As a church musician heading into October, you may be fortunate to have your entire choir year mapped out. For children’s choirs, advanced planning is key to a successful year. If you haven’t yet charted the course for your choir year or want some guidelines for future planning, consider these five tips.
Choose a Theme
If your congregation follows the Revised Common Lectionary, you might be wondering how a theme for a choir year is beneficial; the church year provides its own pattern. While this is true, I have found that a broad theme can both enhance the lectionary and create excitement and cohesion for a particular year. Themes we have used include “Walking with God,” “Grace Abounds,” and “All God’s Children Sing.” The latter would be well served by the ChildrenSing Around the World collection available on Prelude or the Sing with the World songbook edited by John Bell. As you choose a theme, reflect on your particular context, what kinds of music you’d like to introduce, or what theological emphases you might want to share in song.
Sing the Psalm
Each time your children’s choir sings, plan to have them lead the psalm. Prelude offers accessible anthem settings of the psalm through the ChildrenSing Psalms collection. If you have a choir with a wide age span, consider teaching the older children to chant the psalm verses and teach the refrain to younger children, using Psalter for Worship, also available in Prelude. Better yet, teach the choir to collaboratively compose a psalm refrain during rehearsal.
Lead New Hymns
Take the long view with hymnody and children. The children’s choir can serve as excellent teachers of a new hymn if you plan in advance. Look at the year as a whole and choose three to five hymns that you will teach the children that they will, in turn, teach the congregation. Try to choose a hymn that can be sung more than once so that the assembly gets to know it. (A hymn very specific to a gospel text, for example, might not be the best choice). Consider an anthem setting of a hymn as one way to introduce it. Prelude offers many quality hymn anthems such as “Open Your Ears, O Faithful People” by Robert Hobby and “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” by Shari Anderson.
Take Care with Anthems
Consider the skill level of your singers and the arc of the choir year as you select anthems. If your choir sings monthly, can you learn one anthem each month while also leading the psalm and a hymn or two? Perhaps select a challenging anthem to learn over three months as well as some simpler refrains or liturgical music. Repeat favorite anthems that the older children will greet like a long-lost friend.
Plan a Retreat
If your rehearsals are like mine, you have much you would like to accomplish during a brief time. Once you have chosen a theme, psalm settings, hymns, and anthems in advance, you know what you can teach in one or two rehearsals and what requires more focused time. If you can, set aside a date in the fall and spring for a one- to two-hour retreat. Employ a variety of music and learning activities such as games and play. And of course, have food!
The hymns and songs your children’s choir sings forms their faith now and well into the future. Enjoy this labor of love for the sake of your own organization and for the benefits the children will receive.