Around the World: Music and Prayers for Children's Choir

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Several years ago, I planned an “Around the World” theme for my children's choir (1st-8th grade), incorporating music, dance, and singing games from different countries.

I've had lots of questions since then about music selection, hymns, prayers, and resources, so I thought I'd put together a more complete planning guide for those of you looking to do something similar with your group.

In this post, you'll find songs, hymns, singing games, and prayers in Spanish (Spain, Mexico, Argentina), French, German, Hebrew, African (Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco, South Africa), and English (Great Britain, Scotland, and Ireland). I'm also including a few relevant Scripture verses and ideas for tying in a mission focus.

Here are some of my favorite resources for an "Around the World" theme for children's choir:

UMH = United Methodist Hymnal
NCH = New Century Hymnal
GTG = Glory to God Hymnal (Presbyterian)

Spanish

Holy, Holy, Holy (Santo, Santo, Santo) - traditional Argentine folk melody with easy-to-learn text. Available online here.

Miren qué bueno! - based on Psalm 133 (“How good and pleasant it is…”) written by Argentinian composer Pablo Sosa. Fun to do with guitar and percussion or with piano accompaniment (GIA has a choral version - preview here).

Tu Has venido a la Orilla (Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore) - this Spanish hymn tells the story of Jesus calling the disciples to follow him. It’s in the Methodist hymnal or available online here.

May the God of Hope Go With Us - this hymn is in the new Presbyterian hymnal (music available online here). It combines new text (in Spanish and English) with a traditional Argentine melody.

Glory, Glory, Glory - based on Luke 2, this is a short, simple Argentine tune with easy-to-learn Spanish text. Do it as a hymn or choral piece (GIA has an arrangement here).

Cristo me ama (Jesus Loves Me) - Your younger singers might enjoy learning “Jesus Loves Me” in Spanish! (Text available here.)

Spanish prayer - have you considered learning a short prayer in Spanish? Could be the Gloria Patri or something longer like The Lord’s Prayer that you work on over several weeks.

French

Many Christmas carols are French in origin. These include:

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (UMH #211)
Il Est Né(He Is Born) (UMH #228)
Sing We Now of Christmas (UMH #237)
Angels We Have Heard on High (UMH #238)
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (NCH #345)

French prayer - This verse from "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is so relevant for our world today: "O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind; bid envy, strife and quarrels cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace." (trans. H. S. Coffin, 1916)

British

I Sing the Almighty Power of God - this hymn, with text by Isaac Watts, has two different tunes. For a British connection, use FOREST GREEN, an English folk tune. (UMH #152)

O Waly Waly - this popular English tune works with numerous hymn texts: "The Gift of Love," "Amazing Grace," and "All Praise to You, Eternal Lord," among others.

All Things Bright and Beautiful - the tune for this beloved hymn is 17th-century English melody, ROYAL OAK. Of course, John Rutter's SSA anthem is also an option. (UMH #147)

This Is My Father’s World - the music for this hymn was supposedly adapted from a traditional English melody. (UMH #144)

Alley Alley-O - a traditional English folk song about ships in an alley. Add the motions shown in this video to turn it into a fun singing game!

English prayer - This prayer by Christina Rossetti (an English poet!) is a quiet request for illumination: "Open wide the window of our spirits, O Lord, and fill us full of light; open wide the door of our hearts, that we may receive and entertain thee with all our powers of adoration and love. Amen." (UMH #477)

Scottish

The Iona Community in Glasgow has a large collection of songs, some of which appear in hymnal supplements. Here are a few to look up:

Behold the Lamb of God Jesus Is Risen from the Grave Don’t Be Afraid The Summons

Listen to a few audio clips here.

Scottish prayer - I love this Christmas prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson (a Scottish poet!): "Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting." Read more here.

German

Alle Jahre Wieder - this traditional 19th century Christmas carol references the coming of the Christ child. See the lyrics and music notation and watch a video example.

Es Ist Ein Ros' Entsprungen (Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming) - a true classic. Listen to the Stuttgart Hymnus Boys' Choir here.

Stille Nacht (Silent Night) - everyone knows Silent Night, but can you sing it in German? Hear the Vienna Boys Choir sing it here.

German Prayer - this traditional dinner blessing would also work well at the beginning of rehearsal: "Komm Herr Jesus. sei unser Gast und segne was Du uns bescherret hast." The English translation reads: "Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and bless what you bestowed on us." (source)

Irish

Be Thou My Vision - this beautiful, beloved hymn has prayerful text set to a very singable Irish melody. (UMH #451)

The King of Love My Shepherd Is - this pastoral hymn has two common tunes - ST. COLUMBA is the Irish one. (UMH #138)

Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven - one of my very favorite hymns (we had this played at our wedding!), this hymn of praise has beautiful text and a lovely melody. (UMH #66)

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing - another well-known hymn with an Irish tune. (UMH #400)

Morning Has Broken - this hymn has English text set to a Gaelic tune. (UMH #145)

Irish Blessing"May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, may the rains fall soft upon your fields, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand. Amen."

Hebrew

Shalom Chaverim - this traditional Hebrew song means (roughly) "Peace, friends, till we meet again." It is often sung as a round. (UMH #667)

Toembai - a traditional Israeli folk song, this song may be sung as a round and is often done with an accompanying circle dance (see this video example). See the music here.

Zum Gali Gali - a traditional Israeli folk song, often sung in two parts. See a video example here.

African

Obwasimisa - a traditional folk song from Ghana, children sit in a circle and pass a small rock, bean bag, or other item, keeping a steady beat as they go. Watch a video demonstration here and look for the music in Sing Together, Children!.

Wa Wa Wa Emimimo (Come, O Holy Spirit) - this Nigerian song would work well as a processional at the beginning of a service. Listen to a professional recording here. (music source: The Chorister)

A Ram Sam Sam - this traditional Moroccan folk song has corresponding motions (see a video demonstration here) and is often sung in a round. (Sing Together, Children)

Siyahamba (We are Singing for the Lord is Our Light) - this South African hymn is full of life. Sing it in the original Zulu or the translated English (or both!). And be sure to watch this incredible video of the Mwamba Children's Choir. (NCH #526)

Send Me, Lord - based on Isaiah 6:8, this hymn has traditional South African text set to a traditional South African tune. (UMH #497)

African prayer -I love the mission for serving others in this prayer: “Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places.” Read the full prayer: “For Courage to Do Justice” or look it up in your hymnal! (UMH #456)

Other Hymns & Anthems

There are lots of other hymns and anthems that fit the around-the-world theme. If you’re tying in any kind of mission focus this year, you might consider music/hymns that references service, action, or unity among nations. A few that come to mind:

Here I Am, Lord - another hymn with text from Isaiah 6:8, this hymn works well with solos or duets (verses) and full choir (chorus). (UMH #593)

He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands - a favorite among younger choirs!

Christ, For the World We Sing -"Christ for the world we sing! The world to Christ we bring..."(UMH #568)

This Is My Song - sung to the tune FINLANDIA, this text (written in 1934) is a prayer for the nations, and for peace. (GTG #340)

Gathered As One (Paul A. Tate) - one of my very favorites! Written for SAB choir - works well as a combined anthem with youth and/or children's choirs. Listen here.

One Bread, One Body - this traditional Communion hymn has great text that speaks to 1 Corinthians 12. There are a few choral anthem arrangements out there, as well. (UMH #620)

Let There Be Peace on Earth - another well-known hymn that speaks to being peace-makers in the world. (UMH #431)

Blest Be the Tie That Binds - "Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love." This hymn has prominent themes of unity, love, and Christian fellowship. (GTG #306)

Another way to tie in missions is by incorporating a mission project. Have your choir(s) (and maybe the whole church!) pack shoeboxes in the fall for Operation Christmas Child. Raise money to donate to a music organization or charity like one of these.

Scripture Verses

I always like to include Scripture verses in my planning - usually one per month.

Post it somewhere in your choir room so you can read it together at the beginning of rehearsal, make it a goal to memorize the verse by the end of the month, or send children home with a Scripture Card (include the reference and space for them to copy it down at home). Offer some kind of incentive for children who bring their completed Scripture card back during the month!

Here are a few to get you started:

Psalm 67:4: “Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy!  For you shall judge the people righteously, and govern the nations on earth.”

1 Chronicles 16:24: “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.”

Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Psalm 86:9: "All nations whom you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, And shall glorify your name."

1 Chronicles 16:31: "Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; and let them say among the nations, 'The LORD reigns.'"

Isaiah 6:8: "Then I heard the Lord asking, 'Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?' I said, 'Here I am. Send me.'”

Looking for more inspiration and ideas?

See my "Around the World" board on Pinterest!

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