About five years ago, I volunteered to direct our parish children’s choir. The previous director had moved from the parish and I could see how much it pained our music director to lose this ministry. So, with nothing more than my years of piano lessons, choir, and cantoring, I took it on.
At 6:30 on Monday evenings, an always-unpredictable crew of children showed up. Our youngest children were four or five, while the oldest were in middle school—and they only stayed because I assured them that they could be cantors or soloists!
We tried out a lot of music! We sang very wordy songs and very simple songs; songs rich in theology and songs rich in emotion. We sang some songs I truly wanted to avoid, but which held meaning for the children. And some songs the community needed to hear them sing, so we sang those, too.
Once a month, we sang at the 12:15 Mass, leading all of the music including the responsorial psalm. We learned age-appropriate and simple choral songs, but we also sang our own pieces. We learned how to sign a song in American Sign Language each year. Fully part of our lived community, we even introduced songs that became part of the parish repertoire, and the children performed with the adult choir at the Christmas concert.
Whatever I had initially believed about what would appeal to the children in our choir had little to do with what actually reached and touched them. Instead, the songs they chose expressed something about who they wee and who God was to them. This was clear when we prepared the final Mass each year, as the children were able to select the music after singing excerpts during our weekly practice. They never ceased to surprise me. Some of the songs at the top of their list? “Go Make a Difference” (a contemporary song), “Lord of the Dance” (a hymn based on a Shaker melody), “Shepherd Me, O God” (one of the most well-known versions of Psalm 23), and “This Little Light of Mine” (a spiritual).
In the end, my job became clear: it was to lead them into the “candy store” of our Catholic music treasury and allow the Spirit to do the rest in connecting their little ears with their hearts.
This week’s CatholicsRead offerings are all about leading our children to discover what has meaning for them in the treasury of our Catholic faith.
Donuts After Mass: A Tale About Walking with Jesus by Joann and Rafaela Bradvica is an easy-to-read and understand comic-book story about growing a relationship with Jesus. The book from Ascension Press tells the story of a young girl named Emily who is able to see and hear Jesus in her everyday life. Through Jesus’ guidance, Emily learns how much he loves her and is able to discover her calling to bring him to those around her. She discovers how to live a life of faith instructed by the teachings of Jesus.
Then we have two books with amazing selections from the Catholic music repertoire, sure to appeal to current or future children’s choir members!
Songs of Joy and Praise Piano Book from Catholic Book Publishing contains twelve familiar songs, including “Rise and Shine,” “This Little Light of Mine,” “Now Thank We All Our God,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” “Amazing Grace,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and includes the needed electric keyboard for young children to use to play along.
GIA Publications’ Chatter with the Angels: An Illustrated Songbook for Children is a beautifully illustrated songbook that features 90 traditional and new ecumenical Christian songs and hymns, “For the Beauty of the Earth,” “Ev’ry Morning Brings Us Blessings,” “Ol’ Noah Got Mad,” “Amazing Grace,” “Away in a Manger,” “Peace Is Flowing like a River,” and “Shall We Gather at the River.” The tunes and melodies represent a wide variety of time periods, styles, and cultures. Simplified piano accompaniments can be played by adults or children who have learned to play piano. Guitar chords are also provided.
Therese Brown is the Executive Director of the Association of Catholic Publishers. She holds a master of arts degree in youth and liturgy from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She previously served as senior marketing specialist at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Publishing Office. She is the author of Graced Moments: Prayer Services for the Lives of Teens (World Library Publications). She resides in the Baltimore area.