The June/July 2016 issue of Choral Journal was a focus issue with articles and columns pertaining to sacred music. One article titled “Soul Searching: Is it Time to Rethink the ‘Conventional’ Model of Youth Choir?” by Eric L. Mathis. The author posits in the introduction that in the twenty-first century, a “conventional” model of youth choir does not exist.
He says, “There is no cookie-cutter model of youth choir ministry in the twenty-first century. Everywhere we look, youth choir ministry looks different, and that can be both encouraging and perplexing for those of us engaged in the task of youth choir ministry. The primary goal of this article is to ask a pastoral question of youth choir directors. Admittedly, this is not a musical question, but taken to its full lengths, this question will have significant musical ramifications. The question is this: As pastoral musicians committed to the spiritual and musical development of teenagers, how do we best cultivate a generative faith that is rooted in a relationship with God, nurtured by the faith community, and important enough to extend beyond adolescence?”
The article contains three parts: 1) The relationship between the study, congregations, and the climate of youth ministry in the United States. 2) Recent cycles in music and worship and observations about how these cycles have impacted youth choir ministry. 3) Asking the question how those of us who lead student choirs might adapt our practices in light of current research about the faith lives of teenagers in the twenty-first century.
This brief ChoralNet blog will address four theological accents to realign priorities discussed in part three of the article.
How can we better use creeds—theology, principal tenets of the Christian faith, and the God-story—to instill deeper faith in our teenagers?
• A conductor in Iowa decided to choose her youth choir repertoire by theology rather than music. Rather than say, “I need a global anthem in my repertoire,” she said, “My teenagers need to better understand journey through suffering.” She realized this is a theme in music from the Hispanic culture and found that theology and a global anthem
How can we better instill within our teenagers a sense that they are part of a much larger and intergenerational community that regularly participates in and enacts the God-story?
• One part-time musician had trouble finding time to rehearse youth choir and recruit significant numbers of teenagers. In his soul searching, he learned that parents are the single most influential factors in the religious lives of teenagers.After conversation with a friend, he decided to imitate the African American church choir model by doing away with children, youth, and adult choirs to make intergenerational choirs the norm rather than the exception. (The African American community has a larger number of youth involvement in religious choirs than any other!)
How can we better help our teenagers comprehend a sense of the purpose they have in the God-story as present members in the faith community?
• One conductor decided to reverse the performance/ rehearsal/mission ratio for three months out of the year. In these three months, the youth choir rehearsed anthem literature one week out of the month for two hours and Soul Searching: Is it Time to Rethink CHORAL JOURNAL Volume 56 Number 11 25 spent the other three to four weeks engaging in mission projects related to music therapy in the nursing home, music education in lower socio-economic, and music advocacy with a local public school system.
How do we instill deep hope in teenagers so they learn to find hope outside of themselves and better anticipate the work of God in the world around them?
• One youth choir director took seriously research claiming teenagers don’t actually learn anything of lasting value on short-term mission trips like his youth choir was accustomed to taking. He admitted that teenagers receive the deepest sense of connection to the values of their congregation through ongoing mission endeavors where they develop long-term relationships with individuals. With the support of his leadership, they abandoned summer trips and began a routine schedule of worshiping with residents in a homeless shelter and eating with them afterward.
You can read the rest of the article online here. (Note: you must be an ACDA member and logged into ACDA.org to view the Choral Journal online.) If you are not an ACDA member, you can become one here for $45 for an associate member or email me () to request a copy of this issue of Choral Journal for further reading ($3/copy + shipping).