“Let’s Go to Camp!” Planning A Summer Choir Camp for Children and Youth

A focused choral camp or retreat for young musicians is a great way to get a program year off to a healthy start. Consider a music camp Monday through Friday for 2-3 hours each day, or a daylong retreat on a Saturday before the school year resumes.

With lots of rehearsal time over just a few days, you’ll have a chance to start on music for the year. Children will retain more than they do with a week in between rehearsals. If you do a large production like a musical, it’s a perfect chance to get to work on that. A summer music opportunity is also an excellent way for new singers to try out choir, or a chance to participate if during the school year isn’t an option. Have participants sing in worship the next Sunday, giving children a first chance for a “performance” before the busy-ness of the school year sets in. A choir camp can be practical and helpful for parents, too, who might be searching for activities for their children over the summer months.

Teach good singing habits, like posture and breathing, right from the beginning. Have children sing for you individually or in pairs to place them in soprano or alto sections, and for you to hear their musicianship level.

Use a weeklong choir camp to teach a (possibly abbreviated) morning or evening prayer, depending what time of day the camp is held. Recruit older children to learn the leader parts, and give them the chance to lead worship in a small, non-threatening situation. Kids do not think of themselves as cute. They want to take on adult roles. Encourage them to be leaders, not entertainment.

Young children often do better with syllabic, rather than melismatic tunes, and will have more success with a stanza full of words than with a repeated text and varied melody. They memorize easily and rapidly – encourage them to do so! Teach them a strophic canticle setting, if you’re also teaching a daily office, like Blessed Be the God of Israel (ELW 250) or Canticle of the Turning (ELW 723). You know the slap-slap-clap pattern to “We Will Rock You?” It’s tons of fun with the Canticle of the Turning.

Canons are a great way to introduce part-singing. “You have put on Christ” (ELW 211) is a short canon and works well with children. The children could teach it to the entire assembly to be used as an acclamation every time there is a baptism.

“Sparkling Stars, Shining in the Night” by Nancy Raabe incorporates “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” My elementary singers a few years ago loved this piece; it’s very usable for Advent or Christmas.

Songs with a call and response, such as Thomas Keesecker’s “Go Down, Moses” give an opportunity for individuals or small groups to have solos. Older children can be challenged to develop their leadership skills.

Lots of time together builds community, too. Enlist older teens or retired folks to lead crafts, outdoor games, demonstrate musical instruments, or prepare snacks. Children could do sidewalk chart art showing what they’ve learned during the day. You get a break, plus multigenerational interaction!

Hold a potluck for families at the end of the time together. Before supper, have the children sing for their families. Give them the chance to have a ‘dress rehearsal’ in the worship space with a more friendly audience.

Once the choir year begins, you’ll reap the benefits of this extra, intentional time with the children. If you have already completed your planning for this year, file the idea away for future years.

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Valerie Lefever Hughes

Valerie Lefever Hughes has served as Cantor to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina since 2007. There she leads worship and directs choirs for the congregation and for the Lutheran Campus Ministry to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Valerie holds the Bachelor of Music (Church Music) degree from Valparaiso University and the Master of Arts in Religion (Liturgy & Music) from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. She is a Column Manager for Prelude Music Planner.

Introductions and Turnarounds

 

Many musicians, amateur and professional alike, expend a lot of energy making sure that they play or sing all the “right notes,” which often translates to mean accurate pitches. Sometimes this even happens at the expense of rhythm. While I’m certainly not advocating for sloppy playing or lots of missed notes, I would suggest that in leading assembly song, a consistent pulse and rhythm is just as important as accurate pitches.

The first question I ask myself in preparation to lead any song is “what’s the tactus?” Tactus is different than beat. In the tune ABBOT’S LEIGH (ELW 526), most of us would automatically assign a time signature of ¾, and say that the quarter note gets a beat. But the tactus, the underlying, inner pulse, is probably a dotted half: one pulse per bar. Only in a large space with a broad tempo and large group of people would I set up the quarter note as the tactus.

Sing the end of stanza 1 and the beginning of stanza 2 with exactly this rhythm:

We feel rushed and don’t have time to breathe! So let’s add a beat:

This gives us a bit of extra time, but feels incredibly awkward. We could try this:

It adds time for a breath, but it’s still very rushed. Try this instead:

In most acoustics, this will feel exactly right. The tactus always needs to be kept alive (perhaps occasionally stretched) between stanzas. With many hymns and songs, this requires an adaptation of what is on the written page.

Some pieces, like Taize or Iona chants or canons, require us to keep going even if we might want to pause for a breath. There are so many different questions to ask:

– What happens if there is a pickup at the beginning of the stanza?

– What if the accompaniment has written out pulses that must be observed, such as Gather Us In (ELW 532)?

– What about For All the Saints (ELW 422), which has a down beat in the bass at the beginning?)

Plan ahead for how you will treat these turnarounds, and always be clear and consistent.

Tactus is just as important during the introduction and first stanza as it is between stanzas. The introduction is the first thing that an assembly hears when beginning a hymn or song, and it serves to set the tempo and key, and its goal is to get people singing.

A hymn introduction might be simple or complex. In an elaborate chorale prelude, the organist interprets the text of the hymn musically, giving people the chance to listen and meditate, then stand to sing. Sometimes the leader may play only the first and last phrases, especially if the tune is familiar. If a tune is new, a very clear outline of the melody (such as soloing out on another manual) may be helpful. None of these are always right or always wrong, and they need not always be the same. Perhaps the Hymn of the Day gets a rather elaborate introduction, and perhaps the sending hymn has a very brief introduction; but in the end, it must serve the assembly and help them to know when and how to sing. The end of an introduction must lead into the first stanza with a clear release and uninterrupted tactus. Great hymn leadership is musical and beautiful, but above all incites the assembly to sing.

 


Note: This topic and much more are addressed in a workshop, “Leading the Assembly’s Song” that is available for ELCA synods to sponsor. For more information, contact Scott Weidler, ELCA Program Director for Worship and Music, at scott.weidler@elca.org.

avatar
Valerie Lefever Hughes

Valerie Lefever Hughes has served as Cantor to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina since 2007. There she leads worship and directs choirs for the congregation and for the Lutheran Campus Ministry to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Valerie holds the Bachelor of Music (Church Music) degree from Valparaiso University and the Master of Arts in Religion (Liturgy & Music) from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. She is a Column Manager for Prelude Music Planner.