How did I find out?
I learned it from my son.
At its foundation, all music is about relationships.
A group of people singing together can be great fun. It can also be heartbreaking. It can be thrilling. It can change your life and the lives of those around you.
Or it can make you wish you were in the dentist’s chair, anywhere but within the sound of those tortured voices.
We hear relationships.
For more than 2o years, I’ve directed children’s music in schools and in churches.
One thing both venues share is that, in the beginning, children very likely attend because some adult made them.
Remember what that felt like.
There are places where choirs have such a long and exhilarating history that young singers dream of someday being able to participate.
Those places are rare.
I teach music in a middle school where, outside my realm, most students wouldn’t be caught dead in a “children’s choir”. It is simply not relevant to their culture. Neither their parents not their parents great-grandparents sang in a Euro-centric choral tradition.
And … for the fourth time, I am beginning a children’s choir at a church whose history doesn’t include this chapter.
Some of us were once children.
Children are microcosms of society. When social systems work, they do so because of relationship.
That’s the key.
If a child’s only experience of choral music is white and academic and her or his life has no connection to either of those worlds, the child shuts down.
UNLESS – you, the director, are able to find the seed of an affirming, real relationship with that child.
The same is true of WASPY kids.
Relationship is the oxygen that sustains the life of any children’s choir – school or church.
And when you hook them, they will, as my boys group did two years ago, ask to sing more “Gregory chant ’cause it sounds smoky, dude”.
So how do you do that?
Blow it up with TnT!
TIME AND TENACITY.
You and I MUST honestly want healthy relationships with young singers. We MUST work every day at nurturing them. We MUST understand, especially with middle schoolers, that their lives are a hormonal roller coaster from and to hell.
That’s part of nature’s human growth plan. No way around it.
If you can’t honestly say that you want strong (not always fun) bond with a child, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE quit.
I have seen too many inquisitive, potentially skilled young musicians squashed by someone who had a job to do and, despite the pain it caused both parties, did it … because it paid the bills.
Don’t do that to yourself and for heaven’s sake don’t do it to a child.
Kids don’t hate choir; they hate you.
It’s your job to fix that.
For more on “how to”, check out The Weekly Word.