Taking on the Children's Musical

by Sarah Hawbecker

Some directors dread doing musicals, and even avoid them. I direct both a Christmas and a spring musical every year, because I believe that the positive benefits of these performances are huge. I am well aware of the cons, the biggest of which is simply the work. A LOT of work! Depending on the musical, there’s dialogue, staging, costumes, sets, props, and choreography. I guarantee that there will be some aspect of undertaking a musical that will take you outside of your comfort zone. Here are some things to consider:

When will the musical be presented? Not many worship services will accommodate a musical, which can last from 15-40 minutes. In my parish, we have scheduled it various ways depending on the choice of musical and occasion: during the Sunday School hour, during a Sunday morning service, during a Wednesday evening service, and on an end-of-the-year program with dinner.

What are your teaching goals? Are you working within a theme or season? Many musicals deal with a single Bible story, and this is a great opportunity to teach a text in depth. The children will never forget a Bible story that they learn through song and drama. A few of my favorites are Oh, Jonah! by Allen Pote and Carole McCann; Elijah by Mark Patterson; and Table for Five Thousand by Tom S. Long and Allen Pote.

Plan for extra rehearsals. There must be at least one dress rehearsal in the performance space. You may need additional extra rehearsals for soloists, instrumentalists, or dancers. Publish the rehearsal schedule well in advance and try not to add any last minute rehearsals. Most musicals can be staged as simply or elaborately as you wish. One very effective musical with simple staging and no dialogue is The Tale of the Three Trees by Allen Pote. A short Christmas program that can be done with limited rehearsals is Stars! Angels! Shepherds! Kings! by Patrick Messick.

Plan your whole year’s repertoire accordingly. Make sure the schedule and the repertoire are balanced and within your group’s capabilities. Since the songs in a musical are usually more “fun,” I choose anthems for Sundays that are more “traditional.” Plan carefully and rehearse efficiently, so that your worship preparation is not short-changed or taken over by the musical.

What is your budget? Musicals can be expensive to buy. Some come in packages with less expensive singers’ scores. Decide how simply or elaborately you will stage the musical. Will you make or buy costumes, props, or set materials? Sometimes dressing everyone in blue jeans and white t-shirts will suffice. Will you need to pay an instrumentalist?

Decide how to handle auditions. If the musical you choose has speaking and/or solo parts, you will need to make these assignments. This is my least favorite job. I explain to the children (and parents!) that not everyone will get their first choice of parts, but that everyone who auditions will get something. This usually means dividing parts, like turning three narrators into five or ten. Having a part, even if it is only one line, really builds confidence and the experience the child gains is invaluable.

Find other adults who can help. Parents and grandparents can make costumes and sets. A dance teacher or former cheerleader can choreograph and teach movements to a song or two. Even a person with no drama experience can herd the preschool sheep onto the stage at the right time. An added flutist or drummer can be very effective. This is an opportunity to involve many people (and have them see exactly how much work you do!).

With careful planning, a musical can motivate your children, energize your program, and provide lifelong memories for the singers and the congregation.

Posted on Feb 25, 2013 7:48:01 AM
Filed Under: Choral Techniques and Repertoire, Filed Under: review-prelude,

Sarah Hawbecker

Written by Sarah Hawbecker

Sarah J. Hawbecker is a graduate of St. Olaf College and the Eastman School of Music. Since 1996, she has served as Organist and Director of Children's Music at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, GA, overseeing a program of two children's choirs, three handbell choirs, a summer music camp, and a concert series. She has performed for and presented workshops at regional and national gatherings of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, and of the American Guild of Organists, and has served as adjudicator for several organ competitions.