One of the important jobs we do as church music directors is teaching hymns to the children in our congregation. How can we effectively do this?
For many years I had a hymn learning program where children in my choir would memorize the first verse of a hymn and at some point during the year they would sing it to me, a capella. This was a 3 year program with 10 hymns each year. At the end of each year the child was given an award, with a new hymnal being presented to them at the end of the 3rd year.
Recently, I revised this program to include children and youth. The current program contains 30 hymns (first verse only). We professionally recorded them and produced a study guide. This was handed out to all the children and youth choirs, plus the Sunday school. We hope to include the whole guide plus audio files on our church’s website.
With over 600 hymns in the ELW, which ones did I choose? It is not easy, but first, look at the list “Songs for Children” in the topical index of hymns. This is a great list and one that you can begin to teach right away. Include in your list hymns that are special in your congregation. Look for global hymns that might have a few words in a foreign language. Kids love to learn a few phrases of Spanish, German or one of the many languages from Africa. Even if you don’t record them and produce a study guide, just begin to teach hymns in choir and do it EVERY WEEK. This is the key. Now my choir kids just expect that we will pick up the hymnal and sing a hymn.
Here is a sample hymn from the study guide. I always try to tell a story about the hymn writer when I teach it in choir.
All Glory Laud & Honor (ELW 344)
A bit of history – Probably written in 818 by Theodulph, a monk in Florence, Italy. He was in France for most of his life on the order of Charlemagne.
The story behind the song – Theodulph was imprisoned in 818 for conspiring against King Louis. This hymn was probably written while in prison. The legend is that King Louis passed the prison in the Palm Sunday procession and Theodulph sang this hymn from his window and so delighted the king that he was immediately freed.
The best time to use this song – Palm Sunday and Holy week
Other creative uses – Have the children sing the refrain while someone else sings the verses. Since it was originally used as a song during a processional, have the family sing and process to your own altar in the house.
Attached is a sound sample of my choirs.
I hope you can develop a hymn learning program that will keep your kids singing the great hymns of our faith. Good luck!!