A focused choral camp or retreat for young musicians is a great way to get a program year off to a healthy start. Consider a music camp Monday through Friday for 2-3 hours each day, or a daylong retreat on a Saturday before the school year resumes.
With lots of rehearsal time over just a few days, you’ll have a chance to start on music for the year. Children will retain more than they do with a week in between rehearsals. If you do a large production like a musical, it’s a perfect chance to get to work on that. A summer music opportunity is also an excellent way for new singers to try out choir, or a chance to participate if during the school year isn’t an option. Have participants sing in worship the next Sunday, giving children a first chance for a “performance” before the busy-ness of the school year sets in. A choir camp can be practical and helpful for parents, too, who might be searching for activities for their children over the summer months.
Teach good singing habits, like posture and breathing, right from the beginning. Have children sing for you individually or in pairs to place them in soprano or alto sections, and for you to hear their musicianship level.
Use a weeklong choir camp to teach a (possibly abbreviated) morning or evening prayer, depending what time of day the camp is held. Recruit older children to learn the leader parts, and give them the chance to lead worship in a small, non-threatening situation. Kids do not think of themselves as cute. They want to take on adult roles. Encourage them to be leaders, not entertainment.
Young children often do better with syllabic, rather than melismatic tunes, and will have more success with a stanza full of words than with a repeated text and varied melody. They memorize easily and rapidly – encourage them to do so! Teach them a strophic canticle setting, if you’re also teaching a daily office, like Blessed Be the God of Israel (ELW 250) or Canticle of the Turning (ELW 723). You know the slap-slap-clap pattern to “We Will Rock You?” It’s tons of fun with the Canticle of the Turning.
Canons are a great way to introduce part-singing. “You have put on Christ” (ELW 211) is a short canon and works well with children. The children could teach it to the entire assembly to be used as an acclamation every time there is a baptism.
“Sparkling Stars, Shining in the Night” by Nancy Raabe incorporates “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” My elementary singers a few years ago loved this piece; it’s very usable for Advent or Christmas.
Songs with a call and response, such as Thomas Keesecker’s “Go Down, Moses” give an opportunity for individuals or small groups to have solos. Older children can be challenged to develop their leadership skills.
Lots of time together builds community, too. Enlist older teens or retired folks to lead crafts, outdoor games, demonstrate musical instruments, or prepare snacks. Children could do sidewalk chart art showing what they’ve learned during the day. You get a break, plus multigenerational interaction!
Hold a potluck for families at the end of the time together. Before supper, have the children sing for their families. Give them the chance to have a ‘dress rehearsal’ in the worship space with a more friendly audience.
Once the choir year begins, you’ll reap the benefits of this extra, intentional time with the children. If you have already completed your planning for this year, file the idea away for future years.