How do you plan your choir year?
Maybe you spend some time over the summer mapping out what dates your choir will sing, what hymns you’d like to teach them, listening to new releases from the publishers to get ideas for anthems, and searching Pinterest for games and other creative ideas.
Maybe you plan the first few weeks of rehearsals and then get burnt out and start winging it.
Maybe you’re somewhere in between.
As Winston Churchill once said, “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.”
We need to plan ahead in order to teach effectively. We need to think about the musical growth and learning we’d like to see and make a plan for how to get there.
What experiences will help them develop that skill? What music will help them experience this concept?
One helpful way to do this kind of long-range planning is to choose a theme for the year.
Today, I’m sharing four creative theme ideas for your children’s choir year, including music and resource suggestions, sequencing ideas, hymns, and more.
But, before we get to all that, let’s talk about why themes are important and how they can help you plan and teach with intention.
Why Have a Theme?
Think of a theme as a tool - a helpful way to tie everything together and make it more cohesive and consistent (this is especially important for young learners!). Use themes to guide your planning, help you choose repertoire, inform what games and activities you do, and help you decide which hymns and Scripture verses to include.
Is a theme absolutely necessary to teaching and directing a children’s choir? No.
Can a theme be a helpful tool for focusing your planning, informing your teaching, and creating a memorable experience for your young singers? Absolutely.
How to Choose a Theme
When choosing a theme, try to think about a topic that’s broad enough that you can work within it for the entire year. You don’t want to get to November and feel like you’ve totally exhausted your topic already.
Instead, zoom out and look for something broader that can be broken down into several subcategories. To come up with this list, try making a list of keywords or categories that relate to your overall topic. Think of these as mini-themes or topics within the larger theme.
Depending on what your rehearsal schedule and choir year looks like, you may want to have a new mini-theme to focus on each month; or, you may decide it’s best to spread them out a little more and do 4-6 for the whole year.
Looking for a shortcut?
Here are four creative theme ideas for your children’s choir year (with mini-themes!). I’m also including a few music ideas, related resources, and hymn suggestions that tie in. Enjoy!
Four Creative Theme Ideas for Your Children’s Choir Year
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No. 1 - Celebrate the Church Year
This is a great way to teach your children’s choir about the liturgical calendar and connect what you do in choir to what’s happening in worship throughout the year. This theme breaks down into 6-7 mini-themes:
Ordinary Time: September/October/November
Lent: February/March or March/April
Easter: March/April or April/May
There are a few collections out there with music that ties in with each liturgical season. Here are a few of my favorites by Michael Bedford. Each one includes seven unison anthems - one for each season of the church year. The collections also include simple handbell or handchime ostinato parts:
No. 2 - Around the World
This is one of my all-time favorite themes. You can do so much with it! Choose 6-7 countries, make a passport for each child, and start your adventure exploring music, singing, and culture around the world.
Here are a few countries you might start with:
For each one, think about music, hymns, folk songs, and singing games that originate from these countries. Pull from your current music library, any old copies of The Choristeryou might have on hand, and your church's hymnal. Here are a few other resources that might help:
ChildrenSing Around the World - a collection of songs from around the world, written for children ages 8-12.
Wander the World with Warm-Ups- a collection of 40 different warm-up exercises using songs from 20 different countries, created by Lynn Brinckmeyer.
Games Children Sing Around the World- a collection of 12 singing games from 12 different countries, including Belgium, Poland, France, Korea, and Switzerland.
Related post: Around the World: Music & Prayers for Children’s Choir
No. 3 - Singing the Psalms
This theme is all about Psalm texts and ways they have been set to music. Consider choosing one Psalm to memorize as a group over the course of the year and present this in worship on Children’s Sunday (or an appropriate Sunday in late spring).
Looking for music and anthem suggestions? Here are a few that would work well:
ChildrenSing Psalms- a collection of 15 unison songs with various Psalm texts. Each arrangement includes an easy-to-learn refrain that can be taught to the congregation, opportunities for solo-singing, and optional instrumental parts for handbells, chimes, or Orff instruments.
Whom Shall I Fear? (Cindy Berry) - a unison/2-part setting of Psalm 27:1 in 6/8 meter.
The Lord is My Shepherd (Sarah Moore) - a sweet, lyrical setting of Psalm 23 for unison voices. Includes an optional flute obbligato.
Make a Joyful Noise (Jeff Reeves) - a unison/2-part setting of Psalm 98 and 100, incorporating a rhythmic chant and handclaps.
Psalm of Thanksgiving (John Carter) - a 2-part setting of Psalm 100 with a contrasting B section in minor and optional flute obbligato.
This is the Day (Cindy Berry) - a spirited unison/2-part setting of Psalm 118:24, with optional handclaps and a spoken ending.
Psalm 23: The Lord is My Shepherd (David Cherwien) - a unison setting of Psalm 23 for children’s choir and congregation with organ accompaniment.
A Psalm of Thanksgiving (Timothy Shaw) - a unison/2-part anthem based on Psalm 100 and perfect for Thanksgiving time. An optional part for a C treble instrument is included.
Sing for Joy, Sing Together (Mark Patterson) - an upbeat unison anthem with a general theme, though it mentions “the words of David” and “the psalms of worship and prayer” in one of the verses. Optional flute and finger cymbals.
Don’t forget about hymns! Here are a few that tie in well with Psalm texts:
Holy, Holy, Holy (Psalm 103:20-22)
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (Psalm 33)
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus (Psalm 25)
Be Still, My Soul (Psalm 46:10)
For more hymn suggestions, see this curated list from Hymnary.org.
And finally, here are a few other songs that would work well with this theme, drawn from resources you may already have:
Come Into God’s Presence Singing Alleluia
This Is The Day
He Has Made Me Glad (TFWS #2270)
Come, All You People (Uyai Mose) (TFWS #2274)
Praise Ye the Lord (TFWS #2010) - with optional soloists (Psalm 150)
Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet (TFWS #2020) (Psalm 150)
Praise You (TFWS #2003)
Hosanna (W&S #3079)
Step by Step (W&S #3004) (Psalm 63:1, Psalm 118:28)
God Is So Good - with handbells/handchimes (Psalm 73:1)
Praise, Praise, Praise the Lord (TFWS #2035)
All My Days (W&S #3011) (Psalm 139)
Related post: How to Write Your Own Children’s Choir Curriculum
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No. 4 - All Creatures Great and Small
This is a fun, creative theme inspired by animals of all shapes and sizes and based on the creation hymn, “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”
Pull together a few books that have a strong rhythmic or musical element, beautiful illustrations, and a good story to chant or sing with your choir throughout the year. Here are a few of my recommendations:
The Cat Goes Fiddle-i-fee - a great cumulative song, this books offers lots of opportunities for vocal exploration as children add in the sounds the animals make.
The Carnival of the Animals - an illustrated version of Camille Saint-Saens’ musical suite, including a CD so you can listen along.
All Creatures Great and Small - a perfect book to accompany this theme, featuring the lyrics of “All Things Bright and Beautiful."
Walking Through the Jungle - a jungle-themed adventure, including rhymes, repetition, and lots of animal sounds.
The Gifts They Gave - a sweet, illustrated version of the Christmas Hymn, “The Friendly Beasts,” including a verse for each animal in the stable that night and the gifts they gave the Christ Child.
Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? - a classic Eric Carle book with beautiful animal illustrations, this book invites children to explore their voices by imitating the sounds of the animals in the zoo.
All Things Bright and Beautiful - another illustrated version of the hymn, "All Things Bright and Beautiful.” Consider having the children learn the chorus so they can sing along.
All Things Bright and Beautiful - a third illustrated version of this hymn. Choose the book that has your favorite illustrations!
If You’re Happy and You Know It: Jungle Edition - a jungle-animal-themed version of the well-known children’s song, "If You’re Happy and You Know It."
In addition to stories, vocal exploration, and movement activities, look for anthems that mention animals or focus on themes of creation, like these:
Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel? (arr. Mark Patterson) - featuring a syncopated vocal line, opportunities for solo-singing, and an exciting piano accompaniment, this unison/2-part anthem is a fun way to learn the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.
I See You, God (Mark Burrows) - a unison/2-part anthem about all the ways we can see God in the world.
Look All Around Us, Then Join the Glad Song (Hal Hopson) - a unison/2-part anthem celebrating God’s creation in 6/8 meter. Optional handbells.
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (arr. Mark Patterson) - a joyous unison/2-part setting of this beloved hymn, including an invitation for the congregation to join in on the final stanza. Optional flute.
Hosanna to the Lord (arr. Becki Slagle Mayo) - a perfect Palm Sunday anthem, written for unison/2-part with optional handbells (3-4 octaves). Weaving in the traditional hymn, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” this would be a great anthem to use for a combined choir: children’s choir + youth choir, children’s choir + adult choir, or an intergenerational group.
All Things Bright and Beautiful (arr. Anna Laura Page) - a partner song for unison/2-part voices, featuring the traditional hymn tune and a newly-composed melody, written by Anna Laura Page. Includes optional flute and finger cymbals.
For the Beauty of the Earth (Mark Patterson) - the familiar hymn text is set to an original melody in this unison/2-part anthem. An optional cello part is included.
There’s so much you can do with this theme: hymns (God of the Sparrow, The Friendly Beasts...), Bible stories (Jonah and the Whale, Noah’s Ark…), games (Brown Bear, Brown Bear; Bow Wow Wow…) - the sky’s the limit!
I hope this inspires you and sparks your creativity as you begin planning your choir year.
I’d love to hear: What are your favorite theme ideas? What have you done in the past that worked really well?