About the Program
If we can imagine what it would have been like for children to sit with Jesus we might more easily imagine their response to be one of joy and deep satisfaction. Jesus understood so much about them, from how they learned to their capacity to understand great things and be able to express themselves. He valued their contribution and admonished the attending adults to "become as children" in regards to their sense of wonder and awe.
Those of us involved in Music for Children and Youth are constantly trying to learn about and from the children we teach. Today’s life reality is extremely complicated for all children and their families. We seek to be the “ballast in the ship” that provides focus and constancy in their lives while pointing to a certain destination of our shared life in Christ. Songs are chosen wisely with attention to the words. While it is important for children to understand text at one moment in time on their own particular level it is also essential that the same words be so rich that they continue to speak God’s truth as these young people move through their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and so on. In this way, what we do has a present and a future, and the experience of music and singing truly becomes a remarkable gift for a lifetime.
Empowering Children and Youth
A manifesto on the Episcopal Church’s website exhorts the church to: ". . . proclaim the Gospel to children, in ways that empower them to receive and respond to God’s love. . . and to include them as members and full participants in the Eucharistic community and in the church’s common life of prayer, witness and service." Participation in the choral experience in Music for Children and Youth accomplishes all these goals. Choristers not only learn the truths of their faith but they practice them in their own prayerful worship and in leading the worship of others.
Children as Musicians
We believe that children will be musical if they are treated as musicians and holding the bar high creates a worthwhile and rewarding experience. We believe every child, with supporting and discerning parents, will know the goodness of a disciplined approach and the honed skills that make the inevitable and satisfying transfer to every other aspect of life and learning.
The children and youth who sing as part of Music for Children and Youth demonstrate marked increase in musical skill, a deepened sense of faith and community and a fuller connection to the life of the church. Of equal importance, they develop intangible outcomes such as cooperative interaction, problem solving, compassion, empathy, self-reliance, self-discipline, regard for others, satisfaction in achievement, and habits of regularity, punctuality and responsibility.These are the elements that attest to the development of true self-awareness and self-confidence.
A Spiral Approach
We have developed a fairly comprehensive spiral approach to learning in Music for Children and Youth. What is presented early on is fostered and expanded upon more deeply as a child moves up from one singing group to the next.
Song repertoire integrated into the learning process is carefully selected from the best that is available. We affiliate with RSCM (The Royal School of Church Music) in regards to repertoire selection and musicianship goals. Choristers learn to sing in many languages: Latin, Hebrew, Italian, Gaelic, Spanish, German and several African dialects. Additionally, as a temporary departure from our more "serious" music, children of all ages delight in the song literature of Education Through Music and The Richards Institute.
Over the years we have been able to create and recreate learning materials tailored to the needs of our own choristers. The choristers’ service books are designed especially for them as a practical yet instructional tool. Scores can be imprinted in such a way as to bring the music or the words more to life. Because we are blessed to be in this place that believes in the creative process, we are able to make rehearsals more personal and focused on the Spirit of Christ working in and amongst these children.
Our singers are blessed with the opportunity to perform with traditional instruments (piano, organ, cello, flute, oboe, violin, viola, harp, recorder, hand bells, etc.) and not so traditional instruments (djembe, penny whistle, steel drum, Orff instruments, etc.). Such pairings introduce them to colorful palettes of sound.
Mentoring and Leadership
Because a large percentage of our children continue singing from Chichester to Coventry to Canterbury to Cantorum, we experience unique opportunity grouping. While other organizations seek to separate children and youth into "sameness" of age and ability, we use diversity to offer opportunity for mentoring and leadership. While our groups rehearse at separate and developmentally appropriate times, Singing Sundays are times when everyone comes together. Younger children look up to the older choristers and the older choristers readily assume a wide range of leadership roles with the younger choristers. Singing the Lord’s song in this way has proven to be a healthy, dynamic and satisfying parnership for all.
The Essential Role of Parents
The ultimate "success" of what the children experience in Music for Children and Youth relies greatly with their parents. We are blessed to have parents who are strong and willing to stand with their children to make the right decisions. Our parents understand the need for consistency and a sense of discipline to do something well. They do not cave in to the child who wants to participate in a Saturday night sleepover before a Singing Sunday. They take the higher road to an insistent child who wants to stay home and play video games! They know it is worth their effort and they do it with faithfulness.
Anchors to Learning
We base the children’s learning on the work of the three main teaching philosphies of Orff, Kodaly and Dalcroze. While completely enjoyable to the children, these developmentally appropriate philosophies provide predictable outcomes in the development of pitch, rhythm and music literacy.
The Kodály Method emphasizes vocal development as developed in Hungary during the mid-twentieth century by Hungarian composer and educator Zoltán Kodály. The notable system of Curwen hand signs is used to improve intonation by tactile and visual association.
The Orff approach to music education is based on the work of the German composer Carl Orff. It engages instruments in the Orff "instrumentarium" (non-melodic rhythm instruments with bass bars, xylophones, metallophones, glockenspiels, etc.) to awaken a child’s awareness to music-making while providing a very enjoyable experience of creating it as a group. The simple and beautiful forms hold a universal appeal to all our children. We use Orff to explore music principles as well as to accompany specific songs in worship.
Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, a Swiss composer, musician and music educator, developed eurhythmics, a method of learning and experiencing music through movement. Turning the body into a well-tuned musical instrument, Dalcroze felt, was the best path to generating a solid, vibrant musical foundation.
Music is a Language
Music is language and learning music is very similar to learning a new language. There is the audible aspect as well as the coding and decoding process. It is a skill for children to listen, quiet the mind and still the body to truly hear so that Immitation can follow. As in spoken language, experience comes first, followed by the ability to read and write.