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Appropriate Commencment Music

My name is John Tyner and I am Director of Choral Activities at Monroe County Community College. A controversy has taken place at my community college concerning the inclusion of sacred choral literature at the yearly commencement exercises. We have been told we cannot include sacred music due to the separation of church and state. I am interested in hearing of other schools policies and ideas for use in commencment progam at a public institution.

John C. Tyner
Director of Choral Activites
Mnroe County Community College
or johntyner(a)

on September 16, 2007 4:19pm
You may be interested in this story:

Dr. Philip L. Copeland
Director of Choral Activities
The University of Alabama at Birmingham
205.335.5353 (cell)
205.975.2599 (work)

-----Original Message-----

Subject: [CHORALTALK-L] Appropriate Commencment Music

I am interested in hearing of other
schools policies and ideas for use in commencment progam at a public

John C. Tyner
or johntyner(a)

on September 16, 2007 4:22pm
Sacred vs secular - are we EVER going to NOT have to have this discussion! It never ends. I'll tell you this. Twice before I arranged all my repertory around the choices of a religious group that would not have a whole range of music "suitable" for their kids - all sacred, holidays, birthdays, patriotic, romantic - what the heck is left??? But I did it, and come the nights of the concerts, guess who didn't show up and didn't even say so ahead of time? Right! Those same kids. They just plain didn't show, and offered no excuses. I did all that for nothing. Never again.

You should also know this was in two different districts in two different states. So, now I'm doing any and all music I want and I'm not catering to the preferences of any one group. Fact is, MOST of my kids and their families celebrate holidays, birthdays, Christmas, the Fourth of July and everything else, so why are we so afraid of the opinion of such a small minority? Visual artists face this all the time. The only way for someone's painting NOT to offend SOMEONE - is to leave the canvas blank!

It really doesn't matter WHAT you perform - SOMEONE isn't going to like it, and I'm just not going to fight this fight any more. If they don't want to perform what's chosen, they are free not to participate. This is my answer to the parents who raise the issue. "Your child can perform what's acceptable to you, and not perform what isn't. They can sit out, or just stand there and not sing." Now be honest, haven't we taken this into the realm of outright silliness? The problem with "politically correct" is that it kills humor, history, and eliminates most of the world's most beautiful music. When we worry about pleasing everyone, we please very few, if anyone at all. I'm sick to death of it and I'm just not going to play this game any more - so sue me! What state is Monroe County in anyway? I can hardly wait to check my e-mail tomorrow - I think I just opened the flood gates.

Bruce Haines
Hayward High School
Hayward CA

on September 16, 2007 4:22pm
This has been a discussion that seems endless since prayer was removed from the classroom in the 1960s. I have read articles from Music Educator's Journal and Teaching Music which have discussed this question but cannot remember vol. or issue no. off hand. At my school we are able to perform anything because it is all part of the curriculum of music and is considered important to a well rounded musical education. Perhaps regional differences prevent you from that freedom, but there are many great articles and even court opinions that back you performing anything.

Check out:

best of luck,


Nicholaus Cummins
Director of Choirs
Hewitt Trussville HS

on September 16, 2007 4:22pm
At 5:04 AM -0700 9/16/07, John C.Tyner wrote:
I am interested in hearing of other schools policies and
>ideas for use in commencment progam at a public institution.

You don't indicate what state you are in, and there seem to be MANY
Monroe Counties! I mention this because different states may handle
this differently. In Washington State, where I grew up, community
colleges were considered an extension of the secondary schools,
although not under the administration of local school boards or
superintendent. Here is Virginia they are independent of school
districts and administered, through an overall Chancellor, by the
State Council on Higher Education. The rules may be different in
different places.

However, I'm sure that the situation must be well covered, in regard
to publicly supported schools, by court decisions, and you might do
well to search the Choralnet, ACDA, and MENC websites for legal

One thing I do know from previous discussions on this list is that
there is no prohibition against the inclusion of sacred music in
educational contexts as long as it is presented as part of our
cultural heritage and not used to try to convert anyone. The
question that always comes up in the public school context is whether
not just music, but specific denominational prayers can be used in
situations which all students are required to attend, and this is
often complicated by majority community standards. It may simply be
that your administration is scared of offending ANYONE, and doesn't
really care what the legal situation is. My aunt taught for many
years in Yonkers, NY, where well-established Catholic, Protestant,
and Jewish pressure groups were extremely touchy and about as eager
to compromise as the Shia, Sunni, and Kurds in Iraq!!!

Best of luck.


John R. Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034

on September 17, 2007 3:33am

you know what - I agree with you.

I direct a chorus of families who mostly do not consider themselves Christian but who embrace (or don't) a wide variety of faiths. And after 4 years of going with the flow, singing politically correct music and directing songs I have no passion for, I got sick of it. Miraculously, this session our theme is American History and because of the theme you just cannot avoid religious songs. I mean how can you do American History without a Spiritual?

For the first time in ages, I'm directing songs I have feeling for. And I've got the think the group and the audience will benefit from me giving a hoot about the songs I'm directing.

The passion we bring directing music has to count for something. I understand not wanting to sing praises to someone elses God be that Christ, Allah or materialism but music should be about passion with a voice. Boring music has no place. And exciting music is bound to tick off someone.

I think you should direct what you love. And especially at a special event like commencement. The music needs to connect with people and it won't connect if the director isn't into it.

Rachael Barlow
All Together Now Chorus
Littleton, MA

on September 17, 2007 3:34am
On Sep 16, 2007, at 8:04 AM, John C.Tyner wrote:

> We have been told we cannot include sacred music due to the separation
> of church and state. I am interested in hearing of other schools
> policies and ideas for use in commencment progam at a public
> institution.

The sacred vs. secular issue seems to be a done deal for John, if I
interpret what his words mean correctly.

He writes "we have been told", which, to me, means he may not be in a
position to call the shots. He is requesting information about specific
school policies and then further asks for possible ideas (repertoire
solutions?) based on the reality he faces in his particular situation,
whether one agrees with it or not.

We have many subscribers with broad repertoire knowledge and depth of
experience in working in taxpayer financed institutions who can help
John out. We also have many subscribers who can argue eloquently for
and against sacred music in a public institution. The latter responses
may have more fireworks, but the former will be of more help in
addressing his needs which appears to be the topic on the table at this

To start the ball rolling let me offer, off the top of my head, the
following repertoire suggestions, none of which should be
controversial. They convey the spirit of commencement quite well. Some
are very easy, some are difficult; some are literary, some are pure
schmaltz. All texts are non-religious.

And Wherever You Go - Douglas Wagner
The Size of Your Heart - Eleanor Daley
A New Beginning - Audrey Snyder
Until We Sing Again - Greg Gilpin
The Road Home - Stephen Paulus
I Dream a World - Rosephanye Dunn-Powell
Homeward Bound - Jay Althouse
On Children - Ysaye M. Barnwell (Sweet Honey in the Rock)
Gladde Things - Bradley Nelson
I Can Make a Difference - Moses Hogan
The Road Not Taken - several settings in several voicings from Randall
Thompson to Tom Fettke
Choose Something Like a Star - Randall Thompson setting most well known
Sound the Trumpet - Purcell
Silver Wings - John Carter
The Best That I Can Be - Michael and Jill Gallinna
Flying Free - Don Besig
You'll Never Walk Alone - various arrangements
Seeds Grow to Plants - John Rutter
I Seek a Journey - Gwen Hall
To a Dancing Star - Robert Seeley
Dare to Dream (arr Chinn) (2000 Olympic Games theme)

Cindy Pribble
Volunteer ChoralTalk Moderator

on September 17, 2007 3:35am
Regarding sacred music - There is a tradition of warning audiences about off-color language and nudity in plays or guns shooting, so perhaps we should all put a poster inside the entrances to our venues with a disclaimer stating "WARNING: lyrics in this concert may make reference to God, Jesus, Krsna, Buddah or some other deity including wood nymphs and possibly faeries. We are not teaching adherance to any religion or faith, we're just singing beautiful music".

Bruce Haines
Hayward High School
Hayward CA

on September 17, 2007 3:35am
At 6:16 PM -0700 9/16/07, Philip L.Copeland wrote:
>You may be interested in this story:

Good for John!!! Although I'm sorry he had to take that action, of
course. Just shows you how a few people with big mouths and personal
agendas can intimidate administrators who are cringing wimps!! Just
like the Nazis did in Germany. In spite of court cases and

We had our own bigmouths here, but it was a university professor who
claimed Native American ancestry who intimidated the School Board
into removing the "Indians" as the high school's mascot. Of course
he knew he wouldn't stand a chance if he took on the Washington
Redskins, which really can be interpreted as an insult. Thank
goodness, HE resigned. Peter Principle, anyone?


John R. Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034

on September 17, 2007 12:30pm
> perhaps we should all put a poster inside the entrances to our venues with a disclaimer >

I think it is a shame that our country has this problem to begin with. Although music is for beauty and can dress up (or ruin) any event, it carries a message. For this reason, music should be chosen appropriatly for appropriate events.

In the above link to the story, it was mentioned that the religious songs were chosen by the students. If those graduating want to celebrate by using "sacred" music, just who does everybody else think they are to determine otherwise. It's not all about you. These kids or young adults are the ones who are celebrating a great accomplishment in their lives, and the leadership of the institutions are damping this happy time by bickering over a "church-state" issue.

The real problem was the "church - state" issue is totally blown out of proportion and is no longer the same issue that is mentioned in the consitution. All they meant in the historical, and even textual, context was that the state could not tell a church how to worship and the church could not rule the government. It has nothing to do with mentioning God in a song.

This is out of control. I love how everyone preaches, yes, preaches, tolerance, but when it comes to religion we are tolerant of everyone but God.

Music is music, and yes it has a message, but, if you are a guest at a function, enjoy the sound and remember it is not your day.

Matthew Craig
Minister of Music
Anchor Baptist Church

on September 17, 2007 1:42pm
Reading this discussion is an eye-opener to me, a resident of the UK
where the 1944 Education Act required state schools " start every
school day with an act of non-denominational worship and to provide all
pupils with religious education according to a locally agreed syllabus
(subject to a right for parents to have their children excused RE and/or
the act of worship)..."
However, this requirement appears to have gone by the board because when
I was the organist of a parish church in Scarborough (Yorkshire) the
couples wishing to get married in the church had never heard any hymns.
This made the task of selecting one or two hymns for their wedding
somewhat tricky.
Bruce Fletcher
Stronsay, Orkney

"Do you get virgin wool from ugly sheep?"

on September 18, 2007 5:09am
I would like to add to the list:

Homer Keller: *Salutation of the Dawn* SATB a capp (Ludwig) translated from the Sanskrit:

"Listen to the exhortation of the dawn:
Look to this day, for it is life--the very life of life!
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendor of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow is only a vision;
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
Such is the salutation of the dawn."

Robert A.M. Ross
Artistic Director
Voces Novae et Antiquae

on September 19, 2007 5:25pm
I would like to add to the list:

Here is another appropriate, beautiful secular piece for the
commencement list: Felices Ter by Randall Thompson. Publisher Theodore
Presser Company, No. 392-03020

The text is from the Odes by Horace. Thompson may have seen it
inscribed over the arch between Harvard Yard and Harvard square, thus it
traces a connection between the "halls" of learning and the joys of

Thrice happy they, and even more, whom a bond unbroken ever binds, whose
hearts are untorn by wretched quarreling, who live until life's last day
joined in love undying.

My Chamber Choir loves the piece.

--Liz Waterbury, Shasta College, Redding, California

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