Submitted by Patricia Mock
Secretary/Treasurer of Sacred Music Composers Association
This article is about the worship leader of the church where my husband just retired. She started meeting with children in our church years ago before Sunday School to teach them guitar with the hope of developing worship leaders of tomorrow! She was successful in her endeavor, and it has resulted with the young people in this small church as a vital part of the music ministry … singing and playing piano, guitars, violin, bass, drums and anything that makes a joyful noise.
Her name is Jackie Whitaker and she is the Worship Leader at Genesis Bible Church, Dunwoody, Georgia. Following is an interview that I had with her a while back:
PAT: Can you address the “vision” you have had for children to appreciate sacred music… both contemporary, hymns and/or choral anthems? Was there anything in particular that moved you in that direction?
JACKIE: Because church music has such a broad spectrum now, for kids to have a true church music background as their springboard, they need to know all of its many aspects. In our worship, the kids hear all three forms of church music regularly: Hymns, contemporary praise songs, and choral anthems. Our worship services are 60% traditional hymns and 40% contemporary praise songs. Having this exposure makes it easy to teach them these various types of music starting at a very early age.
Growing up attending church with my mom and singing hymns in worship instilled a lifelong love for hymns in me. Consequently, I have always felt even more compelled to pass on our hymn heritage by teaching two- part choral hymn arrangements, updated praise band versions, and even fun soundtrack versions to our chikdren’s choirs. In addition, when learning a hymn, we always stop to see when the hymn was written, who wrote the hymn, and what was happening in hymn writer’s life at the time. For kids to discover that Fanny Crosby was blind from birth but wrote, “To God be the glory, great things He hast done,” is incredibly inspiring.
Working contemporary praise songs into choir and praise band rehearsals is easy because the kids hear a lot of those songs not only in worship but also on the radio, so they are always eager to learn to play or sing those. There is such inherent value to these praise songs because of the sung scripture and also the creative use of more contemporary instrumentation. Their effectiveness in the modern church is undeniable, and kids really enjoy praising God as they learn to sing these songs.
Finally, learning choral anthems has to be part of any kids’ choir program, because this is where they begin to appreciate how uniquely God has created and equipped each voice and section of singers to sing certain notes, see how the music is notated for each section, and then hear the beauty of putting all parts together. Suddenly, melodies and harmonies are noticed. The strengths and limitations of their own voices are obvious and then allocated to make up an entire composition of praise to our Lord. For me, the choir is the perfect example of the Body of Christ: Many parts. One not more important than the rest. All critically needed. The reality that they are a small but necessary part of a larger worshipping force known as, “the choir,” is empowering for kids.
For this reason, patiently and joyfully teaching kids the beauty and depth of choral music is where the actual ground work is laid for what will hopefully be their love for and participation in choir throughout their lives. On a greater scale, for the church choir to continue as an entity, positive exposure to and participation in good choral music has to happen early and continue to be a part of our kids’ church choir experience.