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Recruiting: Recruiting for Children's Choirs in Church

Date: Sun, 10 Nov 1996 23:55:28 -0600
From: Waldy Ens
Subject: junior choirs compilation (long)

Dear Listers

I wish to thank all those who responded to my request for advice regarding
the now defunct Junior Choir in our church. The music committee will be
dealing with this issue in the next few months and these replies will figure
into the discussions. Some have asked for a compilation of the responses.
Here are the relevant reaponses that I received. I have tried to edit as
needed. There are some thought provoking ideas here. I would value some
discussion on Choraltalk.

Mary Lycan wrote:

I urge you to hang in there with a junior choir, because 1) school music
budgets have been cut so much that church and community choirs may be the
only source of free musical training left for kids, 2) junior choirs are the
nurseries for adult church musicians (and choral composers), and 3) the
experience of the Episcopal church, at least, is that 90% of its kids lapse
as adults, and the 10% who stay are the ones who were acolytes and
choristers. See John Westerhoff, "Will our children have faith?"

As for what your choristers do, I really hate those cutesy approaches where
kids spend weeks learning a tricky little piece of dubious artistic merit and
stand on the chancel steps once every two months and sing so all the adults
can say "Awwwww".

If you are at a point where you are really starting from scratch, the kids
need to engage in their own musical faith formation. This means learning
whatever service music is performed most centrally and most often (in my
church, the "Sanctus"), and being told where the text comes from, and being
told their function as a choir is to lead the congregational singing. This
may be, practically speaking, a ridiculous claim, but as they learn an "Amen"
everybody already knows and "lead" the congregation in it, their twenty-eight
inch chests swell with pride.

If your kids are older than that, give them serious work to do: learning
"Humbly I adore thee" or "Creator of the stars of night" as a communion
anthem (kids are great on easy plainsong), or the opening soprano solo in
Vaughan Williams's "O how amiable are thy dwellings", or the treble line of
an easy mixed-voice anthem they can sing jointly with the adult choir.

You can probably tell I am not a big fan of much of the offerings of the
Choristers' Guild. Your church hymnal may be your best musical resource for
starting with kids.

Junior Choirs are a rare opportunity for children to make an artistic
contribution and to exercise leadership in a church. Give the kids a serious
purposes, immortal music (what goes into their tiny little brains now is what
they will remember on their deathbeds), a good snack, tight rehearsal
schedule, and a lot of laughs including a pizza party now and then, and you
just may have a choir.

Best wishes,
Mary Lycan

Lynn Payette wrote:

There are some factors which may influence your situation which you haven't
included in your synopsis:
1) the number of available children vs those participating in choir; and

2) the demographics of the congregation - do they live close enough to the
church for participation in mid-week activities.

It is important to remember that it is really the parents who must also
commit to participate as much as the children. Does the rehearsal day/time
need to be changed? With a change in directors, it is a good opportunity to
review that option and let the parents have significant input so that they
have investment in honoring the decision.

I have found that many churches have youth participation that runs in cycles;
some years will be filled to the rafters, others rather lean. Another
important piece here is to talk to the children directly involved and find
out what's going on with them (don't like singing; too busy; whatever).
Maybe you won't have any boys for a while, but a group of even a few girls
who really want to be there can make a beautiful sound! It's not just the

Finally, the director must be someone who really enjoys working with children
- not in a "dumbing down, cutesy" sense (kids can tell, and they don't
particularly enjoy a full diet of that), but if the director' communicates
genuine care and concern. Are Orff instruments availavle? Choir Chimes?
Somethings that will help those who are not comfortable vocally to feel like
they have a place to fit in. Perhaps a vocal choir is not the answer right
now, but an instrumental ensemble; a recorder group. The possibilities are
endless, but you have to use the resources you have, not fret over what used
to be, or only be satisfied with one vision for the future.

I applaud you and the church for your concern for young people. Let them and
their parents be a part of the new building process (including the hiring of
a new director). You'll be surprised at how that can make a difference both
in the here and now, and especially in building for a future of hope and joy.

Good luck,
Lynn Payette

Gerald van Wyck wrote:

After struggling with an enthusiastic but small (12-16 member) Junior
choir for five or six years the Worship committee at my West Vancouver
United Church agreed to open up the programme to the community, as a form
of outreach. We formed in effect a girls community choir, gave it its own
name: my intention was to build up to 30 members.

We stopped auditioned at 140 members and currently have a waiting list.
We have formed four choirs and hired two assistants. We also charge a
"tuition" fee for members (this really helps them take the organization

Another suggestion is to purchase immediatately two books by John
Bertalot (published by Augsburg Fortress press). In twenty years of
full-time choral directing I have never come across two more helpful,
practical and inspiring works. Their titles: "Five Wheels to Successful
Sight-Singing" and "Immediately Practical Tips for Choral Directors". A
video is also available.

Finally, think about bringing in a clinician to host a children's choir
workshop. Perhaps a large, high profile event would get you back on track.

Gerald van Wyck,
Music Director, British Columbia Boys Choir; Celesta Girls Choir;
Music Director, West Vancouver United Church.

Clell "E." Wright "Jr." wrote:

We suffered not from a lack of singers in our children's choirs, but a
lack of boys - especially in the older grades. Our answer was in the
formation of a boys choir. I chose a male director - musically qualified
but with an outdoors spirit that the boys flock to. I also staffed it with a
male accompanist, and two male helpers. The result has been
spectacular. Attendance has been incredible, and the boys are inviting
their friends from school. Most importantly, they are learning to sing and
having fun while doing it.

Clell "E." Wright "Jr."

James C. Myers wrote:

If you have enough children of congregational attendees to support the
junior choir, say if 40% of them sing, examine the quality of the program.
Kids know when their time is being wasted, or when they are being
patronized. The better the quality of the music and the quality of
instruction, the more success you will have. (You don't need boys to have a
wonderful treble youth choir! but if you have a wonderful treble youth
choir, you'll probably get boys.) If you think you ought to have a junior
choir to DRAW children to the church, you've got the cart before the horse.
James C. Myers, Director
The Cecilian Singers of Columbus

Michael Barker wrote:

Are there cildren in the congregation from which to draw singers? Plenty
of churches want a children's choir, never taking into account that
membership includes very few children! 10-20% of the _total_ number of
children in a choir would be a good start. If you can come up with only
15 children total, you're going to have a tough row to hoe! If you have
plenty of kids, it's probably a matter of scheduling: having rehearsals
convenient for families; bite the bullet and put the rehearsal when
parents say they can make it.

If the congregation has few children, the queston becomes a matter of
inventing them! Pull them from whatever urban area you are in, local
neighborhoods. This becomes an issue of outreach for the whole
congregation, and that is a good thing: having the whole church helping
you find children for a choir program. To generate interest hold a
week-long summer music day camp. Plan to spend a long of money. Make it
the coolest, most exciting camp possible! High on fun, low on theory.
Build relationships with kids in the neighborhood. Visit them at school.

I don't know where your church is: if it is in a concrete jungle, this
will still be tough. If it's in an area with some neighborhoods close by,
it will be easier. The neighbor hoods may well be folks who normally
would not darken your door. If you can get the kids in, though, using
whatever captivating music styles and fun and games it takes, the parents
will follow.

The director is crucial: personality plus, even if there is not a whole
lot of musical knowledge. You can teach music skills, you cannot invent a
great personality. Find the best personality for reaching out to kids and
train them, send them to workshops, and let them pipe the kids into the

I am probalby not helping much. I have found that discussing issues like
this is usually best done face to face. I sincerely hope my scattered
thoughts help a wee bit, though.

Again, good luck. (Keep me posted!)
Michael Barker
Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church
Ashland, VA

Keith Pedersen wrote:

Some ideas:
- start a choir for young children. Get them used to singing at 4
and 5 and they may be more likely to continue singing as they get older.
- use a recognition/rewards program (e.g. Choristers Guild pins or
Royal School of Music) which encourages and rewards long term commitment to
a program.
- incorporate instruments (handchimes or handbells, rhythm
instruments) into their musical experiences. This will improve their
reading, vary their experience, and may help their motivation.

Good luck. I hope you post your results.
Keith Pedersen

J. DeWitt wrote:

You might consider forming a choir for a special one-time event and then ask
some of the youth from that gathering whether they would be
interested/willing to sing on a regular basis in the church choir.

You mentioned that there have been no boys in the choir for several years
now. If it is a lack of interest on the part of boys because it is not
"cool" to sing in a
choir with GIRLS, then why not form a "male" choir. I wouldn't call it a
"boys" choir: anyone over the age of 10 might not be too interested. You
might later be able to have a mixed youth choir. As those members mature,
you will have some fine choristers for your adult choir or, if they move to
another community, for the choir in another congregation. If every church in
the country had an excellent music program, I think we'd all be delighted.

Most choir members want to be able to not only sing together but also to
socialize together: to have or make friends in the choir and to go places
and do things with those friends. Middle-aged women or even of middle-aged
men have interests that are very different from those of teenage boys. So a
youth choir makes sense from a social point of view.

J. DeWitt

Fergus Black wrote:

IMHO, doing fun things with the juniors is important to get them hooked,
and giving them responsibility to do things *on their own* in services is
also vital.

BTW, after years of mixed gender choir training, I am now coming round to
segregated choirs for different gender at Junior level, not least because
it is really hard to get boys to join a mixed choir with girls in it.

Best wishes

Fergus Black

Susan Onderdonk wrote:

When I was hired as a full-time musician 7 years ago, I was given the
priority to resurrect the Junior Choir (elementary). These are the
steps I took; decided that rehearsal would be during the week, after
school hours; surveyed parents for best day/time (took the opportunity
to enlist their support of program by describing what I would do); went
to Sunday School classes to pitch the choir; sent invitations to my
target group of kids (2nd grade through 6th grade); picked a date and
started. The group grew from around 10 the first week to 18 the second
week to 23 and so on. I established Wednesday afternoon as the
rehearsal day and certain choir norms (snack, activities and games,
rehearsal). I have never had less than 20-25 kids enrolled. It takes
energy, genuine liking for children (they figure out the fakes),
organization and support of parents who are willing to bring them. In
my town, parents will do anything if their kids want it. I make sure
choir is fun, challenging, a learning environment, and respectful of
each other and me. I give them tests, which have become choir norms,
and rewards for "passing" the tests--no one flunks. My elementary kids
grew up and wanted to keep singing, so I started a Youth Choir. I
wanted to started music instruction earlier in a child's life, so I
started a preschool choir. These things snowball. Next year, I will
split the Junior Choir (grades 1-5) into grades 1-3 and 4-8, a better
split for learning and for keeping boys whose voices haven't changed.
The boys issue: I've always had fewer boys than girls, I do work hard
on getting boys so they don't feel endangered. I seat them separately:
girls on one side, boys on the other. They sing monthly typically 2
anthems and 5 hymns plus service music. They respond well to challenge.

It may help you to know our setting: suburban, small town atmosphere,
bedroom community of many commuters, Episcopal Church of about 700-800
which is experiencing a lot of growth, more families than singles. I
hope this is of assistance.

Susan Onderdonk St. George's Episcopal
Church Fredericksburg Virginia

Have a good one!

Waldy Ens
on November 10, 2005 10:00pm
Here's what I did to get a children's choir started in the church I work for. I scheduled the children's choir rehearsal immediately after the children's sermon and during the adult sermon. For several years, parents have been asking for some kind of activity for their children during the adult sermon (which is normally between 25-35 minutes). Nobody was willing to host an activity, so I decided to offer children's choir at that time. Now, one draw-back is that some of the children have been coaxed by their parents to go to children's choir so that they can have some peace and quiet during the sermon. But I've made it very clear that the children's choir is a place for kids who love to sing. And so far, they're having a blast!
on January 21, 2007 10:00pm
The other choir directors have offered great ideas. I am surprised no one mentioned "The Singing for Life" series by the RSCM ( Royal School of Church Musicians. Second, I do reward the kids as often as possible (almost every rehearsal) candy at the end, compliments throughout and challenges always. We record to computer our special pieces (from Christmas to Easter) on CD and then offer the CD for sale. Can you imagine the pride of the children when they say they have a CD recording out for sale? Of course the monies all go back to the choir for pins and more awards. Finally and most importantly, I appreciated the idea of religious training as important as musical training. Why are we doing this? When God touches a voice music reaches its true home, the soul.

Dan Bradley