"In the early part of the eighteenth century, the singing at American churches was a discordant noise. Since arriving in America, settlers had been singing hymn tunes from memory. With neither the aid of educated musicians nor the luxury of hymnals, the song of the Church had degenerated into musical chaos. Contributing to the problem was a pervasive attitude that 'scripted singing' restricted people's freedom of conscience. Not only did worshippers sing psalms and hymns according to how each remembered them; they stubbornly held to their own interpretations of the hymns, singing whatever notes and rhythms they pleased. While for some this allowed for heartfelt expressions of faith, this practice did not confess the harmony and unity of the body of Christ called for in 1 Corinthians 14:40 and Colossians 2:5.
"In the 1730's, several pastors in the New England area established Singing Schools, usually for a few weeks during the winter, in an effort to teach people how to read music. Though there was considerable opposition to these efforts, in time Singing Schools became very popular. They not only improved the quality of worship; they provided an acceptable social outlet. Over the next few decades, Singing Schools spread south and west, and they remain an institution to this day in Appalachia.
"Though many aspects of our Singing School are different from those of its historical model, the focus remains the same: to instill a love for singing the faith by passing on to the next generation the quality worship practices of the church. Students who attend (or who participate in one of our ongoing children's choirs) improve in their ability to read music while learning basic vocal technique and growing in their appreciation of the historic liturgy."
Approximately 20 children grades 3-8 attended the Singing School offered at our suburban Chicago LCMS church last week. They arrived daily at 9:30 and remained for the morning, finishing at 12:00. Here are some of the children warming up shortly after their arrival:
Each day began with a devotion and prayer led by the Cantor:
Then it was time to get down to work! The students received instruction and practice in solfege, music notation, and proper vocal technique, including posture, breath support, vocal production, pure vowels, and enunciation.
A frequent visitor was "Freddy the Good Chorister," who dropped in to model excellent mouth shape:
Here's Cantor demonstrating how not to form an "ee" sound (called a "pizza ee"):
Each morning of the Singing School included not only time to work on technique but time to learn and polish repertoire as well. These intense periods of learning and study were broken up by activities such as music bingo and other musical games, entertainment provided by special musical guests, head voice and long tone competitions (to see who could sing the highest and sustain a note for the longest period of time), and of course, snack time.
After the morning session was over and most of the children had departed, a smaller group of older students remained for some instruction and hands-on experience in handbells:
Singing School ran from Monday through Friday, but the week was not truly over until Sunday morning, when the children gathered to share the fruits of their efforts by providing music for the liturgy. Their contribution to the conregation's worship was not merely a cute children's anthem or two, but musical leadership that began with the prelude and continued until the closing hymn. The children led the assembly in the psalm of the day, sang several stanzas of hymns as well as a hymn descant, and provided several other special musical selections. They sang both in unison and in harmony, as a full choir and in small groups and solos. They sang not to celebrate themselves but to glorify God and sing faith into the hearts of His people. And that is indeed what they did this day.
Here are a few photos from the big day! I simply adore the lovely young lady pictured below--as my husband's music assistant her daily presence throughout the week meant that I was not only able to drop off my daughter rather than stay for the morning, but that on Sunday morning I was able to simply be "Mom" and sit in the pew with the rest of the congregation, soaking in the beautiful sounds of the choir.
Miss G.'s (soon to be Mrs. K.'s) talents are numerous. Not only does she play organ and piano, she conducts choir, too!
Couldn't resist one more pic of the Cantor (in case you hadn't noticed, I kind of like him):
Here are the children warming up moments before the beginning of worship. Note the excellent posture and holding of music. Our children's choirs normally wear choir robes, but because there were several children in attendance that had not previously sung in choir or been sized for a robe, we just instructed them to wear their "Sunday best."
Aren't they awesome?