When someone asks me about the benefits of intergenerational choral experiences in the church, I think of Thomas, a college student majoring in music. Throughout his childhood and youth, he benefited from a variety of musical experiences at church, including singing in the children’s and youth choirs, and, as he grew, performing as an instrumentalist. He also participated in intergenerational choirs several times per year. As a child, he heard harmony around him for the first time. When his voice changed, he gained vocal confidence because he was able to sit among strong, adult male voices. Because the combination of choirs meant increased numbers of singers and the vocal security that brings, the anthem could be a bit more musically challenging.
Even though I know Thomas grew musically when his choir joined forces with other choirs, the story that I share below does not pertain to musical growth. Rather, the story has more to do with how Thomas grew in his faith life through his participation in an intergenerational choir. In other words, music in the church served as an impetus for the formation of his faith.
When Thomas was a sophomore in high school and singing in the youth choir, the adult choir combined with children's and youth choirs one Sunday. Because of their unchanged voices and the structure of the anthem, the children’s choirs were seated together. Youth choir singers were integrated by part with the adult choir members. In the middle of the service, when the assembly was professing their faith using the words of the Apostles Creed, Thomas leaned over to the adult singer next to him and sincerely asked, “Do you really believe this?” With a knowing nod, the adult whispered, “Let’s have a conversation after worship.” Thus began a relationship that continued and often involved conversations around theology, worship and music. In addition to Thomas’s parents, Thomas now had another caring Christian adult in his life. The adult in this story also grew. When answering Thomas’s questions, he had to articulate his own beliefs in ways he hadn’t previously expressed them.
Much of our culture today reflects a belief that communities should be segregated by age for optimal learning. School is divided into grades, and families participate in activities that are designed for a specific age and/or gender. In many ways, our faith communities reflect this approach. We provide Sunday School classes for each grade, youth groups, and choirs for adults, children, and youth.
There are, no doubt, benefits to this approach. Teaching a group of similarly aged individuals can mean ease of preparation for the leader, as well as predictable outcomes. But when it comes to worship (and, by extension, musical leadership in worship), intentional inclusion of all generations can be a rich and beautiful reflection of God’s diverse and gifted creation. Will it be messy or challenging when multiple generations come together? Yes! But if the story of Jesus is any indication, our lives together will never be without some mess and challenge. And the benefits of intergenerational choral experiences far outweigh the messiness.
Excited about the possibilities of pulling choirs of varying ages together? Here are some ideas to help you get started!
Use a simple canon to start, perhaps with adults and children singing together at first. This gives children a chance to feel secure and helps to build relationships between adults and children. When children are comfortable, have them begin the tune with adult voices entering in canon. Depending on the size of the choirs and level of comfort, split into four groups. This piece utilizing “Tallis’ Canon” works nicely:
- “Hosanna in the Highest” arr. Nancy Gifford. Written for 3 parts (any voices) with piano or organ and optional handbells. Published by Choristers Guild (CGA1534).
Partner songs (songs with two distinct melodies that fit together) offer another simple way to get choirs singing together quickly. Teach each melody to both choirs before combining them. When together, take the same approach as the canon, having children and older voices form two mixed groups. Then, experiment with having children take one of the melodies alone. Try using one of these:
- “I’m Gonna Sing with Over My Head” arr. Terry Taylor. Written for 2-part choir and keyboard. Published by Choristers Guild (CGA1326).
- “Meditation for Lent” by Michael Bedford. Written for 2-part mixed/children’s choir and keyboard. Published by Augsburg Fortress (AF 9780800638399).
Additional selections include:
- “Tunaomba Mungu Atawale” arr. John Paradowski. Written for unison children with optional SATB choir and percussion. Published by Choristers Guild (CGA1171).
- “Thanks Be to God” by Marty Haugen, incorporates “We Shall Overcome.” Written for choir, children’s choir, and keyboard with optional guitar. Published by GIA (G-3994).
- “I Believe” by Mark Miller. Written for SATB Choir, but children’s choir can be easily incorporated by singing the soprano’s lovely repeating melody. Children (solo or choir) can also sing the opening/closing solo. Published by Choristers Guild (CGA1310).
- “Let the Children Come” by J. Paul Williams and Joseph M. Martin. Written for mixed choir and keyboard with optional children’s choir or solo. Published by Jubilate Music Group, LLC (4299).
- “Make Way for the King” by Alex Gartner. Written for SATB plus unison choir. Published by Choristers Guild (CGA1618).
- “We Are Called” by Becki Slagle Mayo. Incorporates children, youth, and adult choirs with piano and optional brass. Published by Choristers Guild (CGA1408).
- “Lo! Newborn Jesus” by Tom Shelton. Written for SATB with unison choir and piano or handbells. Published by Choristers Guild (CGA1369).
- “You Are Holy” by Per Harling/arr. John Helgen. Voicing of this arrangement is SATB/4-part mixed, but allow children to introduce the melody in the beginning, and then experiment by combining their voices (on melody) at different times throughout the piece. Published by Augsburg Fortress (AF 9780800676452).
- “Come, O Come” by Cindy Berry. SATB voices combined with children’s voices, with optional violin, cello, handbells, and percussion. Published by Celebrating Grace (810001).
- “Hope for Resolution” by Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory. Written for 2 or 3-part treble chorus and piano, or SATB and children’s chorus with optional flute/violin, soprano sax, and percussion. A challenging combination of “Thula Sizwe” (“Nation, Do Not Cry”) and “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” that celebrates diversity. Published by Earthsongs (W-34).