Monday, September 28, 2009

The Amazing Miss Wendy

I’ve been officially directing the children’s choir at St. Gabriel
for one year now.
It was at the end of September of 2008
that I first began.
And if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years,
it’s that one must constantly evaluate.
Set the goals and make the objectives.
And, during the course of the year,
make any necessary adjustments needed
to reach that goal.

After the first few rehearsals with these amazing children
I knew well that I would having them singing in parts
within two years.

There were some other kinds of things we needed to work on first,
like attention span
and discipline.
And though most of them speak Spanish
they do not read Spanish,
which makes reading music
and singing in Spanish a bit of a challenge.

And while some weren’t quite singing on pitch at first,
it wasn’t because they couldn’t.
It was just that they needed to learn how to hear,
learn how to listen to a particular note or musical phrase.
I had to and continue to
teach them how to listen.

But underneath it all,
I could see the diamond in the rough.
I knew from the beginning
that this group of children
was fully capable of singing in harmony,
of singing in parts.
I knew well that I would have them doing so
within two years.
But the fact is,
this is making itself manifest right now.
It’s messy,
but they get it.
They understand why
there is new special seating arrangement,
why we are now rehearsing
different groups of children on different days.

But one of the other goals I had
was one that I knew I would probably never see.
Not that it wouldn’t happen,
but that I probably wouldn’t be here
to see it happen.
That goal
is to have these children singing in the choir
as adults.

Since first coming to St. Gabriel
one of the things I have been saying to people
is that 80% of people who sing in a choir as an adult
sang in a choir as a child.
I heard that statistic quite some time ago
at a conference of
the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM).
I can’t remember the source of the statistic
or who quoted it.
I only remember what was said.
I find it so hard to believe
that more churches,
Roman Catholic or otherwise
aren’t doing more with music and children.

as I said,
I didn’t think I would see this come to life.
I didn’t think I would be here
to see the movings of the Holy Spirit
once these children got older.

But you know,
I didn’t have to wait.
One child in particular,
is showing me
that she has no intention
of ever leaving the music ministry.
Apart from her commitment to the choir,
this child truly understands
what is meant
by co-responsibility.
She understands stewardship better than most.

That child is Wendy.

Wendy and her family
attend the Spanish mass at St. Gabriel.
And there is an adult choir for that mass.

They also attend the Thursday evening mass,
where Wendy and several other children
serve in the music ministry.

Wendy is in the third grade
and has perfect attendance at choir rehearsal.

This past weekend,
Wendy was at the noon mass in English.
I didn’t see her until mass was over.
She came up to the choir loft to say, “hello,”
and then asked me where all the people were.
“What people,” I asked.
“The people in the choir.”
“I lead the music for this mass, Wendy.
Robyn has started to help recently,
but that’s all there is for this mass.”

“You mean
you don’t have a choir?”
“No, Wendy,
there is no choir for the noon mass.
I’ve asked some people.
I’ve invited several folks
to come to the music area
to help.
I’ve encouraged folks to come early
to come to choir loft
to rehearse a little before mass.
But so far,
it’s just me and Robyn.”

Wendy looked up at me
with eyes that told me she was serious
about what she was going to say
she put her hands on hips and said,
“What are we going to do about it?”

Wisdom from the mouth of babes.
It’s not just that she had this sense
of wanting and needing to see
a music ministry developed.
She included herself in the equation;
“What are WE going to do about it?”

Wendy gets it.
I have no doubt that she will continue in the music ministry
into her teen
and even into her adult years.
I have no doubt that she will be
actively involved in parish life in the years to come.

80% of people who sing in a choir as an adult
sang as a child.
Keep your eyes on Wendy.
Because she will be a part of that group.
Her parents would do well
to get that child a guitar and/or keyboard
and send her to private lessons.
She will have my job one day.

The Amazing Miss Wendy
has question that remains unanswered.
Can you,
will you
include yourself in the equation?
There is not a choir for the noon mass.
What are we going to do about it?

And that’s not just a question
for the people of one Southwest Detroit parish to answer.
It’s a question to be answered
by any parish that does not have a choir
or active music ministry.

What are we going to do about it?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Children's Choirs

Children's Choirs.
Why is it that more churches don't have them?
I have been wracking my brain on this one.

You see,
I've been trying to organize an event
for children's choirs:
A Children's Choir Festival.
I was hoping to invite several choirs
from the area
to participate in this event.
I was hoping to make it an annual event,
something the kids could look forward to.

There's only one problem:
I'm having a heck of time
finding churches in the area
(Catholic or otherwise)
that actually have a children's music ministry.

I've tried my Facebook friends.
I've made phone calls.
I've asked pastors
if they know of pastors of other churches
that might have children's choirs . . .

Most of the places and people
I have been in contact with
have a children's choir for Christmas.
But not much more than that.

Why is this?
I mean,
there's a ripple effect
in a children's music ministry.
Get the kids involved
and parents and grandparents want to be there.
And brothers and sisters
have no alternative
but to be in church.

Many years ago
at an NPM convention
a speaker
(I don't remember who)
was quoting statistics.
I can't remember the source
of the statistics either.
The only thing I remember clearly
is one of the statistics given:
80% of people who sing in choirs as adults
sang in a choir as child.

Like anyone else
who has attended an NPM event,
I went to many workshops and concerts that year.
But that sole statistic
was the most powerful part of the event for me.
How can one not but act upon that statistic?

Why don't we have more churches
with children's choirs?

Why aren't we teaching our children
the difference between
and decrescendo?

Why aren't we teaching our children
what a fermata is,
what a repeat sign is?

Why aren't we teaching our children
to sing the psalms?

Why aren't we teaching our children
to memorize the Eucharistic acclamations?

Why aren't we teaching our children
to sing in parts?
Why aren't we using the wonderful gift
that is Taize
to help us to that end?

Why don't more people see
that apart from all of the music stuff they will learn
they will learn and affirm the faith?

why don't more churches
have children's choirs?

I currently serve
in a Southwest Detroit Parish.
The children's choir I direct
sings mostly in Spanish,
but does have a few songs in English
in their repertoire
as well as some Taize in Latin.

It is about as inner city as it comes.
But you know,
of all of the ministries\I've been involved in over the years,
this one is the most life giving.
Perhaps it's because I'm at a point in my ministry
where I can see that statistic given at an NPM event
so many years ago
come into its own.
. . .and. . . yeah. . .
. . . I sang in a choir as a child, too!. . . .

And you know,
I would be amiss
if I did not send out kudos
to Oregon Catholic Press
for their collection,
"El SeƱor Nos Invita."
This work provided
a most excellent starting ground
with my work
with this particular group of amazing children.
I only hope OCP plans to do more work like this!

I would also be missing the mark
if I didn't mention how much the work
of Lee Gwozdz has inspired me.
I just thought you might like to know
that Patrick Star of SpongeBob Squarepants fame,
frequently attends our rehearsals.
I never would have thought of inviting him
if it weren't for you!

I will still most likely host an event
for the fabulous musical children this fall.
But it most likely won't be a choir festival.
But I'll continue to work on that.
I'll post info about the fall event
once I have it all in line.

In the meantime,
get busy
and get your children's choir started!
It only takes a spark. . . . . .

.. and hey, if you'd like to discuss this further,
feel free to contact me
via my Facebook!