So, you want to start a children's choir. Awesome!
Wondering where to start and what to do first?
Here are a few ideas and suggestions, based on my experience starting and building a children's choir program at a small church in Massachusetts.
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Building a Successful Children's Choir Program
The first step in building a new program is choosing a rehearsal time and setting age parameters. Once these pieces are in place, then you can start thinking about an overall theme for the year.
Choosing a Theme
For the first year, I decided to build on an idea from a children's choir I had worked with in the past - "The Image of God." The visuals were things like film strips and photographs and each month, we explored a new way that we are made in God's image.
The second year, I planned an "Around the World" theme with music from various countries, flags, passports, and international prayers like Alan Paton’s “For Courage to Do Justice” (United Methodist Hymnal #456):
"Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,
and use me to bring them tothose places. AMEN."
Read the full prayer here.
Once you have a theme, begin planning ways for the children to participate in worship throughout the year.
Participating in Worship
I wanted to communicate the importance of sharing music in worship (read more here and here), the difference between worship and performance, and the impact of the message we have to share. I wanted the children to see that singing praises to God is a true privilege.
In addition to a few anthems throughout the year (including a few with the adult choir), I planned and coordinated the music for the children's Christmas play as another opportunity for them to sing in worship. The music was a mix of Christmas carols and rewritten texts to familiar songs such as "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," "Winter Wonderland," and "The Water is Wide."
Set goals for the program - both musical and spiritual - and begin searching for music.
I decided to use a variety of musical resources (some were free!) - hymnals (I chose a Hymn of the Month which I tried to incorporate into worship on a day they sang), octavos already in the choral library (unison/2-part or SA), online resources, music I had at home, and a few new anthems that I found through Sheet Music Plus, J.W. Pepper, and Choristers Guild.
An invitational postcard for our "Around the World" choir year
Getting the Word Out
For promotion of the new program, I wrote short announcements in the church bulletin and newsletter, posted information on the church website, included something in the church's town-wide mailing, and passed out fliers at the beginning of the school year.
Planning for Rehearsal
As I began planning for the first rehearsals of the year, I tried to include several elements of discovery:
- uncovering a new symbol somewhere in the room each month (a new picture on the film strip or a new flag) - collecting “stamps” from each country we visited (the second year) in their passports - filling out scripture cards (if the children looked up the month's verse at home, copied it down and brought it back in, they got a piece of candy from the scripture jar - added incentive!)
I started preparing the choir room with other visuals like a "Thankful Tree" (the children loved this so much, we kept it around in the spring and turned it into a "Good Attendance Tree") and a world map which marked all the places we traveled throughout the second year.
For fun, I pulled together a few silly songs and musical games to use as change of pace activities: Ham and Eggs (traditional) and Irish circle/line dances when we got to "visit" Ireland around St. Patrick's Day. I love Madelyn Bridges' book, Sing Together, Children.
In a typical rehearsal, I start with a gathering activity or musical game. We do a few minutes of stretching/warm-ups before singing through the Hymn of the Month. We speak the scripture verse, review the Symbol of the Month, and read the opening prayer together.
Next, I review something familiar - a hymn or anthem. Then, we spend some time looking at a new anthem: learning the melody and text and discussing its meaning. By this point, the group is usually ready for a change of pace: a hand jive or clapping activity, a silly song, a musical game, or some rhythm improvisation. Generally, there is time left for one more song or anthem, one more change of pace activity, and our closing prayer.
Read more about rehearsal planning here.
Singing with Purpose
In the second year, I tied in a mission element. Since our theme was "Around the World," Operation Christmas Child was a perfect choice. This gave the children's choir an opportunity to participate in something greater than our church and give to those in need. Together, we packed and shipped over two dozen shoe boxes to children around the world!
At the end of the first year, we had a celebratory ice cream party. Our end-of-year celebration the next year was an "Around the World" pizza party. Every family brought a different colored pizza topping and everyone helped make pizzas that looked like flags from around the world. We played a few traditional games from different countries, did a little trivia, and celebrated a year of exciting travel and music-making.
End-of-the-Year "Around the World" Party Invitation
Hope these ideas are helpful as you start your own children's choir program! Have other ideas or suggestions for working with children's choirs? Please share them in the comments!