacting her, but Helen Kemp is one of the big names in children’s choir directing. She’s 90-something years old, but just an amazing woman. I can’t vouch for whether she has ideas transcending the “traditional” use of children’s choirs, but my guess is that she would have valuable things to contribute to the conversation. Here’s here bio on the Choristers Guild website: http://www.choristersguild.org/kemph.html

    Perhaps you could contact the Choristers Guild and they might be able to help you hook up with her for a conversation?

  4. Thanks Melissa, and for the several folks who’ve emailed me. I’ve got plenty of info now, just need to find the time and skills to put it coherently together.

  5. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. There is a place for traditional children’s choirs. Christopher just returned from a fabulous week at RSCM camp. (Charlie also went and had an amazingly positive experience.) When Christopher was in Aide’s choir, he didn’t really sing in worship until he got tall enough to hide in the second row. With the choir at the back of the sanctuary (and in the balcony at St. John’s, where he is in Betsy’s boychoir and sings for evensong or special services), he is not “performing” and no one is looking at him.

    I really think that a key issue is standards and expectations. Kids know when they aren’t being taken seriously, that families just want a video of how cute they are, or that the “production” is sloppy. Brant, Martha M-K, and others of the “take worship seriously and intentionally” have enormous integrity which leaves room for the occasional goof-up or lighter tone. But not silly or sloppy.

    On Sunday mornings when I’m working on the labor ward (as I am now), I worship via web-cast from Trinity, Wall Street (NYC). This year, the rector’s sermon on Trinity sunday was fabulous — he talked about why we should pursue excellence, not perfection. (www.trinitywallstreet.org)

    When Charlie, Christopher and Jonathan drove home from the RSCM week in Pennsylvania, they decided to make their hotel overnight in Staunton, VA. So that they could have a tour of the Taylor & Boody organbuilder’s shop the next morning.

    Yes, we are a “professional” church family. Yes, Jonathan (starting Kindergarten tomorrow) was THRILLED to get his own hymnal at worship yesterday. He turned pages until he found the next hymn. And Virginia leaned over the pew to help him find the word “God” in the title and text.

    But what better way is there to learn to worship and read?

    I know you have a tight deadline, but call Charlie if you want his input — he’s had LOTS of challenges and experiences with childrens choirs in parishes that don’t have a strong music tradition. It is an uphill battle with folks who don’t take worship seriously.

    Also put Gretchen Pritchard’s books on your reading list. I’ll send the citations when I get home. She is an Episcopalian who has fabulous things to say about raising kids in the church. And she has a great resource for parish churches — a 3 year lectionary cycle of one-page worship aides for kids and their families (coloring, summary of readings, note to parents, etc). She’s also got the best “kids pagent” stuff I’ve ever seen — it’s all about kids doing liturgy, not being cute or playing manger dress-up.

  6. Wow, Miriam. Fantastic! Thanks SO much for your comments. You hit on lots of the hot topics I’m finding in my research. Expectations are really important–children rise to the occasion. If we prepare the children in the choir to sit through the whole service and worship with all the congregation then they show us how well they can do it. And how much they can add to the service as a whole. On the other hand, if we say, “Shucks, they’re too young, they’d better go play on the playground during the sermon” then children will go right along with our expectations–and think what we’re teaching them about their contributions to worship!

    Love the Jonathan story about the hymnal and finding “God.”

    Thanks, I’d be interested to see the Pritchard books if you get a chance.

    Your last sentence will basically be the crux of the article: when children’s choirs participate in worship, they are contributing to the liturgy (not performing for mommy and daddy). They should be encouraged to use their gifts, which are vast, to help the whole community worship–the reason we gather in the first place.

    Thanks again.

  7. Hi there, Adam–

    Our children’s choir loves to teach music to the congregation! They’ll do the first verse of a new hymn, or a psalm refrain, or a sung prayer response. That also avoids the whole “let’s clap for the adorable kids” problem; feels weirder to clap for a prayer response than for an anthem. We also use them as readers and instrumentalists sometimes (handchimes, percussion, etc.), depending on their gifts.

    :-) Choralgirl

  8. Gretchen Wolff Pritchard “minister of christian nurture” extraordinaire (and a great preacher). We were lucky to be in her parish when we lived in New Haven, and were married from that church (although, not, alas, during Sunday morning worship … ). Gretchen has fabulous ideas and programs, such as deliberate ways of preping and involving families in baptism (specific liturgical seasons, involving the entire congregation, etc.). Lots of ideas and materials about “Godly play”. She is no longer in parish ministry, which means she is more available to travel and teach. Her web site is http://www.the-sunday-paper.com. (The Sunday Paper is the name of her worship bulletin inserts.) Books available from her web site, Amazon, etc. “Offering the Gospel to Children” should be required for every seminary graduate. Her “pagent” book (Go Tell it on the Mountain) is expensive and worth it.

  9. Talk to Kathie Hill of Kathie Hill Music (kathiehillmusic.com). She’s been working in and with kids choirs and writing kids choir music for over 25 years. She’s a kids choir genius and I’m sure given your specific needs could help you come up with some ideas. She’s also started a weekly video blog about Teaching Kids to Sing (youtube.com/kathiehillmusic).

  10. Susan Swidnicki says:

    Adam,
    I’m the children’s music director for Zion Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City,Utah. About 10 years ago, we started with 10 or ll children singing together and now have
    every child from 2 year olds to 6th graders involved in a choir each Sunday. We use the Orff-Schulwerk approach which combines percussion instruments (beautiful xylophones, glockenspiels, metallophones, drums and unpitched percussion), movement, speech and storytelling, improvisation and singing. You can imagine this is very popular with the children. We also have about a dozen teenagers who rehearse each week before Sunday School and focus on more difficult pieces which use the Orff instruments. Repertoire for this group has been inspired by the Zimbabwean marimba music, as well as more traditional Orff pieces. This past year some of the teenagers also formed a Praise Band with guitars, drums and vocals. We divide the church children by age groups. once or twice a month one of our choirs sings and plays during worship. For some of these kids, this is their only experience at worship (we have a strong attendance at Sunday School–less support for children in worship). It is my goal for the children to have something to do throughout worship so they can stay engaged. We will often sing or play a prelude, do either the psalm or children’s message (sometimes this involves telling a Bible story with instruments and/or movement) sing for the anthem and sing during communion. We often sing the Sending. For our worship involvement we have a child ask that there be “no applause because we are dedicating our music to the glory of God”. Children should feel that their worship is just as important as an adult’s and that they are not on display just for the benefit of their parents and grandparents. We often use movement or liturgical dance as part of a processional. I always try to choose repertoire that will be used as part of the liturgy or that is based on the lessons or psalms of the day. We want children to be active participants instead of passively sitting there wishing they could play Nintendo DS!
    The beauty of Orff is that all children (no matter their experience or abilities) can participate and be valuable. This is so important in a Christian community. The music program at Zion is central to the children’s ministry and has been really generously supported (spiritually and financially) by the church. We also hold a Music Camp Vacation Bible School for a week during the summer. We hire really excellent teachers and pastors for Bible study, music, art and games and have had tremendous volunteer support from the church. We have a small church that is in the heart of Mormon country, but feel that God is working here. Because music education is very underfunded in schools here (many elementary schools have no music program at all–we are able to fill a need as music educators as well as Christian educators. We could always take more children and are always open to more-because of the flexibility of the Orff-Schulwerk approach. I feel so blessed to be working here. I hope this will be of some help to you!–Susan Swidnicki

  11. Andrew M. says:

    Well, I’m staring down the barrel of starting a Treble Choir at my new church job. I still participate at one of the Episcopal churches in the area and the children’s choir there is not the typical “special anthem” children’s choir. They prepare anthems and the soprano lines from the Adult Choir anthems and then collaborate with the Adult Choir. They do periodically perform on their own, but with the choir balcony available to the church, the children sing from behind the congregation rather than in front of the congregation and thus avoid the “special anthem/performance” that we see in a lot of churches (specially my Presbyterian background). Yes, RSCM is like the best thing to do, and that is what the Episcopal church uses. I just wish there was a unified central resource for finding resources for children choir directors.

    So to address the question, I would have the children participate in a more collaborative venture rather than solo or segregated portions of the liturgy. I would use their rehearsal time to prepare the anthems separate from the adults due to the time and energy used in preparing more basic concepts and battling attention problems.

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